Wednesday, October 23

Content May Be King, But People Want Experiences

If you have invested any time as a communicator working in or with social media, there is a pretty good chance that you've heard the declaration that content is king at one time or another. There is some truth to the concept too, which was originally proposed by Bill Gates within a context that might surprise you.

Sure, we can all argue the finer points well enough or be cute and crown the audience, but the truth is that content will reign in one form or another. It's the crux of how we communicate our concepts, ideas, and observations. It's how we educate, inform, and entertain others in the world in which we live.

It doesn't even matter how that content is presented, as long as it is presented well. Write a post or white paper. Shoot a video or record a podcast. Share a picture or create a television series. It's all content.

Content appeals to the immediate but experiences set a plate of permanence.

While teaching Social Media For Strategic Communication at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, last Saturday, we spent a considerable amount of time talking about content and the constant pressure to produce more and more easily digestible content. Almost everybody does, right?

If you believe like most people — that influence and conversions can be quantified by counting actions — then you could make the case that more posts, more tweets, more stuff that people can act upon somehow counts. In fact, this was the thinking that many direct mail houses adopted ten years ago.

If your direct mail campaign has a two percent return from some list, then all you have to do is increase the frequency (or the list) to generate more revenue. Right? Well, maybe not, even if this thinking does explain why online lead generation is overpriced.

If you ask me, I think all these tactical formulas are detracting from something stronger. And this something is tied to a question I asked in class — if more content more often produces results, then why does one sentence from a book read one time or one scene from a movie screened once or one comment made by a teacher one time stay with someone their entire life? And this something can best be summed up by experiences.

Novels work because our brains see them as experiences. Movies work because our heads are hardwired to attach emotion to sensory perception. Social networks climb to the top of traffic charts not because of the content they provide but because of the sensation of experiences we feel. It's not my social media deck that holds anyone's interest in my class but rather the way I present it and how we experience it.


This communication blog (or journal) is no exception. A few months after writing about radio host Bob Fass and my attempt to make this space more indicative of an open format, more people have visited. In fact, more people have visited despite my efforts to undo blog "rules."

I stopped concerning myself with frequency, making this a weekly as opposed to a daily. And, at the same time, tossed out short content in favor of writing something more substantive. The result has been eye opening in that topics that used to have a one-day shelf life now have a one-week shelf life or more.

While I am not proposing this would be the case for every content vehicle, it does provide an explanation tied in part to the question I asked in class. Even when I wrote daily, the most successful posts or series of posts had nothing to do with "Five Sure-Fire Ways To Get More Traffic!" They had to do with the cancellation of a television show or two, the coverage of a crisis communication study or two or twelve, the involvement and participation of people in things that matter (even when it feels personal), and experiments that involved thousands of people besides myself. Good content? Maybe.

Good experiences? Absolutely. As fun as it has been to write satire at times, the gags rely less on writing and more on experiences. People remember because they were part of something.

The future of the Internet doesn't rely on mobile as much as experiences. 

I used to tell students that technologies in social media mean software. With the advent of Google glass, increasingly immersive projection displays, and the encroachment of the online world into the offline world, I no longer can offer up any such disclaimer. All of it — the hardware, software, and people driving the content and devices — help create the experience and even alter it.

Consider, for example, short stories being published at a pace of 140 characters at a time, characters who suddenly open their new accounts, and one project that included a dialogue and storytelling exchange between four or more accounts (each characters talking from their unique point of view). There are more examples, well beyond Twitter, but the point remains the same. Storytelling creates experiences. Technology creates experiences. Person-to-person interaction on a one-to-one, one-to-some, and one-to-many scale creates experiences.

And the rest? That content without experiences? It still has a place in the world, sure. But the future of social media isn't in producing ever-growing reams of information to get people's attention. It will be to elevate the content into a form of communication that creates a shared experience, online or off.

Can you see this future? And if you can, how might it change your own marketing strategy away from tricking readers into sampling content into some compelling experience that they want to become part of and participate in? The comments are yours to share, your experiences or, perhaps, propose an entirely new conversation. I look forward to it.
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