{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Content Strategy for Social Media

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss content strategy for social media, especially the difference between performative and conversational social media content. Learn what the differences are, why they matter, and how you might want to approach your own social media content strategy. Tune in to learn more!


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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Content Strategy for Social Media

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Christopher Penn 0:17

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, let’s talk about social media content, specifically, content for social media that is performative rather than conversational.

Our good friend Brooke Sellas recently wrote a book conversations that connect.

And while I was going through that and chatting with her, it got me thinking about how we create content for social media, on public social media networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

We need to be seen, and these algorithms prize engagement.

So what has sort of happened and you notice this a lot.

I’ve seen a lot on LinkedIn, at these very click Beatty kinds of posts.

Like last week, I ate some ice cream, but the first time ever, and there’s very trim over overly dramatic pieces of content that are performative, they’re they’re meant to be like a performance to gather engagement, as opposed to the way social media used to be back in the early 2000s, when it was really conversational.

So Katie, when it comes to creating content for social media, how do you think about performative content, which is meant basically to get eyeballs and clicks versus conversational content? Where it might not be the most provocative things, but you could actually have a real conversation with someone?

Katie Robbert 1:36

Oh, my goodness, well, I mean, I’ll just sort of stay the blanket statement that I’m not great at social media.

And so if you’re asked if, if I were asked, you create performative content for social, I would fail miserably, because I’m just bad at that.

I’m also bad at creating conversational content for that matter.

But I’m better at that.

Because to me that feels more genuine and authentic.

And it’s really meant to have a conversation with people versus just look at me shock value.

Here I am, like, I’m just personally, I’m not good at that.

And so when I see that, you know, there’s the, I just, you know, I just graduated from college and made a bazillion dollars, here’s a thread, like, you’re not going to tell me anything that’s actually useful, other than you inherited a lot of money from your parents, and you’re trying to hide that fact, by pretending that you know anything about how to run a business, or to your point on LinkedIn, you know, I almost died yesterday, dot dot dot.

And then you have to read into this thing that’s really all about how, you know, they put a piece of content on Facebook, and somebody gave them a bad piece of feedback, and how the whole post is about being able to take criticism in stride.

And it’s like, cool, because here’s the thing.

I don’t get from any of these posts.

Really, what’s the so what? And I think that that’s the problem I have with the performative content strategy that people are using for social media is it is just for shock value is just for engagement.

It’s not really a so what, and I struggle to be okay with that.

Christopher Penn 3:28

I don’t think that’s an unfair statement, though.

Because the so what is I need more clicks so that you see my content, right? I mean, it’s a very selfish, selfish, so what is I need you I need to the algorithm to to see me and so I’m going to do whatever it takes to get that attention, as opposed to this is something we were talking about last week and writing about in our new social paper that’s coming up, that we still haven’t given a title to that conversational social networks like Slack, for example, like our analytics for marketers, Slack community, there’s no benefit to performative content, you don’t get any brownie points.

There’s no algorithm and so you posting something provocative in one of our channels, is probably just getting get ignored or at worst, you know, one of us could say, Hey, knock that off.

That’s, that’s not what we’re doing here.

And I think the so what for the for the marketer is, insights into your audience come from conversation, right.

I like two weeks ago, when we were doing looking at the live streams, the live stream where I was doing it myself felt very different than when you and John are there.

Because when you’re by yourself, it really is performative, it’s a performance there’s no chance for conversation because you’re literally by yourself.

And I felt like even though it was going through the content and trying to, to mentally Have you asking so all the time when I was doing it didn’t have that conversational aspect that allows an audience to relate and say, Oh, that was the question I was going to ask.

And so I think from a so what perspective you can get more value out of conversational content, if you’re participating in the conversation, able to ask questions, and even just listen to other people’s questions.

Katie Robbert 5:17

Well, you know, you mentioned something that, I think is a really important point, which is that, you know, performative content tends to be very selfish in nature, very, you know, all about me.

And so whether it’s meant to be performative, whether it’s meant to be conversational, that I think is where a lot of content strategy goes wrong, is that the content is focused on what I want to tell you, the content is focused on what I think you should be paying attention to, versus I’m answering your questions that you have.

