In a recent post I broached the subject of content creation versus curation.
To summarise, there are those in social media who create original content for their followers, and there are those who share that content. The question is, which is it better to be? Will you earn more respect as the creator of knowledge or curator of good content?
Today we take a teensy step back and ask the question Country Joe McDonald would be proud to ask, “What are we sharing for?”
Learned-er scholars than me posit we’ve left the Industrial Age and are now taking our first steps into the glorious Age of Information (I know, convention says it should be ‘The Information Age’, but as a colleague rightly pointed out, that’s a little dull for something new and shiny, so ‘Age of Information’ it is).
So what does the Age of Information mean to a business owner when thinking about one’s marketing? Let’s consider a couple of concepts that we’ve all likely heard before, but perhaps haven’t quite got our heads around …
WARNING: I’m going to lean heavily on a scholarly work for these definitions. Andreas Kaplan and pal Michael Haenlein wrote a seminal paper on the challenges and opportunities social media bring called – somewhat unimaginatively – ‘The challenges and opportunities of Social Media’.
First coined in 2004, Web 2.0 describes the change that occurred when end-users (consumers) began contributing to and modifying Internet content. Well, not so much the creation and collaboration itself; rather, Web 2.0 is about the technology advancements like Flash and RSS that allowed for this collaboration to occur. Wikipedia is the shining beacon of Web 2.0 in all its glory.
User Generated Content (UGC)
Ok, so you probably don’t need this explained. This refers to the content created by users, as found in the various channels available online. I rather fancy Kaplan and Haenlein’s three basic requirements of UGC, which are that the content must (and I quote):
- Be published either on a publicly accessible website or on a social networking site accessible to a selected group of people
- Show a certain amount of creative effort
- Have been created outside of professional routines and practices.
Ooh, isn’t that an interesting set of rules! Why yes, it is! Wait, why? Because it defines the ground rules for how Web 2.0 technologies and frameworks should be used: accessible, creative, and user-generated. Tidy.
Ok, so how come it’s important to create or curate content? I’m glad I asked. The key to this new world … sorry, Age of Information … is engagement.
Engagement means many things in this context. Here are two of those things:
- Consumers now have a voice
- Businesses no longer broadcast, they start conversations
Let’s quickly discuss these two things, and then move on to the thrilling conclusion in which we reveal why sharing content is important.
To say that consumers have a voice is an understatement. They in fact have THE voice. The balance of power and influence has shifted gravitationally towards the humble consumer. What I mean is that marketers no longer have the primary ‘say’ in how a brand is perceived. More and more that perception it is defined by message boards, social networks, review sites, blogs, and so on.
That is to say, marketers still segment the market and position the product to suit that segment; however it’s the segment that is influencing the branding, success, and sales of that product.
Which leads us, serendipitously, to point two; what smart companies are doing to influence this shifting power balance. Smart companies, you see, are proactively creating environments or channels where their customers can talk about their products. Better the devil you know, so to speak. In other words, by having a social media plan, companies can influence to a degree the conversations being had online by customers.
And THAT is where content comes in.
By creating or curating good, relevant, interesting content, companies are creating an environment where their customers can virtually congregate. Companies can proactively liaise with their customers in chat rooms, forums, with Live Chat, by email, in blogs, comments sections, tweets, Facebook posts … basically LOTS OF PLACES.
Content is the bait. That sounds terrible but it’s true. It’s the carefully made, well thought out, strategically placed lure that represents a worthwhile engagement by consumers.
I feel dirty writing that. The truth is, content done right is pretty darn hard to do. Call to actions, targeted topics, key words, SEO, relevance … there’s lots to think about when crafting a piece of prose for publication.
Suffice it to say, content is the new presence that TV advertising once represented. It’s the new way to prove thought leadership and relevance.
And sharing that content? Ah, that’s where Web 2.0 comes in handy. The Internet is one, big, glorious tangle of hyperlinks. And getting our content shared is PROOF that that content is RELEVANT. In fact, a SHARE is a wonderful reinforcement that what you’re doing and what you represent is on the right track. And nowadays, sharing is so much easier with those dinky social buttons just waiting to be clicked. Oh look, there’s some at the bottom of this article!
Ultimately, we want customers. Content sharing is the new word-of-mouth. And let’s face it; word of mouth has been a pretty fine driver of success for the last thousand years or so of commerce, right?