Why your business must own its content

Businesses can hire office space from as little as an hour of time, can lease hardware or make use of cloud computing solutions, and can compete on a relatively level playing field online with just a cheap hosting account. But conversely, it’s never been more important to own the central location where you’re creating and publishing your content.

There’s a timely reminder of the terms and conditions for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook by Luke Brynley-Jones, which highlights the extensive agreements you make when signing up to a social network for yourself or for your business. For example you grant LinkedIn the rights to distribute and commercialise:

any user generated content, ideas, concepts, techniques or data to the services, you submit to LinkedIn, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you…”

At the same time, those companies are also looking to attract more users from search and other social networks in exactly the same ways as you are. Check out this insightful post by John Battelle – Portrait of Twitter as a young media company. And consider the widely reported launch of Facebook’s Graph Search. Or how Google is unifying everything around the Google+ backbone – business pages, local map listings etc.

 

Leverage external sites, but own yours:

We actively advocate the use of social networks, and assist companies in making the most of those opportunities. But quite often we’re asked why a client should bother running a blog, website or their own community?

Not only are there risks in relying on a third party to always be available (See the current uncertainty over the future for Posterous for a good example), but in a time where content and content marketing are becoming ever more important to business, do you want to be allowing a variety of services the opportunity to distribute, commercialise and benefit from your content?

There are benefits in allowing people to access, use, and re-use your content – this blog, for example, is licensed under Creative Commons, but that was our choice to make, and not pushed onto us by any terms and conditions. It also comes with the restriction that any distribution has to be accompanied by attribution, and is non-commercial. That attribution means that sharing will help this site benefit in terms of inbound links and search engine optimisation.

In terms of business assets, you need to own your content, and the benefits that will come from it . It’s more important than a nice office for attracting customers, and changing your perspective will encourage you to devote the time and effort required for high quality articles which will help you rise above the coming content marketing deluge.

And if you’re struggling with how to start tackling that challenge, we can help break down the website set-up, content and social media strategy, and the tactical implementation, for you – or even supply high quality articles which are prepared in conjunction with you, to ensure they’re exactly how you want to portray your business, and exactly what your customers want or need to read.

The “Cardboard arcade kid”, vs “Push button to add drama” – value in viral video?

Two weeks ago I posted a quick blog post about a video featuring 9-year-old Caine Monroy, who built a cardboard arcade over a summer vacation, and waited for his first customer to turn up.

Well, after two weeks, the result of his first customer happening to make a video about him, and then organising a flashmob via Reddit and Facebook is in.

Almost $200,000 dollars has been raised from what began as a child creating something cool with some old cardboard boxes, and it has a following that many brands would kill for. So what lessons could you take from something like this in terms of viral video?

  • Doing something interesting is key – if Caine hadn’t built his cardboard arcade for the fun of it, and then won over his only customer, filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, then none of this would have happened.
  • Relationships count – to make the flashmob happen, Mullick had help from the Reddit community, and also from friends and contacts who were able to post the event on popular LA recommendation sites and Facebook pages.
  • Spread it far – obviously we all put our videos on Youtube, but in this case, Vimeo actually received more views. Do you only focus on the first-placed site of it’s kind?
  • Give people inspiration – part of the effect has been kids around the world building there own cardboard arcades, which are constantly being featured on the Caine’s Arcade Facebook page etc.
  • Give people quick and easy ways to contribute – the scholarship fund suggests contributing ‘$1 or more’ to help Caine and other children prepare for college. Or you can buy a T-shirt or the film’s theme song via iTunes.

So basically:

  • Interesting.
  • Inspiring.
  • Relationships.
  • Shared.
  • Easy participation.

But what’s also missed in a lot of digital activity and promotion is that there was no guarantee that this particular video would take off. Besides Mullick’s time and energy in capturing and editing the footage and his promotional efforts since then, the reception it has received has been down to the people seeing it and responding, which led to media interest putting it in front of more people.

And yet still brands focus on big stunts and extravagant campaign approaches to video and asking people to do things. A lot of people have also been sharing this video for a new television channel launch:

OK, it’s a cool idea, and it does involve some participation in terms of kicking off the action by pressing the big red button, but then what? The audience watches everything unfold, and then possibly pays attention to the launch of a new TV channel in Belgium. Or not. It doesn’t lead onto anyone doing anything except watching some TV shows.

