Arguably a decade into this brave new world of marketing in which we now live, there are two very clear lessons.

To wit, there’s no faking it. And, there are no short cuts.

Today’s Engaged Consumer

Consumers are in control and they can smell deception a mile away. Long gone are the glory days of consumers buying our brands as a result of our one-way marketing? With all due respect to advances like native advertising and crowd sourcing, today’s consumer wants more from us.

Today’s consumer wants to not only like your brand but they also want to like you and that for which you stand. They want to align themselves with brands with which they share values and have a real relationship. They want—no they demand—access behind the corporate curtain where they are privy to your brand, warts and all.

Consumers have a voice and they want it to be heard. If you won’t listen and respond, perhaps your competitor will. And, guess what, that very consumer will document their experiences across their social footprints which are almighty. So when a friend or stranger starts doing their due diligence—and they will—it’s there for all to see.

The Path to a Successful Content Strategy

Inside this dark cloud is a very shiny silver lining. By accepting this new realityContent Strategy and Relationships and honestly opening your brands up to consumer scrutiny, you can succeed. And succeed big. It’s not hard if you’re willing to actively listen, share your love of your brand, and cede control. But remember, there’s no faking it. And, there are no short cuts.

That said, there are tools available to you to keep you on the straight and narrow. Your social communities are a treasure trove of intelligence. Don’t assume the intern or employee who is managing these all important assets is gleaning all the nuggets.

The first tools are your own eyes and ears. Are you paying attention to the conversations taking place? Is the conversation on brand or are your consumers trying to tell you something? Is your brand voice consistent across platforms? Are you robotically pushing out marcom messages? Are you responsive? Are you posting too much? Are you strategically looking at your entire social ecosystem as a whole or is each platform treated separately? Are you faking it?

Next up are the analytics provided by the various platforms. For example, Facebook’s algorithm determines what news feed is worthy. Their recent revamping of what was once known as EdgeRank is clearly a ploy to extract more advertising revenue from brands. Sure you can buy reach but this is a “short cut” as in the end it is compelling content that determines sustained reach.

Bottom line, it has become even harder to ensure that your brand’s content is seen by your fans as the algorithm determines what content actually ends up in your fans’ news feeds based on actual engagement. On average only 16% of your fans see your content.

And, just because a fan does comment on your post, it is not automatic that this engagement will turn up in their friends’ feeds which would further extend your reach. The algorithm also looks at the second generation user’s proclivity for the content and thereby determines whether it is visible to them.

And, did you know that Facebook now penalizes you for deploying short cuts like asking your community to “like” a photo. This standard operating procedure designed to up engagement is now deemed unacceptable.

Your Facebook analytics give you terrific insight into what content is garnering engagement, what day parts your community is most active, what stories get “bumped,” and what posts get dumped. Ask to be walked through this feedback—it is invaluable.

You will also want to be tracking what consumers are saying about your brand vs. what you are saying about your brand. There are a plethora of social listening tools that provide this data. Again, dig deep and relish the feedback albeit sometimes not what you want to hear. But again, it’s priceless.

All of this intelligence should be optimized as you craft your content strategy which clearly is more important than ever. Your content strategy needs to be constantly monitored and tweaked depending upon engagement. At the end of the day, you want to be following a content strategy that drives commerce, but remember this is a slow burn. If you fake it or rush it, your content strategy will show and your consumers will not only abandon you but spread the news.

When we analyze prospective clients’ brands, we see lots of faking it and short cuts. Sometimes it takes the form of “Instagram profile—check” or “PR agency sent out a digital press release to bloggers—check.” Other times it’s “we reached (bought) 1MM Facebook fans—check” or “promotional editorial calendar—check.”

These are all terrific achievements to float up the corporate flagpole; however, the ROI is illusive. The real long term ROI comes from creating strategic partnerships with the best partners ever—consumers—they talk straight, give credit where credit is due, share your passion, and pay the bills.