Content Marketing, Trade Shows, and Social Media

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I just this morning read the results of a content marketing research report from last fall that showed some interesting 2011-2012 trends in how companies are using digital, print, and in-person events for their business-to-business marketing (thanks, @FreemanXP for the pointer!).

The good news is that trade shows are still considered to be the most effective way to market (67 percent). Interestingly though, it's only the 8th most-used tactic (69 percent said they marketed through in-person events), beaten out by non-blog social media (87 percent, up from 74 percent in 2011), articles on the company's Web site (83 percent), e-newsletters (78 percent), blogs (77 percent), case studies (70 percent), videos (70 percent), and articles on other Web sites (70 percent). Why the disconnect?

Social media strategist Ray Hilz posits in this post about the research that the rise in social media outreach is because it in a lot of ways mimics what's most successful about marketing on the show floor, from initial research about potential attendees, pitching them at the booth, and the crucial followup on site but off the show floor and afterward.

As he says, all those banal posts and tweets about what someone is having for lunch is pretty close to the chit-chat we make at conferences. "These are the types of conversations that people poo poo social media about, yet they are the most important because the decision to purchase (or not) is made by a human." So in effect, social networking online is "Same strategy and results, less travel costs" than in-person events, he says.

To which I'll add, kind of. Don't get me wrong, I love me some social networking. I have met so many people through it who I really admire, respect, have learned from, and just enjoy the heck out of—so much so that I can't wait to go to a live event and meet them in person. And I know I'm far from alone in that.

Just like how putting an event's content online for non-attendees to taste drives them to want to actually go to the next event, so does online social networking drive the desire to meet all those @s face to face. At least for the generations currently in the workplace—those babies who now have an iPad in one little fist and a bottle in the other may end up having a whole different worldview.

Anyway, in case you missed the report last fall like I did, here are a few more interesting results:

• Only 11 percent are using games/gamification, which ironically is the highest-grossing app category for iPads, according to this infographic. How much do you want to bet that this number changes as more B2B companies get on the game wagon?

• Use of every social media listed was up, except for Flickr, which stayed flat at 10 percent. It kind of surprised me at first to see LinkedIn as the most used media (83 percent), seeing as Twitter has taken over the universe lately (it was the top network in 2011). But then again, not really, since LI has become the serious business place to be in recent years. While companies pretty much have to pour their drops into the Twitter firehose—Twitter use is also at a high 80 percent, up six percentage points from 2011—more targeted and nuanced interactions on LI are more likely to be effective. Facebook and YouTube are making steady gains (80 percent and 61 percent, respectively), but another surprise for me was Google+, which leapt from 13 percent to 39 percent. Maybe G+ is finally going mainstream? Pinterest went from zero to 26 percent.

Quora, Tumblr, Instagram (really? Companies really need to get on this one), and Foursquare still show tiny adoption rates, but at least they're on the content-marketing radar screen as of last fall, which they weren't the year before.

• One kind of sad finding that makes me think companies maybe aren't getting it after all is that their biggest challenge is creating enough content, whereas in 2011 it was producing the kind of content that engages. Maybe they've mastered the engagement piece? Somehow, I think it's more about throwing a ton of stuff out in hopes some of it will stick, which is more of a return to old-school thinking.

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