News Flash: Social media won't fix your content problem

Kristina Halvorson

On Monday, Altimer Group Partner Jeremiah Owyang published an article titled:

Make Your Corporate Websites Relevant by Integrating Facebook, Google, MySpace, Linked In, or Twitter

The post provides a detailed list of "feature attribute benefits of social integration," as well as "who offers what" for "social networking integration features." It’s a beautifully constructed post, the kind of post thousands of marketers will likely print and refer to as a daily resource when planning their social media initiatives.

Now. I am a reasonable person. I fully recognize that Owyang is one of the leading, most well-respected social media analysts in the world. He blogs for the Forbes CMO Network, he speaks internationally about social media, and is an all-around highly influential guy. This reputation is likely well-deserved.

However. When one wields such powerful influence over powerful people, one must wield said influence responsibly. And, in my opinion, this is one irresponsible article.

Three years ago…

Monday’s post is presented in the context of an article Owyang wrote three years ago, titled "How To Evolve Your Irrelevant Corporate Website." Why did Owyang think our websites were irrelevant? Because most of the content on those websites was "an unbelievable collection of hyperbole, artificial branding, and pro-corporate content" that utterly failed to support any part of the customer sales lifecycle. Especially from the customers’ perspective.

Owyang’s position at the time was that the corporate website, as we knew it, was a lost cause. In fact, Owyang suggested that the only way we could ensure our websites remained relevant was to collaborate with our customers as equals in planning and producing content.

I remember this post well, because his "disruptive" ideas struck me as ridiculous. If we apparently still hadn’t figured out how to effectively plan for, create, deliver, and govern our own website content, how the hell were we going to incorporate user-generated content into the mix?

Obviously, I was in the skeptical minority. And skeptics are never sexy.

And then the world blew up.

Of course, conversations about social media exploded. Our customers were talking, and, if we were going to survive over the coming years, we needed to listen. So we rushed to find out where our customers were, what they were saying, and to engage them in conversation about our products and services. Simultaneously, CMOs demanded brand presence on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter. Never mind why. Just get us there.

Now, look. It’s not my intention to downplay the importance and omnipresence of social media. Like anyone else who has a pulse, I believe in the power and potential of well-planned, well-executed, corporate social media initiatives. I believe it is our responsibility (and an unprecedented business opportunity) to meet our customers where they are, to listen, and to engage.

Social media, itself, is not the problem.

Here’s the problem, and it’s a doozy: to support our social media initiatives, we churned out content. Meanwhile, our marketing teams continued to publish content. Corporate communications, advertising partners, public relations, product and service managers… the flood of content continued.

And it continues today. Unchecked. Unmonitored. Unable to be measured. Inconsistent. Outdated. Out of control. More of the "hyperbole, artifical branding, and pro-corporate content" Owyang rightfully criticized as "irrelevant."

Content that no one cares about.

And now, this. As of Monday, Owyang appears to have forgotten about the content part of things altogether. Because now what he is proposing is that website "relevance" can be achieved by using "products that allow thriving communities of buyers and prospects to connect with static corporate sites."

The same static corporate websites that, for all intents and purposes, likely still suck.

Now we come to the irresponsible part.

CMOs and their counterparts looooove this kind of post. It’s well-researched, more or less comprehensive, concise, and well-constructed. I’m sure this has already been circulated (634 retweets to date!), printed, and discussed in meetings all over the country, if not the world. It’s an attractive post because it more or less sums up what we need to consider when choosing social media features for our websites. As Owyang puts it, the matrix is a resource to "fast forward research activities." It’s a matrix that, if referenced judiciously, Owyang promises will help us to make our corporate websites relevant.

He’s wrong.

By focusing solely on social media’s features, Owyang continues to perpetuate the pervasive illusion that, if we choose the right tools, our customers will converse with us, talk about us, and share our content.

You know. The "hyperbole, artifical branding, and pro-corporate content" most of our websites still feature.

The relevancy of our corporate websites is not dependent whatsoever on which social media widgets have been deployed throughout the site. Its relevancy is driven by our site content, no matter who is creating it. And that content requires as much, if not more, strategic planning and consistent oversight as do our social media initiatives.

Hey, CMOs: I’m talking to you.

It’s time for executive leadership to stop being distracted by social media features, "disruptive technologies," and the like. These are bright, shiny objects that pull focus from what makes or breaks every corporate website: whether or not your customers can find, use, and act upon content they care about. The stuff they came for. The stuff they want. The stuff they need.

Make your corporate website relevant by having a well-founded, sustainable content strategy. Let that content strategy inform the kind of content you create and share, how you share it, how you engage, and how you react. Define process. Allocate resources to content creation and maintenance. Align on content governance policies and guidelines.

So, go ahead. Print up that article. But take a big Sharpie and cross out the title. In its place, write this:

Social Media Features To Consider… Once We Have a Content Strategy