And so it’s the AI versus you, it’s the me versus Wii.

And that is really sort of what we’re getting down to is, you know, is the content that I’m writing all Me, me, me, let me tell you about what I did.

Versus Hey, you seem like you have that question.

Is there an answer that can be provided that’s going to help you fix the problem that you’re having.

And those are two very different content strategies.

And I feel like even content marketers with the best of intentions, sometimes ourselves included, fall into that trap of let me make it all about me.

So that I can tell you how to fix your problem.

And it’s that because people, humans, audience prospects, whatever we want to call them, have such a small attention span and limited time.

If they see that you’re, you know, unless you’re like a big celebrity that people are obsessed with, and you know, you have a fan base, people don’t want to hear about you.

They themselves want the content to be selfish in in a way that they want to see themselves.

They want to get their questions answered.

That was a little bit of a rant, but here we are.

Christopher Penn 7:07

No, but that that’s, that’s totally appropriate.

Because if that is the case, and I so that the follow up question then is how do you as a marketer, flip your perspective? Like I have the things that I do I want to hear from you, how do you get out of your own head and get away from self self centered content to be making stuff that’s legitimately useful for other people?

Katie Robbert 7:29

Well, I mean, one of the first things I do after I write a draft is I look at how many times I start sentences with I, I did this, I’m thinking this, I want to tell you this, you know, people reading that, even though my intention might be to be helping them or providing them with advice or solutions, it’s still very much reads like me, me, me, I.

And so that is just in terms of editing, that’s one of the first things that I try to do is take all of those references to me and I, you know, granted, you can’t, you can, but you, it’s harder to take every single reference out.

But if the majority of your content starts with AI, then it’s probably mostly just about you.

Christopher Penn 8:15

How much do you think is also a function of the fact that marketers are focused too much on the bottom of the funnel? Because when you think about the customer journey, we have talked about the pigs framework, a lot like no problem impacts general solution specific solution, and at the very beginning of that journey, it has to be all about the audience, like, do you even know that you have this problem? When you get to a specific solution? Like yeah, okay.

Now, you probably do want to know, like, for example, how Trust Insights can help you with your organizational change issues, right? And how do we do that, specifically, as opposed to do I have an organizational change problem to begin with, but because of the way that organizations are run, and in particular, the way sales tends to work? I think we all have this very, very bottom of funnel mentality, like it always has to be about us, we have to capture leads and create leads or rack up cart, filled carts or whatever.

We don’t ever think, higher up in the funnel to say, yeah, do you even know that you have a problem? Do you know what the impact of this problem is? If you don’t solve it, and that should be more audience facing content? Because we’re trying to educate them, not sell them something?

Katie Robbert 9:29

Well, it’s interesting because yes, at the end of the day, because we are the ones generating the content, it is all about us.

But it’s the way in which is presented.

And so you know, let’s say we’re presenting bottom of the funnel content about how attribution analysis works or how you would benefit from it or whatever the thing is, you know, there’s a difference between saying, Trust Insights is the absolute greatest and the only company on the face of the planet who should ever do attribution analysis versus here What happens when you the person don’t do attribution analysis correctly? You know, here’s the resources and help you can get.

We’re essentially saying the same thing is that Trust Insights is the agency that you should hire to help you with your attribution analysis.

But us just saying, you know, we’re the best we’re the greatest hire us versus here are the problems that you are facing that we solve, we help you solve are two very different approaches.

Okay, so before you get into the next question, I’m curious, Chris, how do you what are your tools for making your content not all about you? Your things?

Christopher Penn 10:45

My main things, one of them is you constantly whispering in my in my ear, so what?

Katie Robbert 10:52

So that you’re not just pontificating,

Christopher Penn 10:55

not just pontificating.

But the other thing is, is that lesson from Marcus Sheridan his book, from I guess, like 12 years ago, now, the book title is they ask you answer.

And to the extent that I can gather questions and answer those questions and questions that real people ask, helps me to do that.

So last week was the Agorapulse social Summit.

I did a session there.

But I went to every session and gathered up, it was virtual, I gathered up all the questions people asked us copied and pasted them all into one giant document.