  • 29 Million Youtube views
  • 733 Likes on Facebook
  • 80 Followers on Twitter.

A couple of parody videos have been created, including a nice Lego version, but that’s about your lot. To put it another way, the big TV advertisement may have driven awareness of the television channel launch and resulted in higher audience figures initially, but most of you reading this would have comparable reach online, because messaging you is likely to give some interaction.

The question is what effect you want to achieve…

Why artists want to kill ‘content’, and why they’re wrong…

A massive and heinous crime has been committed by the internet against writers and artists. And it isn’t piracy, electronic distribution or increased competition for attention. If you really want to offend a creative person, just watch their response to the prose, film and art they create and love being referred to as ‘content’.

First it was businesspeople talking about content as something to fill the empty space between adverts. Then those SEO types came along and messed around to game the search engines and fool users. And now there’s a growing army of marketing people talking about using artistic methods to power ‘content marketing’ and prostitute noble work even more.

Don’t they understand?
Seven Dirty Words 4/12

 

Writers, artists – it’s OK when people say ‘content’

I consider writing a massive part of both who I am, and also of my occupation. I’ve held editorial roles, and received payment both for writing, and using all forms of media as an integral part of marketing. And I have absolutely no problem with anyone using the term ‘content’, as long as they’re not assuming it magically appears and doesn’t deserve time, resource, effort and reward.

After all, words only have the meanings we infer on them, which is why I might apologise to a section of you still reading who may have been offended by the Lego imagery above. At the same time a section of you might have found it amusing, or just not cared. It all depends on the signification you get from the use of that particular word.

And yes, in a business and web development context, ‘content’ is often almost a dirty word, as if in retaliation against all the people who declared ‘content is king’ for so long in the past.

But it doesn’t have to meant that. All it means to me is a shorthand way to avoid repeating ‘text,images and video’, everytime I want to describe what I do, or what is meant to go on a page. And that’s all I hope it will mean to you in the future…

 

TheWayoftheWeb Wordle

A Wordle for TheWayoftheWeb. Pleased to see how big 'People' appears

 

How your work can avoid being just ‘content’

Here’s the thing to remember – ‘Content’ refers to what’s contained in a box as defined by a dictionary. It isn’t how the people reading or viewing your work are going to refer to it, especially if you achieve something remarkable. Noone in the history of the world, even in business, marketing or SEO, has come home from a day at work and told their partner or family about the ‘amazing piece of content’ they saw. Instead they’ll share an amazing story, a stunning picture or a moving film.

Content as an adjective is about being mentally or emotionally satisfied with the current state of things (the Swedish have one of my favourite related words, ‘lagom’, which is translated as being ‘just right’ ‘not too much, not too little’ etc, and to some extent it continues to permeate Swedish culture). If you’re doing just enough to satisfy the search engines, or the need for some promo text, then why do you deserve to be refered to as more than ‘content’ anyway?

Writing, photography and film-making are not inherently more noble than serving fast food or working in a factory. There will be people who are far more passionate about serving the perfect burger up with good service than some writers are about churning through the latest press release to just get something up which might get a bit of traffic.

So instead of spending time and effort bemoaning how people could dare refer to artistic output as if it was just the result of someone working, just do three things:

  1.  Create stuff that tears through any box it could be put in.
  2. Share and reward the brilliance of others. Comment, tweet,like,donate,flattr,recommend to publishers/studios
  3. Don’t settle for crap. Don’t be lazy and settle for something which is filling space for a brand or media company.

Content, Marketing and SEO

I generally stay away from posting infographics, but this one on the value of content and SEO is useful and relevant enough to share, and it reinforces a lot of the messages I’ve given to clients about the increasing need to integrate all elements of digital marketing, beginning with great content which is optimised for conversions/actions, and then building on that with social elements, search engine optimisation, and federated distribution.

It’s also why I’m doing an increasing amount of work to identify the brand story and narrative with a client before doing any other marketing work. If you get the brand story and a handful of pieces of content working well, then you can boost the people who are visiting it in a number of ways. If you do it the other way around, you get lots of traffic costing you in terms of bandwith, and nothing in terms of the desired outcome, whether that’s revenue, interaction, sign-ups etc.
Brafton's Infographic: Why Content for SEO?

Click for the large version.

