If you and your pooch are regulars at your neighborhood dog park, you probably don’t even have to read this to know what I mean. For those of you who aren’t dog people (bless your hearts), dog parks are real live communities, with their own culture and social norms (not terribly unlike all those mommy-and-me playgroups I went to when my kids were bitty). And the “real” rules aren’t the ones posted on the gate; they’re the ones that community members absorb by being part of the community.
And that’s the connection with content marketing. There are the official rules that are belabored over and over again on any content marketing site (mine included)…things like paying attention to SEO, not being overly promotional, and offering something of value in exchange for your readers’ attention. And then there are the unspoken rules…but the fact that they’re unspoken doesn’t mean they’re not real, or that bad things won’t happen if you break them.
OK, ok…I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Here’s how content marketing is like going to the dog park:
Be up-to-date on your shots.
In other words, do your homework. Familiarize yourself with the “official” rules. Know your topic. Observe the culture. Don’t just show up and expect to be greeted with open arms even if you publish garbage.
Perform “poop patrol” without being asked.
Cleaning up after your dog is an official rule at every dog park I’ve ever been to. Most people understand that and follow it willingly. But…sometimes you just can’t find the poop. You see your dog taking care of business and make a mental note of the location, but, by the time you get over there with a bag, the offending substance is indistinguishable from the surrounding grass and mud. Good dog park etiquette requires that you act as a look out — marking the spot, so to speak — so that the appropriate human with the bag can find it.
What’s that got to do with content marketing? Don’t just stand there watching somebody do a grid search. Be helpful. Help other people solve their problems. Write content about the things that keep your audience up at night. Be the go-to-person they can count on to help them identify and solve whatever problems are relevant to your business.
Always talk about dogs first.
My husband is almost perfect. The qualifier is due to the fact that he’s just not a dog person. He (for the most part) cheerfully tolerates mine to make me happy, but it’s not part of his soul like it is mine. So part of what I like so much about the dog park is getting to hang out with my “tribe.” It’s not that conversations never stray, but people at dog parks want to talk primarily about dogs.
When it comes to content marketing, this means knowing your audience on an intuitive level. Why do they come to your site? What desire are they trying to fulfill, or what problem are they trying to solve? What’s the common thread that links them all together? Sure, you can go off-topic occasionally. But, for the most part, people come to your site for a specific reason. Give them what they want.
Ask before handing out treats.
At the dog park, you never, ever feed someone else’s dog without asking permission. And that’s pretty much what Seth Godin was talking about back in 1999 when he published Permission Marketing. That means that you don’t intrude on your audience by shoving your marketing message down their throats. You ask their permission first. You ask them to sign up for your newsletter in exchange for valuable information. Or maybe you just ask them to click a link in a Tweet. The key component is asking permission.
Don’t expect other people to accommodate you.
At the dog park I go to, there’s one person whose dog likes to grab other dogs by the collar. His solution is to ask everyone else to remove their dogs’ collars whenever he’s there. Yeah…that’s not really how it works, whether you’re talking about dog parks or content marketing. You accommodate your audience, not the other way around. You don’t get to tell them what they should read; you have to find out what they want to read and create that content. You can’t get away with giving them workarounds for problems in your website navigation, your customer service, or your product. If there’s a problem, you fix it. The customer decides…not you.
Know when to leave.
Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Maybe your dog is cranky because he stole your leftover Popeye’s chicken (no…of course that never happened) and his belly hurts. Maybe there’s a dog he just doesn’t get along with (dogs can have bad chemistry, too). Maybe there’s a dog whose human obviously isn’t going to follow dog park etiquette, so that, even though you’re in the right, you end up having to leave.
Engagement is good. Engagement is very good (some would argue that it’s the whole point). But sometimes comments start a dialog that just goes in circles, or a Twitter conversation goes from meaningful to abusive in the space of 60 seconds. Yes, your goal is to engage your audience, even when it’s not fun. But sometimes you can tell there’s not going to be a resolution. You don’t want to offend anyone, so taking steps like shutting down comments should always be a last resort…but sometimes you just have to call it a day.
One of the best things that could happen to your brand is that a social community develops around your product or service. But, if you have a community, you also have a culture. Whether you develop that culture yourself or nurture a culture that develops organically, it’s your job to maintain it. The people who come to your website do so for a reason. The success of your content marketing depends on finding out what that reason is and then creating a digital space that fills that need.
Need some help? That’s what I do, so please get in touch.