Wednesday, March 13

Rethinking Content: The Same Same Everywhere Is Soup


There are some big trends in social media today. Maybe some of them are inspired by niche platforms, which were were reinvigorated by the sale of Instagram to Facebook and the rush to adapt Pinterest for marketing purposes last year. Just three of the newest dozen or so platforms include Path, Fancy, and Vine. There are plenty of people looking to make their own apps too. 

I've been watching a few people and businesses attempt to adapt these platforms for business purposes. It's common enough that they have made a business out of making social networks into marketing channels. Most of them dive in, review, and then attempt to reinvent whatever the space might be for marketing by creating catchy headlines and bullet lists. They have to be first because they want to own the search space.

There is nothing wrong with it per se. I do it to from time to time, assuming I can find something slightly more timeless in all the clutter. At the same time, there is also something sad about the state of things, given that not all of these new ideas will make it. The truth is that not all social networks need to be invaded by marketing. And companies that simply sign up to share their tired content aren't necessarily helping themselves.

Same same on every social network is not a communication solution. 

One of the easiest and most challenging prospects of my strategic work is attempting to convince clients that establishing the same presence with the same messages on every social network and social app isn't a communication strategy. In fact, I tell most of them that if they cannot distinguish a unique communication purpose in each space, then they don't need it.

Sure, sometimes it's difficult to resist the allure. Path, for example, is a beautiful sharing platform. Maybe it has a use for some. Maybe it does not for others. Like many platforms trying to gain a foothold, it attempts to establish itself as the first choice for uploading content that can then be shared to other social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Tumblr. (Think Plaxo in an app form with fewer connections.)

Fancy does that too, except it's packaged like a wish list. Vine is the most different, and possibly my favorite. It's the coolest because it has the unique function of editing together pics and video clips, turing them into mini movies. It's so good, I haven't made anything yet because if and when I make something there, it has to be good. Marketers will love it, even if most of them won't really belong there.

And that's the thing. Not everybody (especially not every company) needs to join every new space. And not everybody (certainly very few) needs to share the same content on every single social network they happen to join. (The only ones would be those that effectively develop completely different communities on each.) On the contrary, each social network is better served by a non-duplicated communication stream (with the exception of something exceptionally big). And again, unless you have a compelling reason, you might not a need an app. 

How I advised a designer to maximize his social content. 

Working in communication-related fields naturally connects me to many different kinds of creative and business people. As a member of AIGA, specifically, I know a few designers. One of them recently asked about networks because like many people, he joined more networks than he has time to create content for (without automating). 

I immediately asked him not to automate. It was selfish on my part because I'm connected to him on each network and I didn't want to read the same content over and over. So, I suggested he keep his personal Facebook account personal, use his Facebook page for design theory (almost like a blog, which he doesn't want), Twitter as a connection tool, Linkedin for client/prospect contact, and Pinterest as his portfolio or inspiration palette. He has Google+ too, but I was at a loss of what he can use it for, even if it is getting better. 

Although there will be times when one or all of those network connections will cross over (e.g., he writes a book about design), they all deserve a different approach with different content. I mostly do the same. For example, I generally only share posts here to Twitter (which I use mostly for professional connections), Linkedin (which is confined to business), and Google+ (because people still feel lonely there). It's rare I'd share it on Facebook. 

To share on my personal Facebook account, it has to include something personal too. To share on my Facebook page, it has to be associated with writing, fiction or other professional pursuits. Likewise, I don't share every Instagram photo on Facebook. I only share those I took specifically to share on Facebook. You get the idea.

The point is, despite my oversimplification, that it is boring to read the same update everywhere. If it is boring for individuals, it's a safe bet it will be boring for most companies too. It's selfish and borderline narcissistic. 

A few considerations for apps and trends in general. 

If your company is considering an app because someone said that all organizations need an app, make sure you understand why people want apps. In most cases, people download apps from businesses because they are tools. For example, if I can quickly do my banking online with the fastest and more secure connection, very cool. 

If it wants to send me advertisements, I'm not very excited. There are other considerations too. I jumped into the content-to-app market for a review site side project a few months ago. Based on downloads, Liquid [Hip] on iTunes is mostly successful as a third-party publisher/developer solution. It's available for Android too. It's free.

I'm glad we did it, but there were some consequences. Faster content access via an app resulted in less web traffic. While that's fine with me, it wouldn't be fine for everyone, especially if advertisers are buying display ads.

Maybe even more important, if the review site wasn't a side project and had a budget to develop its own app, then I would have to rethink everything. I would have to because the best apps are tools and entertainment.

Three questions to consider about content and social networks

If there is a better answer than "it depends" in determining how a business should use or consider a new social space or want to invest in one, then ask yourself or your team three questions. Any or all of them make a difference. 

1. What content can we offer on this network that we don't offer anywhere else? 
2. Do we have the time and talent to do it right and will anybody care if we do? 
3. Does all the content we create fit into our overall strategic communication plan? 

The reason these questions are so important is because organizations frequently blow one or all three. They share the same content on every network. They create self-interest content (what they want people to hear) more often than anything that people will find interesting or helpful (what people want to hear). And many of them adopt tactics that seem effective for the medium without considering the company's long-term brand.

Long term is key here. Social networks, campaigns, etc. all come and go. Brands need a longer shelf life. So rather than continuing to allow short-term social networks and search engines to wag the company brand around, it might be wise to spend more time on the strategic side again. It's where the real strength needs to be.
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