It’ll be interesting to see what effects a rise in content marketing has on the market for content creation. After years of watching rates fall for both freelance and full-time writers, journalists and bloggers, perhaps for those who are able to display quality in terms of optimising for businesses in addition to tone, style and substance, this will see a marked rise.

Don’t write for SEO and social media marketing from the start…

That may seem an odd headline for someone who sells digital marketing alongside writing for the internet, but stay with me. I’ve just spent an hour or so reading through my 22-year-old copy of ‘Searching for Robert Johnson‘, a fairly short book by Peter Guralnick about the legendary early blues musician who was supposed to have gone to the crossroads at midnight and sold his soul to the devil to have become so talented, and who was then murdered at an early age, passing into myth and legend for songs like ‘Hellhound on my Trail‘.

Having been blessed with an obsession for music and reading in a just pre-internet age, I’m a big fan of all the Peter Guralnick books I’ve read and owned – he’s covered the history of the blues, soul, and country, as well as works about Sam Cooke, Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley (The Presley ones are the only ones I haven’t read). There’s a pretty good list on Amazon, and as a music writer I’ve read, re-read, and long admired, I wondered what he was doing at the moment – and thanks to Google, found some invaluable quotes on what makes his music writing so brilliant, especially when he writes with more succinct clarity than the likes of Lester Bangs, for example. And they explain why I believe that optimisation for SEO, tailoring content for social media etc all comes second to creating something really brilliant in the first place.

They’re from InsideVandy.com, Vanderbilt University’s student news website:

‘I started writing about music when I was probably about 20, and I started writing purely to tell – I was writing fiction, short stories novels, I still write fiction – but the nonfiction, I just wrote solely to tell people about this music that I thought was so great, it was almost entirely the blues, and I did it at a time when there were almost no outlets where you could even put down the name Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, James Brown, it was such a thrill. I wrote these things telling people how great they were. It wasn’t for money, there was no money; it was just to tell people.

I’ve never written a single piece about anybody or anything that I haven’t chosen myself and hasn’t been out of my admiration for their work. It would be inconceivable for me to write something about a subject that I wasn’t totally invested in.

There have been growing debates about the need for PR and Marketing in technology – the suggestion is that by building something amazing, you remove the need for promotion, which I think is mistaken and disingenuous. A great product should be your focus as it makes Marketing, PR, Advertising etc all easier and ways to boost the natural interest.

And by the same token, SEO, targetting social media etc are all extremely useful, but they boost interest, links etc to great content and writing.

You can argue that plenty of truly great works have never achieved mainstream success, but that’s down to a number of factors, including marketing, timing, and luck. But those great works continue to endure, even if it’s in a small way.

Meanwhile there’s plenty of crap that has become amazingly popular due to well-oiled publicity efforts, but it’s always tended to result in fleeting success at best, despite the work and effort that’s gone into promotion.

And particularly if you’re trying to build a business around content, or by utilising content, it’s better to get a smaller number of truly passionate and evangelistic people who are likely to part with their money or attention on a longterm basis, than to hit a huge number of people who just pass through and move onto something else in seconds.

That’s why I suggest forgetting about SEO and marketing when you first start writing something. If not, you’ll spend hours or days in fear as you build up the worries about putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And when you finally do, it’s likely to appear faked when you’re shoehorning in keywords and sticking on an irrelevant linkbait headline. Far better to create something incredibly powerful and optimise with a light touch. It’s why the need for copy editors and sub editors remains, but that need evolves into editors skilled in marketing and search engine optimisation alongside more traditional skills.

And it’s why I’m still enjoying, and recommending, music from the 1930s and books written about it which I first enjoyed as a pre-teen.

How soon does blogging deliver results?

One of the first questions that gets asked when blogging is mentioned as a topic is how quickly it will be successful. And the honest answer is impossible to give without several factors which are completely individual to every business. Do you already have a media presence? Can you devote time and resource to creating great content? And most importantly, what consititutes success? Are you looking to drive awareness, engagement, interaction, sales, ad revenue?

But at the same time, it’s handy to have something to benchmark against, and most online comparisons are flakey at best when compared to actual analytics. So I thought I’d share some recent figures for one of my personal projects, OnlineRaceDriver, as it recently celebrated a first anniversary.