And these are real questions.

People have these these are not made up.

But these are questions that then I can go answer because I know at least one person has the question that they asked at a conference.

The same is true for any event I go to you know, I listened very carefully to all the questions people ask in q&a sessions, because that’s where the good stuff is, like last week, we have questions like, what kind of trends do you see coming up the PR industry? What’s your opinion on tick tock is a serious platform to promote companies.

What’s your favorite way to implement Facebook’s conversion API? What’s your opinion of marketing in the metaverse? These are? These are all questions that have no real questions that real people asked.

And I think creating content around those questions to answer the questions allows me to create content that serves people, right, because it’s answering the question, but in doing so, demonstrate some level of expertise by being able to answer the question intelligently.

And so that’s, that’s my big thing is what questions somebody’s asking.

If there’s no question, then, yeah, it’s a lot more challenging.

The other thing is, again, just thinking about, if I was a member of the audience, would I find any value in what I was saying? Or is it really just navel gazing?

Katie Robbert 12:41

Which is, which is a tough question to answer when you’re looking at your own content.

Because, you know, we as marketers want to believe that we’re trying to be as helpful as possible.

But it’s still may be very self serving of let me tell you all about me and my expertise.

And I may not be actually answering anything for you.

But here I am talking about all the cool things that I’ve done.

And so it is, it’s really difficult.

I think, personally, to not have at least a little bit of that performative content in your content strategy, it’s going to happen,

Christopher Penn 13:16

it’s going to happen, but the bench test really is, would I pay even a penny? Would I even if I found a penny on the ground? Why would I give that to you in exchange for your content? The answer is no.

Then I know, you know, it’s fallen flat.

Like I looked, for example, at our newsletter.

Every week, there’s there’s a strategic point of view from you.

There’s fresh data of some kind.

Now, we’ve we’ve actually just made a change.

Last week, we’ve said, we’re going to turn down the curation, content curation aspect, and bring in job listings because again, if I, as the audience member, want to see what’s happening in my industry, job listings, Mike is probably more valuable to me than than just here’s a list of 12 links that might or might not be interesting, even though those links do get clicks.

From a value perspective.

What I like to get someone here rating potential job positions for me, well, yeah, I would I would pay a penny for that.

I might even pay $1 for that.

So to me, from a value perspective, that’s worth paying for my own newsletter, I try to create content that again, would you pay even a penny for it? If you would, great.

Then I, it’s passed that internal test.

If I look at something I’ve written go, I wouldn’t pay money for this.

Then I would say okay, then it’s not doing its job.

Katie Robbert 14:37

So as we’re thinking about content strategy for social media, specifically, you know, the topic of performative versus conversational content, you know, we’ve started going down the road of, you know, selfish content versus helpful content.

So let’s say I’m creating so a lot.

So a lot of times when I’m writing the newsletter, I start with some kind of a personal story, hoping that people can relate to it and see how I’ve connected the dots between my everyday life and the piece of, you know, business advice that I’m trying to give.

You know, sometimes when I’m writing that I cringe a little bit because I feel like, well, people don’t really care that much about me personally, they just want to get the advice and go.

And so, you know, if I were to put that out on social media, I think I would probably skip the personal story aspect of it.

But I don’t know if that’s, if that’s the right way to go.

And this is where it starts to get a little bit convoluted of how much of it should be about you so that people can relate to it.

And how much of it should just be? Here’s the business advice.

Christopher Penn 15:59

Here’s what I would, what I think there’s a really good hack, because a Slack group, a discord group, etc.

These are conversational medias, by default, they are not performative.

When you look back at the conversations you’ve had in the previous week, any conversation where you’ve written more than two paragraphs, there’s a there there to expand on it to turn it into a full sized piece of content, right? Because you’ve clearly felt enough about it to write a couple of paragraphs like last week, in the slack group, one of the things we were talking about was the sort of the Agorapulse social barometer like where did this data come from? When you ask you ask every day, a question of the day, right.

The question of the day, questions, create conversations, we had a great one, couple weeks ago, on was reaching the unreachable.

And how do you how do you reach people and you had a little hot take right in there.

That’s an indicator that and there was conversation, it was reaction to it.

