Content & Social – what we learned at iCrossing: slides and notes from the International Content Summit

I had a great time yesterday presenting at the first International Content Summit 2010, although I wish I could have spoken for longer as I had more to say than the fifteen minutes that were available. The brief was to talk about how to use social media with content. I prepared by speaking with some of iCrossing‘s senior content experts, Tamsin Hemingray, Charlie Peverett and Trisha Brandon. I founded the team four and half years ago but have not been involved directly for some time and they have evolved their approach brilliantly, with journalists now taking on parts of the research and analysis process from the social media analysts and developing more and more sophisticated and ambitious strategies for content. In order to make up for the slightly shorter than was comfortable talk yesterday, I am going to create some audio to go with this presentation in the next few days. In the meantime, these are some of the themes and, of course, below are the slides from my talk.

Everything in marketing and media is up for grabs
Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy had earlier mentioned that content was often the first thing to be cut when a downturn came around. There is a lot of opportunity for content specialists, I believe. Like their community manager cousins, the social web is disrupting media and marketing to such a degree that the industry is being re-shaped.

Image: Viva Rory Sutherland!
Rather than being on the edge of the marketing mix, bold content strategists and teams can make a case to be at the top table. Like Blaise Grimes-Viort makes such a great, ambitious case for organisations to have a Chief Community Officer, there should be people ambitious to be the Chief Content Officer in their company (in fact, Julia Hobsbawm, founder of Editorial Intelligence, said that was precisely how she thought of herself).
iCrossing has always come from a networks perspective
Being a search firm originally, iCrossing’s perspective is informed by understanding the web as a medium that is comprised of and defined by networks. To understand how to be successful, we have to understand how networks (both human and machine, as I told Reputation Online yesterday) work.
This means that we think of branded content as being something that exists across networks rather than in one place and that success is achieved by how far and how fast content travels. Networks decide what is successful based on what is most useful to them.
Stories and numbers are key
This is what Dan McQuillan called “data storytelling” in a Twitter conversation with me today: it’s the ability to turn data into stories quickly so that people can understand and act on it. in content terms at iCrossing it means that measurement isn’t something that is an after-thought to the editorial/creative process, it fuels it, by providing insights about what people in the network are interested in, what sorts of content might want more of.
Keep your data and content people close to each other
Further to the last point, keeping the people who are researching and listening to the networks (the social media analysts in our case) close to the people creating the content (journalists) has paid off so many times.
There is a useful tension between the two about who knows their communities best, about what content will work. We have tried to preserve that tension and value it in the same way as the tension between the editorial and advertising teams at a traditional publisher. Journalists and social media experts sitting near to each other stumble across great ideas that might not come up in a formal meeting.
Default to social
Being social in the way that you create and distribute content is not an add-on or a tweak to the process. The social network should be in mind when coming up with ideas, and technically when building platforms (is the content findable, portable and shareable?).
Sharing and wanting to share, should be the default position. Even licencing can play a role in this. Organisations default to protecting intellectual property with copyright, when in fact copyright should be the exception.
Creative commons-attribution licences on your content means more people can use it more easily, in ways you have not thought of. I cited the Chinese translation of the iCrossing What is Social Media? e-book (more news on this later), but even the way you source and share images for a company blog can create new and unexpected connections with a network.
Digital literacy should be promoted across your organisation
Naturally, I didn’t waste the opportunity to put across the case digital literacy. The point is that if you want your content to be successful in social media, you need to be encouraging everyone in your teams, in the wider organisation to experience social media. Naturally, I think the best way to learn how social media and networks work is to start with number one, and look after your own personal reputation.
Thanks to some nifty work between the APA, iCrossing and my publisher A&C Black there were hard copy versions of the first 25 pages of my book Me and My Web Shadow for every delegate.
I was chuffed to say the least to see the pamphlet-sized versions of the book – it was the first time we had done something like this. Hopefully people liked them, and maybe some will go on to buy the book. If you want your own electronic version, of course, they are available over here

5 responses to “Content & Social – what we learned at iCrossing: slides and notes from the International Content Summit”

  1. Excellent! Would love to hear the audio. Btw what is the chart on slide 12? Would be interested to hear you expand on Julia H’s comments on Chief Content Officer.

  2. Slide 12 is a content analysis of a network, or community of interest. The iCrossing journalists who carried out the research would have been looking at what content was useful and where, which will inform their content strategy. This kind of analysis will show where there might be a gap in a market, or that a particular content format is really useful for some reason in a community, for instance reviews or how-to videos.

    Julia’s remarks reflected a belief that her business was a content one – creating valuable content from data, events, insights – and that her role was often about realising where there were opportunities to create valuable content and making them happen…

  3. Antony,

    Sounds like a good conference.

    My take on content begins, as with all things on social media, by a the recognition that social content is totally different from mass media content. It is not about one-to-many mass messages – it is about very specific answers to very specific questions. Content needs to be framed to respond to a social space – that being the space where people are asking the questions for which your business provides the answer. And as I always like to say – an Ad is an answer to a question that no-one ever asked. Considering your recent post about Twitter spam – in effect your conversation about breaking the iPhone screen was actually a question – and an organisation that had an answer in that space was tuned into it and provided the answer (hence your point about keeping your content people and your analyst people close together – if not actually one-and-the-same).

    This is the future of content, high volume, hugely specific, very low cost. It is the Demand Media model and it entails a very different way of thinking about content – not putting selective or representative examples in digital shop windows, but piling it high it in content warehouses.

  4. Antony Mayfield Avatar
    Antony Mayfield

    Thanks for your comment, Richard – I think you make some interesting points.

    I would say that the future of content is perhaps more complex. There’s a strong case for high quality content to continue to be created and in some circumstances it should be where the majority of effort is by a brand…

  5. I guess the issue here is the definition of quality. We tend to assume that quality = mass appeal – but this is the Gutenberg definition of quality. I would say that in social media quality – like everything else in social media – tends to be defined in a different way, which is much more about specific relevance.

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