Time by M$$MO on Flickr
Time by M$$MO on Flickr (CC Licence)

To give some context, OnlineRaceDriver and its new sister site, FPSPrestige, are experiments in extremely niche targetted content, driven partly by a shared passion for videogames by everyone involved, and partly by my desire to be able to build a small media business which allows me to continually experiment and evolve all the digital content and marketing skills any business or client can benefit from. Both are done in the spare time available to me and the other contributors, and the only financial investment has been in paying for hosting and a custom blog design (Both use the now-replaced Metro theme from StudioPress) – they both use WordPress as a free CMS system and PHPBB3 as a free forum solution, with Google Analytics providing measurement above what is available straight away from WordPress.

So, after 12 months of spare time work, how has ORD done?

  • 215 Posts (The biggest sign of the time constraints – ideally it should be a lot more!)
  • 204 Comments (Just under one comment per post isn’t too bad..)
  • 46,831 Page Views (Could have been more with a little more focus on high traffic posts and promotion)
  • 30,705 Unique Visitors (Again, this is an area where we probably could have done a lot more with more time)
  • 1,100+ Youtube Views (This is all from press release videos, and is a somewhat painful process a lot of the time!)
  • 59 Facebook Fans (The biggest challenge here is that Facebook Notes is increasingly broken, requiring manual updates which sometimes get forgotten!)
  • Cited as a reference source on Wikipedia (One of the nicest recent developments has been that someone working on Wikipedia has started referencing some of our breaking news on the site)

In terms of monthly figures, in the first month of ORD we had:

  • 334 Visits
  • 713 Page Views
  • 205 Unique Visitors

And 12 months later, and with 5 more days to go in January, we’ve had:

  • 4,175 Visits (Up 1,150%)
  • 5,352 Page Views (Up 650%)
  • 3,678 Unique Visitors (Up 1,694%)

1000% growth for something in a very experimental and low-key first 12 months isn’t too bad. Good enough that FPSPrestige launched and has achieved slightly better figures in its first month.

There’s no real conclusion here – in terms of success, both sites are around where I expected and hoped in the first 12 months, and all the graphs are ‘up and to the right’, so I’m happy there’s a lot more to come, even as I roll out more features (The forums for both sites have just launched, for example).

crowdpleaserbygematrium
The queue to join the new forums (Image by Gematrium on Flickr – CC Licence)

But as a simple guide – if as a small business with no budget, you could do something which puts your brand in front of 4000+ relevant people every month in exchange for some time, that could really start to change things. If you leveraged all the connections you have, that could change things a bit more. Through in some relevant promotion, and that moves it on further…

I recently scared myself when I realised that across this site and the other 3 or 4 main sites I’m playing with in my spare time, one bloke at his kitchen table now reaches over 10,000 people and growing every month.And with constant attention and improvement that number will hopefully keep growing. Of course, 10, 20, or 500,000 visitors might make a ‘successful’ website, but it doesn’t make a successful business… That’s another piece of the puzzle…

Content marketing, user data and the dangers of free WordPress themes

Bit of a link post from me today as I’ve been working on a number of things for clients, and also updating some other projects. So rather than adding to the list that I intend to blog about someday, here’s some important things to consider:

Arm yourself with content, for Goliath is coming: Interesting post which reiterates a lot of the things I’ve been saying about content and marketing over the last 6 months – now is the time to start doing it. More and more companies are realising how useful content and social media marketing can be, and how much ROI it can produce, so you’re going to see more and more content fighting for attention. And given that it takes time to build an attentive audience, you don’t want to wait around any longer!

Myspace on the auction blog. What happens to user data?: Given that I’ve just been writing about social media content and user data from the perspective of future historians having access, it’s also important to consider what happens to that data if a site sells to another owner, rather than shutting down. How do you feel about your content, information and contacts being transferred? Another reason to adopt a hub and spoke model, with ownership of your own content/business/contact hub. And it’s so easy to do with the availability of self-publishing tools…

The hidden dangers of free WordPress themes: But although setting up WordPress, for example, is pretty easy, there are still dangers that you need to be aware of. For instance, only using themes from trusted sources, and checking them before you install them. Do you know what links are contained in the theme you downloaded from a random website? The original post shows the examples of how you can actually decode what could be hidden in a theme. There are a couple of solutions – one is to only pick themes from trusted sources, and the other is to bite the bullet and pay for themes from trusted sources. For instance, in my case, I tend to pay for themes from StudioPress, but there are some other good alternatives, such as Woo Themes (which I’ve used on some client sites, for example).