So that is piece of content, I would say that, okay, that that someone felt was valuable enough to react to it, and to engage in a conversation with you.

So pull that out and expand on it.

And now, that would make a great piece of full length content.

One of the other hacks that I would suggest, again, this is something that I picked up from discord.

But in our Slack community, we now ask a question of the day to create conversation.

Hey, I got this question for you.

You know, what do you do? Or what’s your? What’s your perspective on Slack versus discord? Or what are your marketing challenges? If you want to take advantage of your existing social networks on public social media, instead of putting up a ice cream yesterday, kind of performing a post, ask a question of the day, see what happens, try for a week on your Facebook, your LinkedIn, your Twitter, ask a question that and see what reactions you get.

Now, if you get none, that means that your audience has been so conditioned to performative content that they don’t even think about as a conversation space anymore.

And that means you need to be looking at maybe starting your own slack group or your own discord group.

But if there’s a good chance that if you ask a question, not leading just a little legitimate question, like hey, what are your pain points in marketing right now.

And you get conversations, you can maybe twist that algorithm in your favor even more, because you’re gonna get a lot more engagement on that post than you will, you know, I eat ice cream or I almost died or whatever kind of content.

So there’s, there’s a couple of different ways to approach that.

And then, for you, if you post that question on LinkedIn, or Twitter or wherever, and people respond to it, and it spurs ideas, and you’ve got more content for you to write about in the newsletter.

Katie Robbert 18:46

Which I totally get, but that doesn’t answer the question of adding in a personal story to get a point across does that make it performative or conversational?

Christopher Penn 18:56

Does it add value or not?

Katie Robbert 18:58

I and I don’t know the answer to that question.

I think of myself as one of the most boring people on the face of the planet.

So if you’re asking me then No, it has no value.

Christopher Penn 19:10

I would say though, you do get responses when people hit the Reply button to the newsletter right and and that’s to me is an indicator that somebody felt it was useful enough that they had to hit reply and comment right? The same as you know, your questions of the day the same as your the Twitter conversations you engage in.

There’s there are people who react to you, if you never got any reactions, if you know, everything you published, landed with a resounding thud and nobody talked at all I would say yeah, then you’re creating content that isn’t valuable.

But as long as you’re getting people to interact in a conversational way and not just you know, act, I sneeze and accidentally hit the like button, then you know that you’re creating some value where I think It can get challenging for some creators is, if your point of view or perspective is so narrow, that you only attract a very specific crowd.

But worry about that later get reactions.


Katie Robbert 20:12

I like to think about personally approaching content strategy approaching what I posted on social media as the same way that I would approach a conversation with a friend.

If I’m just talking about me, the whole time not asking them any questions.

But how have you been? Chris? What’s going on in your life? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, you know, not trying to one up them with oh my god, I’ve been through the same thing.

Let me tell you this 10 minute story about me to distract from whatever you’re doing and whatever you’re going through.

Oh, you.

Oh, so you’re drinking coffee this morning.

Oh, my God.

So I drink coffee every morning.

So let me tell you about my process for drinking coffee and how I spilled that a little bit of calendar.

And I had to clean it up before my dog got into it.

I’ve completely taken over the conversation and made it about me, I’m no longer actively listening.

I’m really just waiting for my turn to talk, which nobody, I can’t think of a single person who appreciates that kind of a conversation that then falls into the performative content that Chris you’ve been talking about.

And so I think for me, one of my hacks, if you want to call it that, is I try to think about the content I’m creating as that two way street of am I giving you the person who’s reading my content, enough openings, to tell me about yourself? Or am I just purely telling you that I spilled my coffee on the counter this morning? And then that’s the end of the conversation? You’re like, cool.

So I had a bunch of stuff to tell you.

But now I really don’t want to

Christopher Penn 21:49

it exactly.

One of the easiest things you can do as a content creator, is to try having a conversation with somebody about the content you’re trying to create.

You’ve done that a whole bunch of times in our company slack instance, you’ve you’ve said, Hey, I’ve got this idea.

What do you guys think? And we have a conversation about it.

