No Respect: The Freelance Writer and Social MediaPosted on July 20th, 2009 Comments
This is the first of a two-part post about the future of freelance copywriting in social media and relationship marketing. Part one, below, sets the stage by discussing how social media has introduced a completely new paradigm for content development. Part two will discuss what freelance copywriters can do to remain relevant in this emerging world.
I backed myself into this blog-off competition a while back. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say that the host promised me and my competitors would deliver two weeks of “social media and marketing thought leadership.”
Normally, such hyperbole would have made me nervous. I could have expressed everything I knew about social media marketing, at the time, in 140 characters or less. I was so new to the game, I kept confusing Robert Scoble and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And there I was, preparing to post my first blog entries ever in public competition with strategic marketing professionals, SEO wizards and veteran bloggers.
Regardless of my competitors’ superior knowledge, however, I felt they were at least competing on my turf: Content. I had the writing chops, I felt, and wasn’t that really what drove blog traffic?
So, yeah, I lost big time. Didn’t even place in the top half of the field.
Fortunately, I’d been competing to learn, not win. And I did learn, although everything I know about social media marketing still fits into 140 characters or less. Here it is:
Social media marketing qualifies as neither social nor marketing without three elements: Context, Content and Conversation.
As someone who butters his bread by generating business copy, I’d love to believe that Content is truly king. I recognize that businesses and brands that hope to make an impact must pay liege to the quality of their content. Strong copy equates with a strong presence in the market, and powerful influence.
But like the kings of old, Content is one step removed from the top of the divine hierarchy. Extending the feudal analogy a step, if Content is king, then Context is God.
Context determines Content. Anybody who graduated high school has at least an elemental grasp of this. It isn’t difficult stuff in principle (in practice, it’s another matter). Context simply comprises your
- Intended audience (e.g. customers, investors, employees, etc.)
- Intended goal (e.g. to educate or persuade) and its
- Intended format (e.g. brochure, web copy, annual report, etc.)
Businesses who underthink context invariably miss their target audience (or worse), and instead generate content that only a C-level suit could possibly love. (I’m looking at you Dan Hesse)
The second kingdom
But social media has introduced a sort of second, coexistant kingdom, Where traditional static marketing collateral depends on Content, social media marketing thrives on Conversation. I’m talking specifically about executive blogging and microblogging (i.e. Twitter).
Many businesses don’t see the benefits of conversing about their brand with customers, and I’m not going to go into that here. But I’d like to point out three reasons why this defining element of social media marketing might intimidate C-level executives and their PR handlers:
- Logistical concerns: Who has time to engage customers on a regular basis when there’s a corporate ship to steer?
- Strategic concerns: Relationship marketing, by definition, means loosening that iron grip on the corporate message, which contradicts the instincts of the corner office and PR pros alike.
- Personality concerns: Let’s face it, some qualities that make for a good corporate officer – like cut-throat aggression, single-minded ambition and intolerance for whiners – will not translate smoothly in active public discourse.
Let’s put those bullets in simpler terms. Executives are reluctant to engage in social media because it requires their time, creativity and commitment. In other words, social media asks them to provide something that they normally pay other people to do… people like freelance writers.
The value of a freelance writer isn’t in providing a skill that everyone learned in high school. Writing is simply a feature. The benefits are time (e.g. increased productivity), creativity and commitment (e.g. reliability to standards and deadlines).
So, you would think copywriters would be in increasing demand as social media marketing expands its role. And they are. New opportunities from corporate blogs to ghost-tweeters have slowly begun to emerge.
Therein lies the problem. The whole value of corporate blogging revolves around the first principle of relationship marketing: direct communication with the top dog. Implicit in this is the notion that the corporate blog reflects the corporate executive’s own thoughts, in his/her own words. The same applies to their responses in the comment section, only more so.
Hiring someone to handle the corporate blog raises issues of authenticity, as Beth Harte recently pointed out on her excellent blog, The Harte of Marketing.
Her post specifically addressed the lack of authenticity in the context of public relations. But this paragraph jumped out at me:
I don’t know about you, but these days when I read an article, a tweet, or a blog post I want to know that the person’s name on the article is the person who actually wrote it… And if I find out that Jane Doe at an agency really wrote it, well all credibility is gone in an instant.
That resonated with me because ghostwriting is a service that’s buttered a lot of bread indeed for me. My first two years as a freelance business writer were spent ghostwriting trade articles and white papers for the companies I once covered as a journalist.
I don’t agree with Ms. Harte’s assertion that those contributions made my clients inauthentic. Mostly, I contributed my time and my personal knowledge of what would appeal to editors. I couldn’t possibly affect the Context of these articles, and in terms of Content, I limited my role to converting highly technical and disorganized material into polished syntax.
Blogging is a different medium, however, and authenticity is valued at a higher premium. Content isn’t an end here, it’s a beginning. It sparks conversation. Conversation sparks relationships. Relationships spark customers, then advocates – or so the thinking goes.
If the first link of the chain flows from a hired mouthpiece, then what value do the subsequent relationships lose?
I have some ideas of my own, and will address them in a future post. But I invite you to respond to that question, and whether there’s a work-around for executives and the people who make them look good on paper.blog comments powered by Disqus