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Twitter insights from SXSW 2010

March 18, 2010

Following 20 people who were actively participating in sessions at SXSW this past week made me intensely jealous. I really wanted to be there attending keynotes and panels. I also love Austin as a cultural Mecca and Tex Mex haven. But I just couldn’t get away this year. So I tried my best to follow it through Twitter. And I have to say I gleaned a lot of insights simply by following the likes of @halvorson, @SuziDafnis, @ConversationAge and @michelelinn.

The limitations of Twitter, which make me gape in wonder at its popularity, were also on display. It is really hard to get anything like a digest of content related to relevant keywords in Twitter because the tweets are so dispersed and Twitter search is at least 13 years behind the times. Twitter cries out for a solution that extracts social entities such as keywords from content streams and analyzes the data to sort tweets by relevance. This is the future of search tech. But even Twitter’s own CEO seemed clueless about the inadequacy of his own search application. (Perhaps an enterprising search guru will develop such a browser plug-in.) So I can’t say my recap of SXSW will be any more comprehensive than your average search in Twitter.

The good news is, I have no intention of making this a comprehensive recap. Steve Rosenbaum of the Huffington Post has already done the most comprehensive yet concise recap. All I want to do is focus on the most important single insight from Austin: Social media marketing is moving beyond dumb feeds to intelligent content curation. In so doing, content strategy becomes the heart of social media marketing strategy.

Rosenbaum’s last line is where I want to start this post in earnest:

Overall, we are at a moment in time that is clearly an emerging moment around content. Finding, Making, Organizing, Sharing ….

These are the central tasks of the content strategist. As content is ever more gleaned from conversations outside the walls of corporate marketing and communications departments, these tasks appear to get ever more difficult. But I want to reveal this as a myth. The more socially open you are in your content, the easier and more effective it will be.


I’m a firm believer that the best way to improve content findability is to improve its searchability. The good news is, integrating externally created content from social sites should improve your content searchability. How? The long answer is in our book. But the short answer is this: The best way to achieve content relevance is to find the white space in the conversations going on in the blogosphere and fill it.

Don’t recreate the wheel. Let those with authority have their say and fill in the gaps, occasionally correcting or amplifying what is already out there. In so doing, your content will be relevant for all those visitors who are engaged in the blogosphere for a given topic. It will use the socially defined language of the blogosphere, making it more relevant in Google’s sense. And it will be part of a content ecosystem of interdependent links, ultimately leading to PageRank. So, when a user searches on keywords relevant to your content in Google, your stuff will be there. That’s the best way to make it findable.


As I said in my last post, findability is only half of the relevance equation. It just reduces the effort required to process the content. The other half of the equation is making content that causes a change in the mind of the content consumer. Changes in the site visitor’s thinking can be in the form of verification, contradiction, strengthening, or other typically inferential cognitive processes. But in Web marketing, we talk about influence. You want to influence the visitor to take some action: Learn more, comment, make a contact within the company, etc. That’s the kind of change you want to affect in the mind of the visitor.We call content that does this engaging. Engagement is the bellwether of relevance.

Social media presents certain opportunities for creating more engaging content. First, it reveals a layer of skepticism among visitors, making them less likely to be influenced by corporately produced content. I say it reveals this layer because it has been present for as long as I’ve been following online media (1990). Web marketers for years have followed the print model and counted on a high percentage of visitors ignoring their content. They achieved their objectives despite rampant skepticism of their hype by cranking out messages in volume. Like direct mail, that kind of marketing is akin to spamming.

When you integrate authoritative content from outside your company (honest  opinions of your company that contain constructive criticism), you overcome the skepticism that hinders engagement. It must be done carefully. Legal requirements will often force you to moderate feeds and comment streams. But visitors will be much more apt to accept your messages and engage if you curate existing social media content and only create what is needed to fill in the gaps. The side benefit is you might discover you’ve been creating way too much content over the years (the spam model) and making less content will actually improve your content UX and findability while lowering cost.


Companies have long organized their content roughly around their org charts. Divisions have had their own content departments, with little governance to reduce duplication or assess gaps between them. One of the reasons search is the default way to find stuff is because of the way it is organized. Quite simply, it is organized so that people inside the company can find it. This is slowly changing. But it is an old habit for companies and it is dying hard.

When you go through the exercise of actually finding out how users expect your content to be organized, you have taken the first step towards opening your content efforts up to social influence. So if you have done usability studies over the years, give yourself a pat on the back. You have done social media without even knowing it all these years.

The Web is a social medium. We just haven’t used it like that because we’ve hunkered down inside our corporate turrets and thrown Web pages over the wall like so many boulders from a catapult. Listening to the way your customers organize information outside of your ramparts–looking at how they tag content in particular–can give you a start on how to organize your content for your customers. And allowing them to help you organize your content by tagging it their way can finish the job.


This is the thing that aggravates marketers. Going back to the print model, marketers have always wanted to have predictable metrics. You print and distribute 100,000 direct mail pieces at a cost of $25,000, you get 10 responses. If those 10 responses result in one sale at $100,000 per sale, the ROI on a direct mail campaign is $75,000. It’s neat. It’s linear. It’s clean. Marketers love that stuff.

A lot of Web marketers I talk to long for that kind of scientific evidence of their effectiveness. For example, some prefer paid search to organic because paid is much more linear. Even thought the opportunity for organic is an order of magnitude higher than paid, the risk is also higher. Marketers like safe investments. They don’t like risk.

The myth I hear often is that sharing a piece of content with the blogosphere through a tweet or some other social medium is risky. It might work, it might not. If it works, it works huge–upwards of 30% click throughs and 50% engagement rates. If it doesn’t work, it might get comparable results to paid search –3% click throughs and 10 % engagement. Marketers can promise paid-level traffic and engagement from a social media sharing play. That’s the worst case. The best case is an order of magnitude better. So you promise low and you demonstrate high. What’s wrong with that? Even if you only get paid-level traffic and engagement, your ROI is much higher because the cost is so low.

Note: I assume that if you create Web content, you want people to view it. So even if you are not marketing products or services, you are marketing your own content. The best way to do that beyond SEO is to use social media sharing.

In most cases, it is easier, cheaper, and more effective to integrate existing Web content from social media venues into your Web content than it is it create all your own content. You will still need to create some content. And what you create must be engaging. But the best way to make it more engaging is to start with existing authoritative content and fill in the gaps, using the latest social media tools to do so.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 4:54 am


    I would like to put a link to your site on my blog roll if you want to do the same for mine. It would be a good way to build up both of our readerships.

    thank you.


  1. Book Review Part V: Content Strategy for the Web–Curation vs. Creation « Writing For Digital

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