Twitter, Flipboard and Medium: Democratizing Content Marketing
This week, Twitter announced that users will now able to create public, custom “timelines” based on topic-specific tweet streams. (More details on how that’ll work are in this very thorough TechCrunch article.)
Now, putting aside for the moment that Twitter is unabashedly using the term “timeline,” which is pretty funny given that this was what Facebook named its photo-driven profile overhaul some time ago, I’m most interested in what the timeline means for individuals. Twitter is taking an inbound marketing principle and applying it to the everyman: by giving members more power to act as a personal media outlet, everyone’s in content marketing.
Twitter has traditionally been more user-focused than topic-focused when it comes to public content engagement (“favorites” being a fairly lame feature for anything other than schmoozing the person’s tweet you favorited), with the twitchy and fleeting RT being the closest they’ve come until now. So content timelines signify a big shift in thinking about the way that people will be using the platform.
There was a time when the buzzword was “user-generated content” (UGC), which gave us Web 2.0. The latest trend is moving away from a critical mass of UGC, and toward user-curated content.
Twitter’s announcement comes in the same week that Flipboard announced a Shopping engine via a catalogue feature that allows both brands and individuals to curate retail content. Flipboard making the leap into retail was a smart and not unexpected move: a shopping catalogue is just a magazine with prices and someone standing by to take your order. What would be really interesting would be adding an affiliate component to the user-generated catalogue: that model is Mary Kay on steroids, without the hassle of hosting a semi-awkward neighborhood party at your home.
That being said, Flipboard is going with the tried-and-true ad model. Says Marci McCue, Head of Content & Communications at Flipboard, “We are slowly rolling advertising inventory out to all publishers, but starting with the big ones that have advertisers already wanting to buy ads in their Flipboard experiences. But the goal is to make it possible for anyone who creates content (their own original content) to sell ads against that content on Flipboard. But we aren’t there yet; it’s going to take a little time to get a more self-service model in place.”
And if you’ve been wondering what Biz Stone and Evan Williams are up to (besides counting their zeros), the answer is: combining user-generated and user-curated content with a new blogging platform. Medium is hands-down the best WYSIWYG blogging platform out there now, but more interesting is the ability of its members to create and add to “collections,” which are essentially magazines populated by user-generated blog posts.
The shift away from developing functionalities that allow for creating content and toward those that simply enable its beautiful, shareable curation (pioneered by Pinterest) makes a lot of practical sense: it’s a lot harder to create content than it is to collect it, and anyone I’ve ever talked to in a company that depends on UGC (and I’m one of them) will tell you that a teeny tiny percentage of their members create the vast majority of their content. In digital marketing we call this the 1/9/90 Rule, which means that 1% of people write; 9% engage through commentary, sharing or other editorial action (like curation); and 90% read.
So, from a brass tacks perspective, if you’re looking to grow a community-focused brand that depends on engagement and adoption, the lower bar is the editorial bar. In Twitter’s case, there has always been a lot of speculation about the number of active Twitter users vs. registered users, and the timeline feature allows members to actively participate in a way that doesn’t require them to try to think of pithy character-delimited commentary or go on a hunt for content to RT. The timeline allows for passive, real-time content streams via filters the users can set up in Tweetdeck: this is basically the public-facing version of the stream parsing that users (read: marketers) already do within a Tweetdeck dashboard. Twitter’s active user base has grown almost 40% in the last year, so it’ll be really interesting to see what that number looks like a year from now.
What this means for Facebook is potential fragmentation. With so many sites out there now vying to put an editorial hat on the heads of JQP and creating community around that content, the biggest question is if this will lead to more activity on Facebook as the Personal Highlights Reel hub, and/or whether time spent on Facebook will decrease as our attention spans are pulled to beautifully-curated community content within the native applications.
How this will play out for the everyman has yet to be determined, but I personally hope that the days of inflammatory political emails from well-meaning family members with Fwd: fwd: fwd: in the subject lines might soon be at an end as people figure out that a personal Content Marketing strategy (i.e. building a collection of to engage their friends and family) is a lot more effective and far less intrusive than an outbound Direct Marketing campaign (i.e. Fwd: fwd: fwd: What Obama Isn’t Telling You!).