There has a lot of talk about the evolution of traditional media over the past 10 years. Bloggers have gone from “that guy in the dark room” to having as much clout as some journalists. To make things even more interesting, social media came along and gave us online influencers based on robust Twitter followings.
Add to that the latest trend in content curation, and we can see that change is a’comin’. I’ll call it Web 2.1, both because Web 3.0 already refers to “The Semantic Web,” and because we as online content providers are taking the next natural step to online content purveyor: from creation to curation we go.
Web 2.1 is a new frontier: it’s the democratization of content marketing. This past weekend, Medium sent me an email entitled, “Go Forth and Curate.” In fact, Medium doesn’t call itself a “blogging” platform, but rather a “publishing platform.”
The short answer: it ups the bar for content marketing – both its creation and its curation. And it changes the nature of influencer marketing.
Influencer Marketing & Web 2.0: a Decade of Blogging
If you’ve been running a social media program and you’ve been talking about influencers in the past 5 years, you’ve more than likely been talking about bloggers who built up a readership, and then a Twitter presence. My PR cohort Marc Cowlin wrote an article last week about influencer marketing, noting that the increasingly blurry lines between social media and public relations means that any modern PR pro should be evaluating influencers not by publication, but by person. (Now, good social media marketing software has community management features that allow for this sort of influencer discovery, so this is easier than it sounds if you have the right tools.)
These influences are the “citizen journalists” mentioned in sessions at PR conferences wherein the pros ask the questions about where those increasingly diverging borders are: is a Huffington Post contributor a journalist? What about someone like The Bloggess?
Truth is, it doesn’t really matter. An influencer is an influencer, and while the most successful bloggers seem inevitably to land a book deal to bring them solidly into the “literary” camp (hey, even Cakewrecks scored one), the bottom line in influencer marketing is that job title or journalism outlet is a lot less important than an engaged community.
Influencer Marketing & Web 2.1: from Create to Curate
When Web 2.0 brought us user-generated content at the advent of blogging, it changed the nature of online content: before Web 2.0, putting our voices out there on the world wide web took some technical know-how. 10 years later the Millennials are in their 20′s and 30′s, and posting status updates from any manner of screen has become the norm. The barrier to constant content creation is as low as it’s ever been.
And now, the barriers to becoming a personal media outlet are low. There are three ways for someone to engage a community base with content on their social networks, and that is:
1) Create good content
2) Curate good content (the 4-1-1 rule, formalized)
3) Market your content well
And these are the three pillars of Content Marketing as a business discipline. Only now, sites like Medium and Flipboard are teaching the everyman how to be a Content Marketer simply by providing the functionality and analytics to do so.
This, incidentally, is how the Drudge Report and Huffington Post started: as news aggregation blogs. But Web 2.0 has blurred the lines so steadily between citizen and “real” journalists (what is “news?”) that we have enough amazing content out there written by the everyman to take the next step.
What this means for marketing:
Web 2.1: The Tools Reflect the Trend
With the trend of WYSIWYG curation tools, anyone with a good eye for content (as opposed to the skill set to create it) is now in position to be a personal media outlet – and the Millennials have been trained in engagement marketing since they put up their first Facebook post or tweet.
Engaging a reader base has never been as easy from a functional standpoint: the new publishing platforms provide the same digital marketing analytics that we’ve been using in social media marketing for years. Here’s a partial look at my own Medium dashboard:
It’s worth noting that the current Medium dashboard reflects analytics for the content creator only: we don’t yet see the ones associated with the Collections we curate. But Medium is brand-spanking-new, and since it was started by two guys (Evan Williams & Biz Stone) who have made a career of both disrupting the way we communicate and building a community around a publishing platform that creates online influencers, I can’t imagine that “Collection” analytics are far behind.
Also, noting that my own post on moving to the ‘burbs has the most reads might lead me to start curating a collection called “Reluctantly Suburban Parenthood” or “Urban Parenting,” since it’s obviously a topic that resonates with both my own social network and the Medium community. Medium also tells me when my stories have been added to other people’s collections, and I’ll expect to see another line in these analytics at some point that lets me know where it’s been published and where it’s getting the most reads.
Web 2.1 vs. Journalism 1.0: the Press Pass
Traditional media outlets have two traditional advantages over the citizen journalist: (1) press access to events that JQP doesn’t have, and (2) readership.
The access piece is really the main thing that differentiates a citizen journalist from a “real” journalist at this point. And yet, once you achieve some really stellar readership, you might actually get a seat at the table with the “real” journalists who wear the PRESS badges that prove they’re the real deal.
Bloggers have shown us that readership can be gained with really good content (and good marketing chops doesn’t hurt either). And now, we’re about to find out whether that sort of readership can also be gained with editorial skill (see last parenthetical comment).
What this means for publishing has yet to be determined: my guess is that, at the very least, we’ll start to see more sessions at marketing and PR conferences entitled things like “Citizen Editors: a Media Outlet by Any Other Name…” and such. At the moment, some publishing houses have instituted paywalls under the assumption that their content is something that readers are willing to pay for, and that paywall is their profit moat around their editorial collection.
Now that editorial and marketing tools and knowledge are in the hands of the people, only time will tell whether or not this is a good or bad thing for publishers. After all, good editors need to find good content, and it’s possible that high-end publications will eventually adopt a “If you cant beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy and strike deals that allow their articles to live on other sites. That would be extremely forward-thinking to an extent that seems unlikely given the actions the publishing world has taken to lock down their content, but hey: I’m an optimist.
Here’s what I do know:
Web 2.1 and The Next Generation of Influence: Go Deep, not Wide
One of the most interesting things about sites like Medium and Flipboard is that they’re somewhat of a foil to Twitter, reddit and Buzzfeed: these platforms are meant to allow deep discussion of a topic, rather than a wide-ranging and character-delimited overview of news and interests. With deep discussion comes the facilitation of deep, peer-to-peer community engagement. Yes, RT’ing and favoriting and voting and the other gamification features on sites like reddit and Twitter and Gawker are there, but there’s something very personal and engaging about having your long-format content being evangelized and shared by someone else. In fact, you can highlight a section of someone’s essay on Medium and comment on that section specifically, and the author can reply to you – and this conversation defaults as private, though you can make it public. I recently received an inline comment from a bona-fide brick-and-mortar published author on a section of my “Just Laugh” post that she recommended I cut (and I did). This is the editor’s pencil meets community marketing, and it’s a really interesting feature.
What this means from an influencer marketing standpoint: finding people who are truly engaged in a subject is going to be easier and more meaningful. What this means for Buzzfeed: some of its best curators may end up splitting their energies to focus less on cats, celebrities and lists of what we shouldn’t say to mixed race people in order to use their talents toward a higher journalistic purpose.
So, as you start to set your influencer marketing strategy, pay attention to the new editorial trend: it’s possible that in the not-too-distant future, content curators will build a strong, loyal following on par with some of the biggest bloggers.
And if not, hey: there’s always a cat list to curate.