Conference Notebook: For SMBs, Content Marketing May Not Be So Easy

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ContentIt’s an oft-repeated refrain in digital marketing circles: great content creates great conversations, and those conversations make great marketing in the social age. Brands are lauded when they post or tweet the right thing at the right time — and many social media evangelists spread the gospel that in an always-on, interactive consumer culture small businesses need to do the same. But that line of thinking neglects the high costs associated with content creation, and ignores the problematic economics of content marketing for small businesses.

For companies like Facebook, it’s a particularly pressing issue. The social network, which has moved cautiously into the local market, is beginning the process of bringing the 18 million small businesses on its platform into the fold, simplifying its product set from 64 ad products to just a handful. During a presentation Thursday at BIA/Kelsey’s Leading in Local event in Austin, Matt Baker, head of SMB partnerships at Facebook, said the company has focused on shifting its product set from “a social network to a marketing platform… with a consistent structure and clear call to action.”

In the small business market, content marketing suffers from two potentially debilitating inefficiencies, the first of which has been solved over the past 18 months. Publisher networks like Yext and SinglePlatform have popped up to solve the distribution inefficiencies, creating an infrastructure through which businesses can easily make sure that content ends up reaching publishers across the web, and in front of the audiences that need to see it.

However, as these products scale, and content marketing occupies a larger place in the industry, the gap between the amount and quality of content brands can generate, compared to small businesses, widens. Consumers begin to expect businesses — whether they are an international retailer or a mom-and-pop store — to push out releavant and timely content about new products or upcoming events, and respond to social media posts in real-time. And while brands can hire agencies to create content and execute their strategy, the economics of content marketing do not necessarily hold up for the SMB market.

It’s a problem that companies are beginning to address, but have yet to find a solution. Facebook, for instance, partnered with Shutterstock, a photo licensing service, last month to integrate easily accessible stock photos into the company’s ad creation tool for small businesses. Meanwhile, the content marketing platforms, which have popped up over the past two years, are struggling to solve the content creation problem without sacrificing the unit economics of their own model.

Take Signpost, a New York-based startup, which offers a subscription service that manages content marketing service for small businesses. The company, which has raised $5 million from Google Ventures and Spark Capital, uses a team of contract employees to create content for small businesses, which the company can promote, and then track and measure conversions, across a network of publishers. During a panel Thursday, Signpost CEO Stuart Wall said the company has reduced costs by integrating the presence, conversion, and marketing services into a single product, sharing data between the three to justify a larger spend on content.

“The ultimate model is a mix of the two,” said Daphne Earp, director of business development at Yext, about business creating content themselves or dishing it out to a third-party. “You’re going to have this model where a reseller does the more technical content marketing — SEM, et cetera — and the small business takes care of the more [subjective] content” like photographs.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.