This post is part of the Content Q&A Series, featuring interviews with top content strategists and bloggers about their work and insights about the industry.
Mike Schaffer’s been a social media strategist since the days when that meant breaking rules on Facebook and Myspace to create a presence for brands before they were officially allowed.
Since then, he’s extended his repertoire to a holistic content approach, including film, customer care, advertising and content, for clients from major league baseball teams to restaurants, non-profits and the Army National Guard.
Relationships are key to success, he told The Content Strategist, and Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters network might be a sign of what’s to come in content.
The Content Strategist: What’s your background and how’d you get into content marketing?
Schaffer: My path into the content marketing world comes from a background in media and public relations — I got my start in radio and that turned into a pretty long career in sports PR, sports entertainment, restaurant, retail, nonprofit, got to work with Mike Tyson — everything imaginable from fun restaurant brands to national sports teams and some World Cup stuff.
Around 2008, I had been dabbling in social media work for my clients. I graduated college before social media was a thing, before Facebook, so I had been sort of illegally placing clients on Facebook and Myspace, and that was before brands were allowed to have a presence on those networks.
I had a couple clients that were getting more and more interested in social media, and they kind of said, if you want to still be our agency, you have to get digital.
So I started jumping into the online public relations marketing industry on Twitter and the next year I started my blog, TheBuzzByMikeSchaffer.com, and starting speaking at events and gained some foothold or level of presence in the social media industry — and then I went full-time digital when I joined iostudio in 2010 .
TCS: Tell me about iostudio — what do you do for them, and what are some nuances in how you approach content for your industry?
Schaffer: I am the content marketing director at iostudio. Social media even in the last few years has become a tactic, not a strategy, whereas not too long ago it was … let’s just have a social media strategy, we’re good to go. Now, social media has to be part of the bigger picture — that’s where my passion is — let’s see how all the pieces fit together.
We are at our core an advertising agency, but so much more than that — there are four main lanes of deliverables: advertising, film and video, customer care and then content marketing. While there is significant overlap, there are four lanes.
In my role as content marketing director I sort of get to stick my nose into a lot of things across the agency, the Army National Guard, California Tortilla, a regional restaurant chain.
I get to work on a whole lot of fun stuff for all of our clients — I’ve been doing some PR and marketing for two major league baseball teams — so we really have a wide range of clients, which I love, being able to flex our muscles in different industries is a fun challenge.
TCS: There’s a lot of definitions for content marketing — based on the work you do, how would you define it?
Schaffer: I think content marketing is three things. It is one, what’s the story; two, who needs to hear it; three, how can we get that message in front of them.
So I know it doesn’t fit easily into one sentence but those are the three key parts in my mind of content marketing we have to start as storytellers. We have to figure out what’s the message were trying to get across, who’s the target audience, what’s the best way to get it there.
I was at the dentist yesterday and she pulled out this bag of six or seven different scalpels or picks or tweezers and it was a whole mess of stuff. She poured it on the table next to me and I said, ”Oh my God, I hope you don’t need to use all of those.” She said, ”No, actually each of them has its own purpose so it’s actually better if I use more because they’re specialized.”
So I think that third part of content marketing in my definition — how to get the message out to the people you want to get it to — clicked for me, that every different vehicle, every different media will have a different purpose and a different audience, so understanding what’s on the table and what’s available to use — I think that’s the challenge.
TCS: Looking forward, what excites you about the field in the next few years?
Schaffer: One is about building relationships with your customers, or your audience, it doesn’t matter if content marketers are looking to make a sale, per se. There’s so much clutter in the world that the marketers who can build a stronger relationship are the ones that are going to see greater success. I’m seeing the owned content areas be a real big thing people are going to try — I don’t know if it’s going to work, but I think more people are going to try.
By owned content areas, I mean Lady Gaga’s new social platform, Little Monsters — she created this entire social network surrounding her and the lifestyle and image that she’s portraying, so I think there’s going to be a lot more of that as brands try to create this holistic experience and keep people there.
I think is really strong and the second part of that what were kind of looking at right now is augmented reality, I like to say, enhanced media. You can look at what’s on a page and it can be so much more than that. Maxim and Esquire have some recent examples that have done well, and as more people get used to that technology and thinking that way, we’re going to see more of that in the next five years.
TCS: What important skills do you recommend building for someone who wants to succeed in content?
Schaffer: Number one is the ablity to connect with an audience, so being able to understand what the target audience is looking for at the end of the day you can know exactly who you want to talk to and how to get it to them – that first step of knowing what the story is is a big part.
Also, what I’ve seen in content generators is the ability to find some sort of passion for the client, the company or product — being able to find something you really like about what you’re working on helps you just do a better job at it and in an agency world there’s different clients coming through the shop all the time, but our job as marketers on the agency side is to find something we really truly are passionate about with that client, and then have that sort of guide us.
TCS: Any industry-related pet peeves?
Schaffer: I hate the world guru — guru and wizard and silly names for experts, those are probably my biggest pet peeves.