Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Message Delivery vs. Message Discovery

The most obvious change in marketing that we are seeing lately comes down to how our messages reach their intended recipients. This is driven, of course, by changes in the behavior of our audience of potential buyers. The information “filters” we use are shifting from being economic filters, driven by publishers, to social filters, driven by the relevance of individuals and their messages. As this takes place, we as marketers need to shift towards thinking about how messages can be "discovered", rather than how they are delivered.

There is no more obvious place where this transition is happening than in the worlds of search and social media.

Search, either natural or paid, provides an active way to discover information. A prospective buyer actively seeks information on a given topic based on keywords. Successful marketers are able to ensure that their content is present at the top of the search results, either through an effective search engine optimization strategy, or through good search engine marketing and a healthy search marketing budget.

In the various social media channels, however, information is not pushed out directly, but rather it is published, and then discovered by an audience based on recommendations from their peers, content syndication, and chance. The more interesting and relevant your content is, the larger an audience of influencers will share it, forward it, and link to it, bringing it to the much broader audience that they influence.

Distribution via Influencers

Unlike in search marketing, however, there is no clear metaphor for applying a marketing budget in order to achieve broader distribution of your information within social media. Although a variety of paid structures are being experimented with, none have received the wide acceptance that paid search marketing has.

This means that the most reliable way to ensure that your messages are maximally discoverable within the world of social media is to build strong relationships with the key influencers in your space who are likely to share those messages and ensure that your messages are sufficiently interesting, relevant and non-salesy in order to make them shareable.

Your long term reputation with each of these key influencers is based on a history of creating high quality content, but each individual content piece stands on its own in terms of its ability to be found to be interesting and sharable. The techniques of great journalists are of use here in making each content piece most interesting and most likely to be read.

Headlines, Teasers, and Discovery

Whether it is an article title, an interesting statistic, a tweet, a news headline, or a catchy name for an eBook, the majority of your potential audience will only encounter the briefest of summaries of what your content is about. Convincing your audience to take the step from headline to content by clicking on your content is as much art as is it science.

The better the headline catches the potential reader’s attention, without being misleading, the more the content is read and the messages within it discovered.

The art of writing provocative, catchy, and intriguing summaries of information in just a few words was originally developed by newspaper editors writing headlines. Their goal was to have their publication “discovered” by those passing by a news stand. Now, in a world dominated by the need to make information discoverable, these skills are required more than ever. Each article, headline, or tweet should be thought of in the same light. The better the headline catches the potential reader’s attention, without being misleading, the more the content is read and the messages within it discovered.

Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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Rob Leavitt said...

Excellent post, Steve. This is a huge change in thinking for marketers, who are still used to focusing on publication channels -- and often even looking at social media as another set of channels on which to distribute and promote content. "Thinking like a publisher" captures part of the shift, but most publishers control their own channels, so that still falls short of the shift you're talking about. Good stuff.

Steven Woods said...

Thanks Rob,
I would agree, I find that the "I get social media, it's just another channel" is a very aggravating way of seeing things. It really, truly, is not.

Hope you've been well, thanks for the comment.