As a marketer, business owner or innocent bystander, you’ll appreciate the ever-increasing need for (or noise about) good quality content. Your social media assets need a constant flow of the stuff to survive, but what constitutes good quality content? That’s the question we’ll answer for you during this 9 minute read – think about it, in 9 minutes you’ll be 75% more motivated to look at your company Facebook page* and 17.8% smarter*.

Social Media Content

In 2015 we know that good quality content is not cat photos, it’s not reposting Kanye memes and it’s not announcing the birthday of Tracey from accounts. So just what is it? First let’s look at who decides what good quality content is. Who or what is this God of content that determines what is top shelf what is a digital turd? Could it be Google, Mark Zuckerberg, Anonymous?

While some of the aforementioned may attempt to influence this, the correct answer is actually people. Your stock-standard, run-of-the-mill human beings. Or more specifically, people who are online. Or even more specifically, the brand’s online community of people. Or even more specifically x 2, the people that the content gets put in front of (not all your people see your stuff).

In 2015 we know that good quality content is not cat photos, it’s not reposting Kanye memes and it’s not announcing the birthday of Tracey from accounts.

And how do people signal to brands that their content does or doesn’t rock? Luckily for us, social media platforms have built-in this content rocks functionality. These are things like Comments, Likes, Plays, Retweets, Swipeups, Shares and ♥s. In totality this lovely stuff is called ENGAGEMENT. We’ll get our nerd on and address the nitty gritty of engagement another time, but for now all we need to know is that good quality content = good engagement from human being people.

As a twist to this, some platforms (we’re looking at you Facebook) recognise this engagement and reward it, by putting it in front of more people, thereby getting a snowball effect. This phenomenon has an evil twin as well, acting in the opposite so the digital turds out there get filtered out of people’s newsfeeds. Other social media platforms have no such filter, but regardless of how your content is distributed (or not), it doesn’t change the fact that good quality content can be identified by good engagement.

So what type of content gets the best engagement?

We conducted a research study in the second half of 2014 on not only this, but which New Zealand brands were managing to achieve good engagement. By doing this we could then monitor and track good engagement in the wild, see what content types it attaches itself to and determine if there’s some magical formula to predict engagement levels. From Air New Zealand to Xero, there were some interesting findings, but to get straight to the goodies, we distilled everything down to a pretty triangle thing:

Social media content types

Yes we managed to categorise most content into just three types. And we gave Branding the award for most outstanding engagement. That’s not to say being Informative and Selling your stuff won’t achieve engagement, they just perform between poor to average when compared to Branding.

To represent these content types analogically, think of social media as a party. Your brand could be:

  1. The guy who talks about himself all night and tries to sell people vacuum cleaners. Nobody likes that guy.
  2. The guy at the party giving out free booze, which is certainly a good way to grab some attention, but you don’t want to become the free booze guy – he doesn’t get a lot of respect.
  3. The guy who tells engaging stories, who listens, who uses language that resonates with his audience, who has like-minded values, who is relevant. Hot tip! Be guy #3

We gave Branding the award for most outstanding engagement.

Now depending on your objectives, being Informative and Selling your stuff might be integral to your social media strategy, so before you scratch a line through half of next month’s content calendar, think about what a healthy mix of content could be. That beautifully crafted sales message, complete with catchy call-to-action won’t necessarily go to waste, but these sorts of messages should start to see the light of day a little less. Something like 70% Branding, 20% Informative and 10% Selling, like this modified triangle thing:

Social media content type by volume

So go take a look at your content over the last month or two. If you find it was a bit bloated on the sales side or you’ve arranged 10 x Five tips to achieve level Unicorn awesomeness posts like dominoes, you’ll need to adjust your mix. Once you get ratio sorted, keep an eye on engagement levels so you can fine-tune.

Let’s expand a bit on the branding thing.

The evidence suggests branding translates quite well in social media. That is, if you’re able to tell your story successfully through branded imagery, voice and activity, this will resonate with your target audience. This makes perfect sense, as when people are on social media, they aren’t in buy mode or how do I mode (that’s what Google’s for). They’re in what’s happening mode and are partial to a bit of storytelling. They are on their social networks for some emotional connection, whether it be with their best friend or with a perfect stranger. Or a brand they like, want, believe in, aspire to, advocate.

These days people expect brands to be on social media and will even seek them out so as to ‘attach’ them to their individual profiles. As HBR’s Alexander Jutkowitz says in Marketing Is Dead, and Loyalty Killed It [paywalled], ‘they choose particular brands to communicate something personal about their own beliefs and priorities’ i.e. aligning themselves to the brand values exuded by the organisation. And touching on the insecurities of people, he goes on to say ‘being a loyal fan of the brand reassures them that they are succeeding in being a certain kind of person’. No huge surprise we know, but so many organisations are still getting their content wrong at this fundamental level.

If you’re able to tell your story successfully through branded imagery, voice and activity, this will resonate with your target audience.

