5 Simple Ways To Fix Bad Branded Content

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Branded Content

Dear Brands,

The glaring problem with most of your branded content on social media is that it's too...branded. It's stiff. It's dry. It's boring. It's annoying.

We need to talk.

Don't make the classic mistake of transposing the worst tropes and trappings of traditional advertising onto social media content. Traditional advertising (TV, print, out-of-home, etc) still works for brand awareness, but it's a passive medium. Social media allows direct interactions and real-time conversations with the people who matter most to your brand and clients. Understanding the inherent strengths and contextual uses of each native platform is the first step to creating content that moves users and provides useful information or entertainment. The art of branded content on social media is the deft ability to achieve business goals while not pissing off your audience.

Here are some quick fixes for your branded social content:

Let your content breathe. The Internet values authenticity and transparency, it doesn't like aggressive brand marketing or a hard sell. Social media users are incredibly savvy and finely tuned to BS. (Witness any Reddit 'native advertising' thread or Facebook Promoted Post for proof.) Not every piece of visual content needs a logo slapped on it. Brand guidelines and colors don't need to be rote and unmovable. Not every tweet or Facebook post needs a link to a website or latest promotion. Not every content piece needs to be slapped with a branded campaign hashtag. Don't be afraid to be unpolished and lo-fi. Make content conversational, not cramped.

Strategy always comes first. Most brands don't understand how high-level content strategy informs the execution. But with a little research and planning, your content can start to feel whole again. Develop a succinct weekly editorial calendar (in-house or with your agency) that clearly blocks out content types, editorial mix, and cadence and frequency for each social channel. Include with the meat of brand promotions a healthy heaping of found content, user generated content, news links, and any tasty bits of Web culture and random stuff that changes things up. It's okay if every content piece doesn't directly relate to your brand, they help temper the inherently cold commercialism of marketing.

Be human. Social-savvy people can smell an algorithm a mile away. Resist content marketing services and startups that tout plug-and-play algorithms and five-minutes-a-day automated marketing tools. Create bespoke content specific to the unique ecosystem and sub-culture of each social platform. Invest in real people with real skills who make custom content, cut-to-fit for your exact brand needs and specifications. Technology is great, but it should only be used as a tool to help real people create real stuff, not replace them.

Be active, stay regular. Social media is a constantly evolving, never-ending conversation. Curate a eclectic blend of top trending stories, current affairs, major news events, arts & entertainment, style, pop culture, history, science, technology, etc. Add your own commentary or perspective, but don't specifically brand it; your platform alone is the branding. Possess a deep tactical knowledge of how regular people talk to each other on social media. Know what digital tools and websites regular people use to make and find shareable content, and leverage them just like a user (just make sure what you have to say is actually interesting).

The best branding is the content itself. If your content is interesting and compelling as a standalone piece, it will have resonance with your core audience without excessive branding and corporate messaging. Focus particularly on refining the copy, the good old-fashioned words, because that's where you'll find the strongest calls-to-action. Talk to your followers, not at them. (Social media is a multilateral dialogue, not a front-facing monologue.) Your copy should sync effortlessly with the art, working in harmony instead of dissonance. Don't force it. Keep it short, keep it sweet. Brands that talk less, say more.

If people like your brand, they will independently discover your products and services, become an active follower, and hopefully a loyal customer. If your content naturally speaks their language, gives them space, and respects their intelligence, they will interact with it because they genuinely like it, not because you branded it with a logo or hashtag. Don't try too hard to be cool. Just be present. Be honest, be likable, be constant, and let your followers do the rest.

Matthew Bryan Beck is a creative strategist at Ogilvy & Mather New York and a contributor to ReadWrite. Follow him on Twitter @ibeck