If you’re still attempting to market to your customers by constantly talking about your products, sharing your special offers, and generally shouting about how great your brand is via your content and social marketing, I’m here to tell you something. You’re doing it wrong.

Yeah, sorry about that, Lord Sugar.

The use of digital ad blocking software, particularly mobile ad blocking software, is steeply on the rise – a YouGov survey from June 2015 revealed that 34% of 18-35 year olds (i.e. those notorious ‘millennials’) are already actively blocking ads online.

That’s making digital advertisers’ and marketers’ jobs extremely difficult, unless they evolve and align with what customers now really want from brands: to stop shouting at them, and start being useful to them instead.

this image reads - Helping not hounding - The case for useful content and social marketing

What do we mean by ‘being useful’ to customers?

In our opinion, nobody sums this up better than Jay Baer, the author of the book ‘Youtility’ – which has become THE bible on useful content marketing:

“To succeed, your prospective customers must consider you a friend. And if, like your friends, you provide them real value […] they will reward your company with loyalty and advocacy, the same ways we reward our friends.”

The ‘Youtility’ title of Jay’s book also happens to be the snappy name that he’s given to useful content and social marketing, to connote how it should be effective in assisting you, the customer. Youtility content answers questions that customers have, and even those that they (think that they) don’t, helping brands to become a resource of information that doesn’t brazenly sell products to customers – but instead, puts the brand at the forefront of the customer’s minds when they are finally ready to buy.

Let’s take a look at the steep increase over time in Google searches for queries that include the phrase ‘How to’:

Google’s Year in Search 2014 revealed that ‘how’ was the verb most frequently used as part of a search term that year, with eight times more searches than the second most frequently-searched verb, ‘why’. And since we know that you’re curious as to what were the questions being asked, ‘how to kiss’ was the most searched-for ‘how’ question, followed by – perhaps slightly worryingly – ‘how to survive’.

The sharp uplift in these kinds of searches shows that customers are increasingly turning to the internet to fill their knowledge gaps, and expect that someone will be there to tell them what they need to know. This is where your brand is presented with countless opportunities to become inherently useful to your customers.

Now we’re not saying that you need to offer romantic assistance – unless you’re a dating site, perhaps – but considering the types of questions that your customers could have, that may be only very tenuously related to your brand, and how you can answer them, should provide the basis for your social and content marketing strategy.

This image reads - What are the hallmarks of useful content and social marketing

So now you know what we mean by ‘useful content’, we’ll tell you how to spot it – and indeed, how to create it. When you’re putting together your useful content and social marketing strategy and creating the content itself, these are the characteristics it should always possess:

1. It considers the actual questions and queries that customers have

When researching and compiling a social and content strategy for our clients here at Silverbean, we always pay a visit to question and answer sites like Quora and Answer the Public, as well as any active and relevant industry forums (yes, they’re still a thing!), plus even Reddit and social media to search for questions and common query themes people have that may be relevant to a brand.

Then, we’ll think of ways that we can answer those questions through the brand’s content marketing, or take a look at existing answers to those questions online and how we can improve upon it, or fill in the gaps. That’s another beautiful thing about useful content – it doesn’t always have to be ‘original’.

Taking information that already exists or is available, and putting it into a more effective format such as a list, an infographic, an online tool, or an app, are all ways to make your brand indispensable – so no matter what budget you’re working with, you can add value with your content.

2. It offers genuinely useful information – Whooga vs. Ugg case study

Using the power of Buzzsumo, our favourite content marketing tool, we discovered that the ‘how to’ article that attained the highest volume of social shares in the UK in the past year was ‘How to Clean Ugg Boots’. Naturally, you’d assume that this content was created by the Ugg brand.

Nope. It was created by an Ugg boot retailer, Whooga, and when you take a look at the article it’s easy to see why it was a success.

Whooga has created a comprehensive, in-depth guide on caring for Ugg boots, and it’s been shared on social media 677.2k times. Meanwhile, how did the ‘Ugg Care & Cleaning’ guide produced by
Ugg themselves perform in terms of social shares? It earned a pitiful total of 24.

When comparing the two pages, a few things stick out:

– The Whooga guide to Ugg boot care is named after the question that Ugg boot owners are most likely to ask a search engine, and even more importantly, it answers it thoroughly and without mentioning specific branded cleaning products.
– Ugg’s own guide contains far less practical information, and reads like a sales pitch for their own cleaning product range.
– Not everyone who lands on Whooga’s page is going to be looking to make a purchase. But when their current pair of Ugg boots are soiled beyond saving and they start shopping online for a replacement, there’s a good chance they’ll head straight to the brand that genuinely helped them right when they needed it.

Hey presto, useful content converts again.

3. It offers the right information, at the right moment

Speaking of timing, that’s another vital consideration of useful social and content marketing. You may have read our popular guide to Micro-moments here on the Silverbean blog, in which we stressed the importance of “addressing the user’s need in-the-moment”, or the ‘zero moment of truth’, in order to win the battle for customer clicks – and in turn, conversions.

When a Micro-moment takes place, the brand who provides them with the quickest and best answer in their content or social marketing will have ‘won’ that moment – and stands the greatest chance of being rewarded with their custom. It’s that simple.

What your brand must do is identify the unique Micro-moments that you want to win, and allow this to guide your social and content output.

Speaking of social media, timing is everything there too – that’s why we always turn to listening tools to find out what are the best days and times to share different types and topics of content to attain the highest number of social shares.

4. Useful content and social marketing creates brand advocates, not just buyers

According to our useful content guru Jay Baer, when you add real value to your online content, whether through your social media or your blog posts, you’ll foster “long-lasting trust and kinship between your company and your customers”.

We couldn’t agree more. Assisting your customers in their time of need helps you to make real and genuine connections with them, and cultivates their advocacy for your brand. And as customers are now more loyal to their needs than to brands themselves, winning their trust should be considered to be as valuable as winning their custom. Because now, they go hand-in-hand.

How do we know all of this at Silverbean? Because as you’ll know from our 10 Commandments of Branded Content, we practise what we preach and have implemented successful useful content and social strategies for several of our clients.

By tapping into the unique and nuanced needs, and not just interests of their markets we’ve been able to curate and create content for them that doesn’t just appeal to, but assists their customers – and in the case of one B2B client of ours, this helped them to achieve over £24,000 in sales through site referral traffic from their B2B content in November 2015 alone.

So while you certainly wouldn’t like to think that your current content or social activity is ‘useless’, you should consider whether it’s actually filling a need, rather than just filling a page.