Editorial Content, UGC, and Social Media: The Triangle of Content Success

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Editorially Created Content

As Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson’s long tail theory suggests, it’s not only about the head but also the tail: It is not only about your most popular articles, or those with the deepest coverage, but rather the broad spectrum of content that you offer. Content authored by multiple writers and editorially vetted content improves the quality of the content but costs a lot. Also, the average variable costs are pretty much fixed regardless of the amount of content produced. Therefore, the production costs rise linearly with the amount of content produced. Ultimately, in traditional publishing models, if you want more content, you need more resources.

One way to reduce these costs and increase content is through partnerships. For example, Yahoo! Sports had a team of some 40 writers and editors producing original content daily—original stories across all major sports and several smaller sports. Yet that was not enough to put Yahoo! Sports in the No. 1 spot. To increase content quantity, Jimmy Pitaro, GM and VP of Yahoo! Sports, said in an eMarketer, Inc. report that they have “built relationships with the key digital executives at the major [sports] leagues and tried to really show them the value that they would get by partnering with Yahoo! Sports. … And gradually, over the past few years, we’ve accumulated video content across all major and minor leagues.”

User-Generated Content

The other way to increase the amount of content available is to reach for user-generated content (UGC). The interactivity of online media has caused a rise in UGC like never before. While the costs of producing editorial content are pretty much constant, UGC has diminishing costs. Although, according to Gartner research, less than 20% of users actively engage in content creation, this number of users can create significant quantity. Many dominant media brands, such as The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and Consumer Reports, offer some sort of user-generated content—comments, reviews, video responses, etc.—as part of their online content mix.

The advent of self-publishing platforms in 1999 put UGC into a new era. According to Technorati, for a few years the blogosphere grew exponentially, doubling in size every 6 months. Individual blogs may offer very little content, but that’s if you look at them from the standpoint of an individual blog. On the other hand, if you look at blogs as a group, they provide an excellent example of long tail content. However, then you would not be analyzing individual blogs but rather aggregators of some sort.

In the last year, we have witnessed a move toward a blog portal design and the convergence of multiple niche topics. Sometimes this leads to information overload, and portal-type blogs may lose readers who were originally loyal to a very specific niche. Also, this approach can make blogs seem less personal so that they then lose some of their social appeal. Yet multisourcing blogs may not be inherently bad (and may make them a more viable option for some content sites). As marketing guru Seth Godin posted on his blog, “Quick look at the list of the ‘top’ blogs in the world will show you that almost all of them are written by teams of people. There isn’t one in the top 10 that’s personal.” However, one of the ways in which successful blogs demonstrate value for content producers is personal—allowing a forum for user response, in real time and, in some cases, creating interaction between the user group as well.

Social Media and Community Connections

Social connections are present all over the web. Even in Amazon user reviews, you see discussion between users. User-generated content enabled the creation of, as Ketchum, Inc. partner Nicholas Scibetta puts it, “pockets of social networks found all over the web.” However, many social interactions online can be easily overlooked as many typically think of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, from which content publishers can certainly learn a few things.

Facebook relies heavily on users’ personal data and communication. Among its main features are activity streams, which show profile changes, new uploads, messages, etc., but it leaves dealing with other content to its partners—application developers. A Morgan Stanley report showed that Facebook’s top applications come from genres such as enhancing communication, comparing yourself with others, playing games, and profile enhancement. However, Facebook is short on other kinds of content. The key issue that Facebook seems to be focusing on now is learning about the social connections of its users.

Publishers can leverage some of this basic connection info from all major social sites through Facebook Connect or Google’s OpenSocial using an API infrastructure already in place. Key open issues in this learning relationship are the types and strength of relationships. Spock, for example, uses tags to identify how people are related. Another issue is the context in which they are related. Is it a business relationship, a shared interest in books, or a shared interest in local sports team? A prime example of a learning relationship of a similar kind is Amazon learning about its customers. It’s the knowledge you have beyond this that gives you the competitive edge. Thus, building or exposing connections and placing them in context adds value to the content the community shares.

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