Sometimes it’s a lengthy conversation, sometimes it’s not we had a conversation last week, there was like, as long was just just kept going and going and going.

To me, that’s an indicator that there’s value in that topic, if it gets people talking.

There’s value in it.

Right? And so your approach is a smart one have is this? Is this conversational? If I said this to somebody, even though they’re reading it passively as a reader at first, would it compel a conversation? Or, to your point is it just hey, look at me, I’m awesome, etc.

And people are just going to tune out and wander off.

One of the proxy indicators of stuff like this is like things like open rate in your email marketing, or scroll depth on your web analytics.

You know, if if your content is so performative, and so self centered, you’re going to notice those, those rates are going to be real low, people are going to scroll, you know, 10% of the pages, get through the first paragraph, and then they’re out, right, as opposed to, hey, everybody got to here on this page, they at least got through all the way through the cold open every single issue that tells you that, what you’re what you have to say is a value that people that keeps them around?

Katie Robbert 23:20

Well, and I feel like that, you know, so you were talking about the question of the day, and that’s a really interesting content strategy for social media is to give people that opening, however.

And so and we did this last week, and it wasn’t one of our more successful questions was we asked about ourselves, we asked people to give us feedback on us, which I kind of had a feeling wasn’t going to be one of our more engaging questions, because people don’t want to talk about us, they want to talk about themselves.

And so it’s our job as moderators, as the community owners, to not talk about ourselves, but to give people the opening, to talk about themselves.

And the same is true on social media.

It’s your job as the brand, as you know, unless you’re making an announcement about the brand, that’s fine.

But if you’re actually looking for people’s feedback, it’s not about you.

You need to give people the opening to talk about themselves.

What are your marketing challenges, not? What challenges do you think I can solve for you?

Christopher Penn 24:28


And I bet you if you posted a question in the group saying, Tell me what you do, like this long

Katie Robbert 24:37

to be and it’s and that’s the thing, people love being given an opportunity to talk about themselves.

And so as the content creator, you need to keep that in mind that yes, you may be given an opportunity to talk about yourself.

But unless you’re writing the content only for you that is not your time to talk about yourself.

Christopher Penn 25:02


So, if you want to switch away from performative social media to conversational social media, start asking questions about other people start asking questions in general, is something It’s so cheesy and so corny.

It’s a leftover from some sales training I did in the early 2000s.

But one of the things that sales trainer said was a question mark is a hook.

It’s like a fish hook, right? That can get other people to bite these if you never are asking questions, means you’re not fishing with anything in the wall, you’re never gonna catch anything.

Because you’re just throwing stuff in the water that that is a no, no, which is a fish, when you put a hook with some bait on it, you’re gonna catch some fish.

Now, we can debate whether or not this idea of the people is bait is just prey to be caught.

But the point is valid.

Asking questions is one of the best ways to create conversation, and to turn the conversation away from you.

Katie Robbert 25:57

I agree with that with the caveat that the question doesn’t start or include something like, what do you think of me? Or how can I do this? And so it’s also the removing references to yourself out of the conversation? Because unless you were actually asking, Do you like my hair? What do you think of my outfit? give me feedback on the presentation that I just gave to you.

Keep yourself out of the conversation.

Christopher Penn 26:28


And I would, I would bet the value of a small retail pastry that if you were to do so, even on public social media, where people have gotten used to perform to content, that you will still get better engagement, more conversation, and perhaps an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise for real.

If the conversation goes far enough.

It doesn’t scale.


You know, performative content scales really well, because you just copy and paste, batch and blast all over the place.

But it could, it does lead to that level of engagement that you’re actually looking for from people.

Katie Robbert 27:05

So bottom line, it’s not about you, it’s about your audience.

So if you’re leading with me in AI, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Christopher Penn 27:13


So speaking of which, tell us how you are approaching performative versus conversational content Popeye are free slack group go to trust for marketers, where YouTube can ask questions, answer questions with over 2500 other marketers just like you, and wherever it is, you’re watching or listening to the show.

It doesn’t matter you’d prefer to have it on instead, we probably have it go to trust AI podcast, and choose to follow the show wherever it is that you prefer it best.

Thanks for tuning in.

We’ll talk to you next time.

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