Help – social networks have eaten my content strategy!

No one wants to talk about content anymore. I remember only a few years ago I had a semblance of power and respect (at least in my own mind). People wanted to meet with me to discuss web strategies, online audiences, content delivery models and standards. Important people. Bob from accounts for one. And that project manager from the Auckland office.

And then, seemingly overnight, it all changed. I walked out my front door one beautiful spring morning, ready for another day helping my colleagues optimise their online presence. And promptly collided with my neighbour, who hadn’t seen me as he hurtled down the street hunched over his iPhone.

‘Sorry mate’, he said. ‘Just checking the traffic conditions on Twitter.’ This from a man who still doesn’t understand that I don’t work for Google just because he can find my website there.

My meetings are now all the same. My colleagues don’t care about our websites anymore. All they want to talk about is ‘social networks’. They don’t want to talk audiences, tasks, usability and content channels. Oh no. They want a Facebook account, a twitter account. They want to video their team meetings and upload them to YouTube. They want to connect with ‘The cloud’.

This has increased exponentially since that movie ‘The Social Network’ came out in 2010. Forget content strategy. Now we can say everything in 140 characters, or let others say it for us on our Facebook wall. And in this way we can reach 800 million Facebook users and 200 million twitter account holders without doing anything at all. We just have to get trending and go viral. Right?

I return to my desk following these meetings and leaf through those lovingly crafted web strategies, audience profiles and content style guides. I lose myself in a simpler, happier time when such things mattered.

And yet. And yet. I think it’s just a matter of keeping the faith in what we content people do, and the things we offer the online world.

We’re riding the tail-end of the first wave of global online social networks powered by giants such as Myspace, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter etc. It’s been a period of incredible development and growth, and things are still rolling along at quite a pace. No one knows exactly what the next big thing will be – Google Plus, a resurgent MySpace, boutique micro-networks, or something no one has even heard of yet?

All of a sudden nearly everybody is networked online. And those that aren’t are considering it.

The new reality is that, as web people and content people, we now need to be able to work in these social network channels. For those of us more use to centralised publishing models, it’s a brave new world requiring a slightly different skill-set.

But let’s not forget that change is the constant online. We have been here before. It reminds me a little of the time, just after the new millennium, when certain people (Bob from accounts, and that project manager from Auckland, for example) wanted a wiki, rather than web content. And remember how in 2005, everyone wanted to blog?

I think it’s also a given that, whatever the online context, some fundamentals still apply. Whether we’re managing our own website, running a wiki used only by Bob from accounts, or working online social networks, we’re still going to need:

  • a clear business objective – why are we doing this?
  • to know who our audience or customers are
  • …and know what they are looking for online (from us)
  • clear protocols and procedures around online publishing (these may be more relaxed in social media channels)
  • a plan for long-term (or even medium-term) content creation and maintenance. (Exactly whose job is it going to be to listen, post and communicate with our 800 million new friends on Facebook?)

We also need to remember that it’s all about people, not the online channels they’re using to reach us.

Too many organisations start up social media accounts and then forget to use them. Facebook pages that resemble ghost towns are particularly common.

It would seem that some form of content strategy or plan is still needed. Yeah that’s right, those dusty documents don’t need to be deleted; just revised somewhat to reflect our new reality.

So yes, social networks ate my content strategy. My old content strategy. Time for a new one.

Some other opinions on this:

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2 Responses to Help – social networks have eaten my content strategy!

  1. Nice post. I remember reading somewhere a little while ago that the most popular posts to Facebook pages were ones that lead back to content on a website. To some extent Facebook, and certainly Twitter, are still surfacing content from the web rather than hosting it themselves. If you could track down some stats, this can help reinforce the fact that social media is an “as well as” not an “instead of”.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Hamish. It’s a good tip, and I think you’re right on the money with the idea of facebook, twitter etc being additions to our web content, rather than replacing it. I’m hoping to blog soon about uses for twitter in this context.

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