Some brands, by their nature, find it hard to build a social
profile and reap the SEO benefits. One way round this is to build a community
of peers and competitors rather than customers. 

‘Stop writing for other writers.’

When Don Draper of Mad Men drops this bomb on copywriter
Paul Kinsey, you can see Kinsey’s ego collapse like a failed soufflé. For a
marketing creative, the accusation that your work is inward-looking,
clever-clever and irrelevant to real-world customers cuts deep.

But that was 1961. Fast-forward 50 years, and writing for
your peer group could be your ticket to ride high in the rankings. Let me
explain.

Customers not listening

When I started blogging and tweeting, I assumed (rather
naïvely) that I’d be interacting with potential clients. They’d read my stuff,
see how clever I was, and give me a load of work. Or so I thought…

I soon realised that while a few did check my blog before
they called, most of my prospects simply didn’t go to the social space to find
suppliers. Instead, they gravitated towards people they shared interests with:
friends, colleagues and industry peers. When they needed a copywriter, they’d
Google it.

The people who were really interested in my content, and who
formed my most natural circle, were other writers. When they liked my blog
posts, they’d share them, link to them and invite me to write guest posts, particularly
if they were too geographically distant to be a direct competitor.

Soon, I was consciously orienting my blog and Tweets to
fellow writers instead of imaginary interested customers. The standard of my
content improved, because I could write in detail and in depth instead of
churning out me-too entry-level guides.

I really was ‘writing for other
writers’ – but because it helped develop my social-media circle and (as a
result) my natural search profile, it made perfect business sense.

Popularity contest

Every business is exhorted to ‘join the conversation’ and
‘build a community’ – most emphatically, it must be said, by those with a
vested interest. But for some brands, engagement isn’t just a matter of will.

The exemplars we hear most about are, almost invariably,
consumer brands that already have significant positive equity. But the fact
that selection-purchase brands like Pepsi or Old Spice can generate social buzz
does not mean that distress-purchase brands like Anusol or Dignity will be able
to.

While people may know and respect these ‘distress’ brands,
they’re unlikely to want to engage with them outside the core buying process.
If your brand is associated with embarrassment or despair, the best brand
values you can hope for are trust, comfort and authority. Fun and excitement
are off the radar; the default light-hearted tone of social media simply isn’t
appropriate and won’t engage.

Many B2B brands are in a similar position, either because of
the nature of their product, the situation of their audience, or both.

It’s a problem that some brands overcome with sheer
above-the-line muscle, as with the Compare the Meerkat campaign. If your
product (insurance) doesn’t excite people, you can always bolt on an expensive,
entertaining but ultimately irrelevant chunk of positive brand equity. But not
every brand has that kind of cash to spend.

This could be one of the most unfair impacts of Google’s
Farmer update (covered in my last post), Google’s integration of social signals with
Google+1 and the firm’s other possible future moves towards social. A brand and its site may
be genuinely relevant to web users, but inherently unable to generate social
buzz or backlinks, and therefore penalised in the search rankings. Google aims
to gauge relevancy, but can’t do it directly, so it uses online popularity as a
proxy measure. But a relevant brand might not be popular, and vice versa.

So what can unpopular but relevant brands do to get some
social action?

Twitterbug

One of my SEO and content clients is in pest control. This
is a classic distress purchase, like insurance and funerals – when you need it,
you really need it, but until then you really don’t want to think about it.
Getting followers and blog comments around pest control is tough, even for big
brands.

Take Rentokil, the leading pest control company which was recently featured on Econsultancy. It uses social media in an exemplary
way; the blog is about as entertaining as you can get while still talking
about killing rats and creepy-crawlies.

As an industry leader, Rentokil’s social content appeals
strongly to similar firms. On Twitter, @rentokil has (at the time of writing)
1072 followers. Of those, 275 are in pest control or related trades.

Rentokil
also has a more ‘social’ account, @debugged, that seems to be aimed more at
consumers; it has 173 followers as I write, 41 of whom are in pest control. The
rest of the followers of both accounts are a varied mix, from obvious spammers
and indiscriminate followers through to bug-studying academics and personal
users.

My gut feeling is that potential customers probably make up
a relatively small part of the @rentokil and @debugged communities. But that’s
not a problem. Peer-group followers, while unlikely to be customers, are much
more likely to share, comment and link to industry-specific content.

And that
means companies like Rentokil can still have a happening community, even though
consumers might not see huge appeal in the brand.

Peer pressure

That’s why my work for my own pest-control client, from the
outset, has been 100% focused on networking with peer businesses around the
world. Blog posts like this one are link bait aimed squarely at fellow
professionals. If customers like them, that’s great – but it’s not the core
aim.

Many of my client’s competitors have flat, static brochure sites and no social
presence at all. With a few linkable and tweetable posts, it should be possible
to enhance my client’s natural search profile and, as a result, connect with more customers
at the time they need the brand.

With a limited budget, this makes a lot more
sense than trying to generate positive equity around a brand that consumers
don’t naturally love.

Know your aims

With content marketing and social media, it’s important to
know what you’re aiming for. ‘Joining the conversation’ without knowing why
could be a huge waste of resources. Many brands might enter the social space in
the hope of directly generating new business, as I did, and find
disappointment.

But if their prospects aren’t interested in social
interactions with them, they still have a chance to develop high-quality
content oriented to peers that could build reputation and deliver solid SEO
benefit.