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Facebook, the professional network: what’s next for content marketing?

LinkedIn describes itself as the world’s largest professional network. The fact the European Commission has just given Microsoft the thumbs up for a $26 billion acquisition of the social media giant suggests it is only set to get bigger. 

Understandably, the acquisition has caused concern for marketers. What would happen if Microsoft hides the key to LinkedIn’s data from its competitors? Could Microsoft leverage LinkedIn to monopolise other social networks? 

While the wrinkles are being ironed out (Microsoft recently released a statement outlining its commitment to abating many of these worries) the acquisition raises interesting questions about the future of social networks.  

As the founder of a business-to-business (B2B) content marketing agency, understanding how readers consume business content is paramount. We therefore recently conducted a study to understand what those at the top of their game – the C-suite of FTSE 350 firms – view and use thought leadership content. The Value of B2B Thought Leadership Survey involved over 200 interviews with senior executives in roles spanning CEOs, tech, marketing, sales, finance, legal and HR. 

One of the most astounding findings was that Facebook has outstripped LinkedIn as content king for industry leaders. Facebook was cited as the social network where senior executives were most likely to engage with business content (79 per cent), compared with Twitter (73 per cent) and LinkedIn (68 per cent). 

Facebook is obviously keen on developing its business services, as Workplace capably demonstrates, neatly blurring the lines between our personal and professional lives. Its retargeting platform is also used by several of our clients, and is clearly bringing results.

A disconnect with content

Still, this outcome remains surprising and points to a potential disconnect between the typical content marketing strategies of businesses and what their readers actually want. It was also by no means the only surprise in the survey. Who knew the best day to engage senior executives with business content would be Monday, the best time from 12-2pm; or that 800-word articles are now the most favoured format?

These stats may be a surprise to many marketers who, feeling less effective than they did last year and the year before that, have entered a “trough of disillusionment” according to the Content Marketing Institute. 

And although an overwhelming majority of marketing agencies now claim to offer content services, content is often ill-defined, poorly executed and lacking in original insight and ideas. Senior executives only read on average 31 per cent of all content that reaches their desks; while thought leadership fails when it proves too generic (68 per cent) and lacks original insight or ideas (58 per cent).

Content will also fail to achieve cut-through for senior executives if it promotes the adviser rather than addressing the reader’s need (53 per cent), which is symptomatic of content marketers not taking the time to understand their audience. Rather than reading the opinions of their advisers, senior executives would prefer to see their clients (57 per cent), industry experts (53 per cent), professional services firms (44 per cent) and even the public (42 per cent) in the mix.

A lot to be positive about

Coupled with the uncertain future of distribution, many of these insights should cause alarm bells to ring. However, there is lots for marketers to be positive about. Our survey found that good thought leadership gets actioned. 84 per cent of senior executives believe thought leadership plays an important part in adding value to their role; while 28 per cent of the material has a direct impact on decision making.

By seeking the perspective of the C-suite, our survey sought to shine a light on problems with content from the highest level. If there’s one thing the revelation about Facebook and LinkedIn has taught us, it’s that content marketers need to be constantly curious about the audiences they serve and challenge perceived wisdom. 

As Microsoft progresses with its LinkedIn acquisition, it’s clear that global tech giants will likely set the pace for professional platforms and, by default, the marketers for whom they are important channels. The challenge for marketers will be in acknowledging the need for an industry overhaul and seizing the new opportunities that arise. Putting a disappointing 2016 behind us, there’s no better time for content marketers to rally and pull themselves towards a brighter future.

Andrew Rogerson, founder and managing director, Grist  
Image source: Shutterstock/Bakhtiar Zein