Content Pillars Don’t Work… It’s Time Social Media Managers Ditched Them Forever!

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For years, social media managers have been taught to create content plans structured around set content pillars or themes.

For example, if managing a photographer's social media, the pillars might include studio shots, behind-the-scenes photos, final photo reveals, booking information, and highlighting the gear used.

The idea is to rotate through these pillars while creating visually appealing, “magazine-style” content that provides value to the audience.

Which sounds great on paper but there's a fundamental issue with this strategy.

The content pillar approach often falls short when it comes to actually driving business results for clients.

Businesses want sales and leads, not just content!

We can hear you already… social media managers aren't responsible for sales… and we agree, but with a caveat.

Sure, you're not responsible for generating sales, but you ARE responsible for driving buyers to a website or generating leads your clients can sell to. Whether the website or sales team converts to sales is a separate issue – it's your job to make sure the right people are in the right place at the right time.

And content pillars, in their traditional sense, don't allow for that.

Let's just dial it back a little because you might be thinking… my client's goal is followers, not sales… and we want to just push back on that because while a client may initially ask for more followers, research shows that 55% of businesses hiring social media managers actually want to generate leads or sales from social channels. Getting more followers is just seen as a means to that end goal of boosting their bottom line.

So, rather than just racking up follower counts, social media managers need to focus on a strategic marketing pathway that guides the audience through specific phases to take the desired revenue-generating action.

Stop just “Filling the Feed”

Content pillars are great for filling a social media calendar each week. But when clients expect results for their cash, it's likely to end in tears when freelancers see their contracts cut short because they're not delivering.

Instead, freelance social media managers need to tie their content strategy directly to the 3-phase marketing pathway so they can make more sales on social media (more on this below).

Creating “magazine-style” content with traditional content pillars is fine early on for growing visibility but lacks long-term purposeful direction if relationships aren't built and conversions aren't generated.

Swap the content pillars for a 3-phase marketing pathway

Instead of using content pillars, the most effective social media managers consider themselves to be less audience builders and more strategic marketers. To do this effectively, they follow a marketing pathway with three distinct phases:

  1. Visibility—Getting the business noticed by the right potential customers so they are aware it exists. This is often referred to as the “know” stage of the “know, like a trust” model.
  2. Relationships—Building credibility, trust, and an engaged audience of prospective and existing buyers who keep coming back. This is the “like and trust” stage.
  3. Conversions – Strategically nurturing interested prospects through a launch campaign that drives them to make a purchase. This is the revenue phase where your clients will expect to see buyers on a website or leads they can sell to.

The ‘Know, Like & Trust' model is fundamentally flawed

The two Lauras

By methodically moving people through visibility -> relationships -> conversions, you create the right context and momentum for customers to take action.

Content pillars alone don't provide this strategic sequence. Even if the content is valuable, without a purposeful journey being mapped out, the audience likely won't convert to paying customers.

Use the pathway to mimic successful launches

Look at any major product launch from big brands, even musicians releasing a new album and tour and you'll see there is always an intentional buildup:

  1. Visibility – Teasers, radio plays, ads to create buzz
  2. Relationships – Talk show appearances to connect on a personal level
  3. Conversion – The hotly anticipated album release and tour dates dropped

This same pathway can be replicated through social media content, even for smaller brands. By taking a promotion mindset versus an arbitrary publishing schedule, social media efforts become laser-focused on contributing to sales.

Ultimately, getting results that impact the client's bottom line is what will reinforce the social media manager's value. A strategic marketing pathway demonstrates a direct line between social media efforts and revenue generation – the holy grail for driven social managers looking to retain clients long-term and increase fees.

While content pillars have their place for quickly populating a calendar, they cannot be the entire social media strategy if meaningful business impact is the goal.

In this competitive market, a shift to the visibility -> relationships -> conversions pathway is essential for freelance social media managers who want to be seen as revenue generators, not just content creators.


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We’ve been where you are today... we launched (and still run) two successful social media freelance businesses and joined forces to help you do the same.

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