ADOTAS – John Battelle recently wrote an insightful piece called “On Thneeds and the ‘Death of Display,’” in which he discusses the three types of independent internet publishing that are all struggling, “the traffic-hungry site-specific content model, the “standard display” model upon which it depends, and the RSS model. He also — very nicely — gave readers the solution to the problem: “Wrap content with appropriate underwriting and set it free to roam the internet.” Easy enough, right?
The promise of rich media has been limited by the perception that ads live in one place and look one way (the “boxes and rectangles” to which Mr. Battelle refers). Successful rich media thus far seems to have worked out best when people didn’t really realize it was an ad they were clicking, watching or tapping. Location-aware coupons delivered on one’s mobile device are like product placements in the ’90s – they don’t quite smell right, but consumers have no idea who to call to complain, and they happen so fast they’re often forgotten.
That said, today, voyeurism ranks as a top activity on social networks, where the audience aggregates around popular content producers. As John Steinberg of Buzzfeed and Jack Krawczyk of StumbleUpon wrote in an Ad Age piece back in March, “Data suggests that content and ideas online spread through large numbers of people sharing with small groups.” Social marketing campaigns rarely include a true end-goal for each network’s top sharers or contributors. There’s a huge opportunity to drive more traffic when advertisers work with producers to engage the audience from the outset.
Consumers, however, are getting smarter and more fickle. Less likely to simply accept a message being pushed to them online, on their mobile device or anywhere else, they’ll take to Twitter and Facebook and ask questions about said message or lambast the offending party. If we’ve learned one thing from “American Idol” or “The Voice,” it should be that starting with content producers early in a campaign ensures deeper emotional connections, advocacy and eyeballs. If you already know a user wants information on a brand or item, or that they’ve already engaged with a particular piece of content, then they’re less likely to rebel against the barrage of online ads they’re being exposed to each day.
All this said, teaming up with independent content producers is easier than ever online. B2B communities such as Creative Allies (graphic design), Poptent (video) and Behance (art) as well as my company, Indaba Music (music), create marketplaces for the most talented creators to be discovered and hired by advertisers in any way they can dream up. By increasing the supply of high quality content in a social network, voyeurs begin to engage because they now have a purpose.
An interesting parallel is to consider your ad campaign a wedding — literally. If you recall, a similar phenomenon to the above emerged when Etsy became popular for wedding sourcing. Brides-to-be flocked to the site, engaging with content creators to build the perfect DIY wedding. They worked with many creators to pull off a grand event that attendees continued to talk about and reference as the most beautiful wedding ever — photos were shared, and the content creators, proud of their work, also shared information on the application of their wares. Sound familiar? It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. Advertisers, consider yourselves the brides — anything you can dream up, there’s a talented content producer for that. These creative marketplaces have emerged to also provide strategy and ideas as well — consider them your wedding planner who will still make it look DIY.
My bottom line: Challenging and incentivizing talented content producers is a sound model for earning more media through social networks. By providing voyeurs content that’s worth their time, small pools of trusted shares can be aggregated to provide the meaningful reach necessary for overall, lasting success.