Steve Rubel Shares the Future of Content Marketing: Lessons from Big Companies

"Social media is not a channel...it's a way of life."

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Chief Content Strategist for Edelman Worldwide, Steve Rubel, on his thoughts about the evolution of digital marketing, social media, and content creation. The Internet pioneer had some interesting reflections on what big business is doing for their content strategies, and how it can apply to SMB owners.

Steve Rubel started his foray into the world of content marketing in 2004, when he began his blog Micro Persuasion. The platform focused on the effects of social media in the PR industry. The content spread like wildfire, and in 2006 Rubel joined the public relations firm, Edelman Worldwide.

In our interview, Steve makes some interesting points about the future of content marketing and the power of thought leadership. As he sees it, "Every 5-6 years there's a paradigm shift that takes place— something changes the way consumers behave with technology, and out of that almost everything flows."

The Incredible Evolution of the Internet

Although Steve acknowledges the start of the internet was rather clunky (think dial-up based connections), he maintains that every few years, there is a major paradigm in the evolution of online.

From 2002-2004 broadband was adopted by most online users, and it changed the entire way in which people viewed the internet. Once high-speed internet became widely available in most homes, the birth of blogging began.

"Blogging and podcasting were precipitated by the fact that we got broadband in our homes— this truly was the beginning of social media." says Steve.

The next major wave of change was the rise of mobile computing. Once broadband was being tethered through mobile devices, there was another shift in the way in which people interacted and consumed. By 2011, 90% of the world's population resided in areas with 2G coverage, and it is projected by 2017, almost 85% will have at least 3G coverage.

Every few years there is something big and transformative that precipitates a change in technology. As a means of cause and effect, consumer behavior typically changes with these paradigms. Steve states that although he is not sure about what the future of the internet will bring, he muses it may run along the lines of VR and augmented reality.

Steve also pointed out an interesting observation: most people only use five apps on their phone, and those app companies increasingly control the distribution pipes. The organic reach for content has plummeted, and small to medium business owners should pay attention to consolidating platforms.

"You see this mushrooming of options of sources of information—it is proliferating, but the distribution mechanisms are consolidating," says Steve.

[Listen to the full interview below]

Small Business Marketing

Steve thinks a lot of small business owners have it wrong when it comes to content marketing. When I asked him what we could glean from what the big businesses were doing, he simply chuckled and said, "A lot of people have been trying to figure out how to get local internet marketing right. There have been a lot of attempts—Google is the only one that has cracked it."

What he is saying, is that more often than not, big businesses do not have it figured out either. The money is consolidating down to two main companies for digital marketing: Facebook and Google. Rubel does predict, however, that once Facebook starts looking at ad marketing platforms like instant messenger, it may surpass Google in market share.

Steve strongly suggests using social media (and more specifically Facebook) to market your brand and company. If you need e-commerce, however, building your own website is probably your best bet. Facebook does not give businesses an option to transact on their platform, but once they do, Steve thinks this will be where everyone will want to build their house.

Although he highly stresses using social media, Steve does not want people to forget the importance of e-mail marketing campaigns. "I think it is an overlooked platform. E-mail is great because you can control the content experience, you get great analytics, and you can use it to deliver info in downtimes that can bring back traffic."

Content Creating Value 

"If you create something for a community that will be valuable to them, they are going to share it."

Throughout our entire conversation, one of the strongest points Steve was making, is about the power of appealing to a community. This is often where small businesses get it right over big business.

Sure you can pay for large studies to understand the psychology of the consumer, but you can also simply pay attention. Steve understands for small businesses who are constantly on the go (and wearing many hats), this can be a daunting task. However, he stresses you are really selling yourself short if you are not actively vying to be a thought leader in your target market.

As he notes, “It is about keeping your marketing focused and valuable. Identify communities of interest (be it local, like-minded, etc.) and create content that will elevate people's identity. Content that fills a personal need for the consumer is often content that is shared.”

When marketing to your community, Steve suggests answering this question for your consumer: "I want to be seen as..."

For his blog, Steve purports the end to that sentence was "intelligent" for his PR community, and thus his platform became a success. Utility (giving people something they can use) is the secret to successful content marketing.

Steve mentions that for small businesses to find success in marketing they need to remove themselves from the equation and focus on the consumer. It takes patience to steer a community to the point of customer acquisition—but it is the only way to do it.

As his final bit of advice, he shares, "The secret is to think about how your message can spread on a platform. Do not worry too much about all the technologies and the hype. It is very easy to get caught up with that. Just take a step back and look at what your community uses."

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