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It’s Time to Pay to Play

Authors: Jess Ostroff Jess Ostroff
Posted Under: Social Media
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Social Pros IconFive Mondays in June brought five incredible guests to the Social Pros Podcast: a digital marketer for the WKYC TV station; the social media fan, iSocialFanz; two content marketing experts, one from BuzzSumo and the other from the Content Marketing Institute; plus the world’s Facebook expert at Mari Smith International, Inc.

These Social Pros come together across industries and areas of expertise to give two pieces of advice that might be hard to hear:

  1. When it comes to content, you have to give it away for free.
  2. When it comes to social media, you have to pay to play.


To build a loyal audience, you have to create content that is helpful to people, and what’s more, you have to be willing to give it away for free. It’s a long game, but it will pay off when you have a following that trusts you and advocates for you.

So go ahead, give your content away for free. And while you’re at it, write social media marketing into your budget, because you’ve got to pay to play. Businesses are no longer able to effectively reach target audiences organically on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If you want to continue to build on the work you’ve done online, you’ve got to shell out or get out.

Mari Smith International, Inc. CEO, Mari Smith

Mari SmithMari Smith is the CEO of Mari Smith International, Inc. and author of “The New Relationship Marketing. She’s also the lead instructor of Facebook’s Boost Your Business tour to help small businesses better utilize Facebook to reach their audiences.

As someone whose job it is to be in the know on Facebook’s constant changes and updates, Mari is very aware of the dramatic plummet of organic reach in the last year or so.

More and more small and medium-sized businesses are realizing they have to have an ad budget. Beyond that, they are working to figure out how to place good ads and get conversions.

And it’s not just about Facebook, Mari says. “You can’t silo Facebook, you can’t really silo your ads. If you really want to get strong results, the ad budget needs to be spread across two platforms.” Find out where your fans hang out and reach them there; usually that’s going to be more than one place.

But remember that to make money, you’re going to have to spend some first.

Read on for the full highlights:

WKYC Director of Digital Marketing, Mac Mahaffee

Mac Mahaffee

Mac Mahaffee is the Director of Digital Marketing at WKYC, Channel 3 in Cleveland. His job is a little bit of everything, but essentially he makes sure to get the word about about all of the station’s initiatives, while also trying to attract audiences to all of their digital platforms.

Mac uses paid social media in two different ways. Day-to-day, Mac and his team pay attention to posts that gain momentum organically and then amplify that reach by paying to boost them on social media. Rather than setting up a regular paid campaign, they focus on posts that are already gaining traction.

The other way they utilize paid social media advertising is by giving specific promotional campaigns an added edge. For example, they amplified their Super Bowl ad through every platform they could, firing “on all cylinders, all channels, to get the notice out.” They created a 15-second Super Bowl ad with a contest to win $10,000 for downloading their app. The cost of the ad, giveaway, and all of the paid social advertising was well worth it for them; at the end of a 48-hour window, downloads were up 1600%.

Read on for the full highlights:

BuzzSumo Director, Steve Rayson

Steve RaysonSteve Rayson is the Director at BuzzSumo, a company built to examine different types of content from all angles and find out what performs best—a valuable tool for Social Pros and any content marketers out there.

The BuzzSumo approach to marketing is somewhat the opposite of the “pay to play” approach. To date, the small team at BuzzSumo has spent virtually nothing on marketing. “What we did do was focus on what we called social influences.”

They built relationships with 20–30 people that were authoritative and had respect and trust in the field. It’s in the building of those relationships where the idea of “free content” comes in.

To build relationships with influencers, Steve and his team tried to be as helpful as possible to the influencers they identified, without asking for anything in return. At BuzzSumo, they’re able to provide helpful data and research to influencers who can use it for their own benefit, turning them into advocates for the BuzzSumo brand. Steve doesn’t pay to play, but he does give away valuable data for free.

Read on for the full highlights:

Brian FanzoBroadSuite Chief Digital Strategist, Brian Fanzo

Brian Fanzo is the Chief Digital Strategist at BroadSuite Consulting and is also known as iSocialFanz. He loves technology and is an early adopter of anything he can get his hands on, including Meerkat and Periscope.

Brian’s advice to any company trying to grow their audience is, “Think like a fan.” No matter what type of content you are creating—whether it’s live streaming video, writing a blog post, recording a podcast, or whatever else—ask yourself, “Would I find this helpful? Would I want to watch this/read this? Would I want to share this with anyone else?” If your content isn’t helpful to your audience, it won’t get seen or heard.

That may sound like a simple enough approach, but it’s much more complex when you put it into practice. It takes a strategic approach to capture and hold your audience’s attention amidst the noise. One ad (for example, on TV), isn’t enough. That one ad has to fit into your marketing ecosystem to build relationships (your social media platforms, your website, anywhere else you want to reach your audience).

Read on for the full highlights:

Content Marketing Institute Founder, Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, where their mission is “to advance the practice of content marketing, through online education, print, and in-person events.”

As an expert on and advocate for content marketing, Joe is a big believer in “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Joe will give content away for free, even things that they would normally charge for (within reason). His latest book, “Content Inc.” looks at several successful entrepreneurs who started out with content surrounding a passion or audience pain point and built a following by providing useful content for free.

And it’s not enough to give content away for free. If the content isn’t valuable or relevant to your audience, you won’t build the following you need to be able to monetize in the long run. And if you aren’t sharing your content where your potential audience hangs out, they’ll never see it anyway. “It’s all about the audience. Where are they hanging out, how do they want to communicate, what makes the most sense for the types of stories you’re telling. That’s where you should be and spend your resources doing them well.”

Read on for the full highlights:

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