So why not spend the weekend getting started on your 2011 digital content and marketing. And feel free to pose any questions in the comments – if I can’t answer them, there’s a growing number of people reading this site who probably can!

Content Marketing continues to grow

The use of content marketing and branded content publishing will continue to grow, particularly as new research suggests it is more effective than other forms of digital marketing.

Research by the Association of Online Publishers (AOP), reveals 60% of regular web users surveyed trust brands’ content sites, 43% on portals and 39% on social networks. Just under a third (32%) feel more positive towards a brand on a content site, 17% on portals and 14% on social networks. The study also showed advertising around content to be more effective than on other types of website and social network.

Obviously an organisation whose members are publishers, broadcasters and online media agencies might like those figures – but it’s also important to remember that content sites don’t have to mean ‘just’ traditional publishers. Developing content for your business should encompass your own website or blog through to what is being written, or supplied to, other websites.

And marketing campaigns in the U.S are certainly supporting the use of content in marketing:

Content Marketing Usage in the US

Traditional content creators obviously have an advantage here, and it’s an area bloggers have been utilising for the last ten years.

But how does your business start using content marketing?

There is a huge amount of potential in content marketing, and the best method for your business depends on your industry, company size, areas of expertise. The solution can range from training your existing staff to hiring external content experts from the journalism and blogging worlds, but in my opinion, the key element of content marketing is a focus on how it actually benefits your business. And that includes deciding the key metrics and analytics that make sense from day one, whether you’re looking to drive direct sales, leads, or brand awareness.

And if you’re stuck, obviously I’m always happy to help with a range of content creation and marketing services!

Virtual storytellers conference begins November 11

Whether you’re interested in Transmedia storytelling, content marketing, or just creating compelling content that might engage more of your audience, then there’s an interesting two week virtual conference about to kick off which might be useful.

The Reinvention Summit takes place over two weeks, and as it’s virtual, the costs are low, with basic access at $11.11. And for that you get 30+ hours of content, online collaboration and downloadable material, with a healthy range of speakers contributing, some of whom you may well recognise from some big online sites and projects.

There’s a free ebook available, a Twitter account at @GetStoried, and the #reinvention hashtag to follow.

It’s an area in which I’ve obviously got a big interest, as my specialities are in content creation and marketing. I’m a big believer in your story as your brand – and in that being visible as your brand belief. And in the power of compelling content to drive engagement as well as traffic…

Over 1000 interesting predictions for 2009

As the year draws to a close, the thoughts of almost every blogger turn to making their predictions for 2009, and whether they were proved right in 2008.

But, rather than indulging myself in making some educated guesses, here’s one really good list of predictions on social media and content marketing at Junta 42, including some best guesses from yours truly.

Here’s mine, in case you get distracted by the likes of Paul Bradshaw, David Meerman Scott, Giles Rhys ScottScott Monty, Neil Perkin, and many more people I’ll be following in the future – in fact the only downside is even more worth paying attention to in my RSS feeds!

Prediction: Social Media Marketing will become a more mainstream approach, with a better understanding of how ROI is driven both directly and indirectly – this means an influx of brilliant examples, but also of the worst examples of jumping on something without investing the time and resources to understand it properly first.

Technology wise, Twitter will be officially mainstream, and will have monetized in some way, so I’d expect a rush of companies using whatever appears as a short term, low effort way to get into the buzz around micro blogging.

I’d also say video will continue to become more and more utilized – both as a publicity tool, but also as an interaction tool using sites like Seesmic, 12 secondsmobatalk as ways to actually engage with people and provide a way for conversations to form via video.

If you’d rather see facts and figures without risking RSS overload, then there’s some interesting research from Pew on The Future of the Internet, with around 1196 participants – there’s some good analysis all over the web, but the aforementioned Neil Perkin spotted something I hadn’t seen elsewhere.

Oh, and another good round-up of predictions kicked off by Peter Kim which encompasses another 14 top minds sharing their thoughts.

There are lots of really insightful and educated analysis around 2009, with regards to technology, marketing and the economy – but having seen so many different sides to every argument, it seems like the best option is to go with your gut instinct for what you believe to be fundamentally true – and then be ready to adapt it as things unfold.  In my case, that means constantly watching how to best allow the power of networks and human communication to be empowered and measured, whether that’s through digital or real world approaches.