How Content Travels and Works in Social: Stories and People

Content is a key element in all forms of marketing: without good and relevant content there are no emails, there is no sharing and your site or blog doesn’t rank in search engines. Certainly in this era where people actively seek information that is pertinent for their needs, questions or buying journey, personalized and valuable content is crucial.

However, content in a social context is about more than that. With the heritage of traditional views on marketing deeply rooted in our thinking, we still too often tend to look at the media and channels more than at the content. On top of that, we often value the content we create more than what it is ultimately about: what do people want to receive or find when and how.

People, their needs and the networks they use

So the starting points of content in a business or media context are the customer/consumer and the business goals we want to achieve (the “Why”). If our purpose is to generate traffic and buzz, regardless of the medium, we need to focus on the content and also the formats our prospects or customers want, paying attention to aspects such as for instance titles, subject lines and in tweets: they need to “tell” people that this is what they are looking for, no matter where they find or seek it (search engines, social etc.).

There is often a discrepancy between the content we want to create and provide and what the people we hope to reach and interaction with, want to “read”. That’s a choice to make. But if we want content to work, it has to be customer-centric.

With the arrival of social networks and an increasing number of information channels, content goes around in many formats and travels through interpersonal connections, connected platforms, social sites and personal networks that link to each other, strengthen each other and result in almost untraceable and non-lineair connections that look more like wheels and hub and spoke models, that are interconnected themselves in several layers.

People and the networks they use and have, as well as the own networks we build, are crucial for effective content in this social era.

The connected complexity of social content spreading mechanisms

Let me briefly share a short personal story that just occurred last week. For the moment my website is running on the HubSpot CMS and lead management platform. I noticed that someone had filled in my contact form to ask me to give a marketing master class. Using HubSpot I could trace him easily back to a post I did on the blog you are now visiting that same day. Since the only link in that post was towards my Twitter profile and on that profile you find a link to my site, I logically assumed I could perfectly map where and how he found me. And the starting point was content, in this case a blog post.

We ended up mailing and when talking about how he found me, it seemed that the digital journey he travelled to find and contact me was longer than what I could see and logically conclude. In fact it started when he noticed a tweet from a mutual friend on Facebook, referring to the post I wrote a few hours before. That’s a lot of connections and steps and I’m sure this is still a relatively simple example. This is how content is found and travels: in the most amazing and networked ways you can imagine.

So, in order to understand this, it is key to monitor and understand the complexity of the hubs and spokes but most of all, it is key to build networks, join them and provide content in function of the needs and social behaviour of the people you want to reach and interact with.

What really matters has never changed: stories

Last week, at London’s International Content Summit, Antony Mayfield of iCrossing, shared some views on the relationship between content and social in a presentation called “How Content and Social Work Together”. The presentation, that’s rather graphical, rightfully claims that “Where” is the wrong question to start a content strategy with. And of course it is. As Mayfield says: “Who” and “Why” are better.

But the main takeaway and one I have been sharing for ages is that content is all about stories. In the end, it’s not the content that matters. Stories travel, not content. And social networks, just like cross-channel interaction possibilities, regardless of the media, are their carriers.

Content becomes a story if it is shared. Stories are by definition social. And that’s why I agree with Mayfield where his presentation says that you should keep your content and social people close together.

You can watch the slideshare below.