The key here is being relevant. Social media is a dialogue where you want – where you need – people to engage. So the brand values that you want people to affiliate themselves with have to be relevant to them. In return, they will attach themselves to your brand – they will want to be associated with you, they will become loyal. Once you build up your online community this way, you then have the opportunity to convert them into customers.

But first and foremost, focus on branding – people engage with brands, not companies or transactions. Organisations that use social media exclusively for self-promotion and sales messages will typically have lower engagement or will simply fail.

What does branding look like?

While you can (and should) be branding whilst selling and being informative, what we’re talking about here is pure branding – communicating the values and identity of the brand through consistent voice, styling and storylines.

From our research last year, content that aligned brands with lifestyle, sports, charities, sponsorships and even other brands, was generally received far better and gained greater engagement than other content. This content utilised brand values and associations, looking past their products, past the potential value their products can offer, to an abstract concept or emotional state one might reach. As an example, ASB’s Facebook page does pretty well for engagement and if we look at the month of January, content was mainly about either the tennis or Auckland’s 175th birthday. No ‘open a bank account with us’ or ‘how to pay your bills via the internet’ posts.

ASB Facebook post

Another example is Air NZ – they’ve got some fairly handy concepts to play with – think travel, going home, kiwi-ness etc. The post below is simple, but near guaranteed an emotional response and subsequent engagement, especially from Kaikourians.

Air NZ Facebook post

How do I do branding?

If you don’t know already, you need to find out what your customers value. Find out what gets them up in the morning, understand what they’re interested in and what they’re passionate about. If you can match those things with what your brand represents and summarise it all in a handful of focussed concepts or values, that will become your brand story. That is, the branding tap from which the creative ideas and content can flow.

No, it’s not that easy. It requires time and thought and ideally a few different people in the organisation. It needs brainstorming. It needs to be planned, a strategy and objectives need to be defined and rethought and discarded a few times. So have a brainstorming session, invite your staff, your boss, someone from outside the business, a customer (there’s an idea). It’s perfectly normal behaviour, humans have been having strategy sessions since the beginning of time – what do you think those cave drawings are about? They’re not early art, they’re brainstorming session before whiteboards were invented*.

What does ‘being informative/helpful’ look like?

This sort of content can swing between branding and selling or can sit in it’s own awkward mutually exclusive spot. We say awkward because if it’s not branding or selling, it’s being helpful for no reason, like the free booze guy at the party (which can be an indication of no strategy).

Often the content has a number in its title and/or can be seen as click-bait (even if they are genuinely trying to be helpful). Things like:

  • How to get your goat to paint your house
  • 10 hot tips to port to another dimension
  • The latest thing you’re gonna need to be awesome
  • What your brand’s social media content needs to look like in 2015

You get the gist.

In Facebook post terms, a good example is Xero, who invest a lot of their content efforts in the informative/helpful zone (and subsequently lose out in engagement). Below is a post about quotations following the release of the quoting functionality of their software.

Xero Facebook post

What does selling look like?

Social media platforms, spearheaded by Facebook, are clamping down on promotional content. They are beginning to make a clear delineation between good quality content and self-promoting stuff. And with fairly obvious motives too. They want content to be engaging (so the human being people keep using the platform) and promotional stuff to be paid for via their advertising platform (so money keeps rolling into their bank account). Check here for the official word from The Facebook.

Do the socialising on social media, then periodically send your audience to places they can convert.

So quite clearly, the selling type of content doesn’t go so well with engagement, but it can still form part of your social media strategy. Providing you’ve done the hard yards in the branding department building up a loyal following, you can give them a nudge every now and then by publishing and sharing content that directs traffic to a specific conversion asset. A what? Things like a landing page for a product launch, a sign-up form, a special deal on your e-commerce site or a contact page would be some examples. Places people can convert from an unknown to an inquiry to a lead to a purchase. Email marketing is still as relevant as ever these days, in fact some studies suggest people prefer to get the selly promotional stuff via email, so use social media to build your email database. Do the socialising on social media, then periodically send your audience to places they can convert.

Remember though, if your social media is Facebook-centric, your selling posts are not going to get a lot of traction and it would probably be better to use Facebook advertising to get the message out.


  • For those that want a rule of thumb, try 70-20-10 in terms of what ‘type’ of content to publish. But in all cases, keep an eye on the levels of engagement for each post, see what works, tweak the mix accordingly and go again.
  • Get your brand and brand story sorted as this will be fundamental to your social media content – involve other people if possible.
  • Consider how your digital assets can work together, social media can be great for building up an audience, you then need places to convert them into inquiries and customers.
*Not verified. May not be true.

4 comments so far

  1. joshua,

    Im very excited this is the first article I have read that gets what social media is all about. Its probably the biggest hurdle in overcomeing other businesss as a social media expert is finding there brand and reflecting it to the people in way that is fun and exciting. Well done guys great job.

    • Jeremy,

      Thanks Joshua, it’s a tricky beast to tame but we try our best! While there are plenty of examples of brands still trying to use their social media content for sales, we feel the tide is turning, which is great.

  2. Elena Mironova,

    Very good article, great insights, thanks!

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