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The Era of Social Content

The Internet has changed human interaction in profound and complicated ways, and it is important to understand these changes in order to use it to one’s advantage, whether it’s for business or inter-personal communication. At the dawn of the first sites, content was static1. Much like books, websites provided information to users, who could not then interact or engage with it. It was a one-sided communication, which often had out-of-date information and did not provoke creativity or social interaction.

However, it was not long before social networking and sharing websites transformed the Internet into a multi-sided interaction with dynamic and regularly updated content, which the users themselves can influence or create2. Since 1995, this trend has continued to grow exponentially through social functionality, social colonization and social content3. This era of social content is characterized by social networks functioning like operating systems by 1) making every human experience social, and 2) providing personalized and accurate content. The Internet of today facilitates the exchange and discussion of ideas and the creation of powerful and informative content not only by individuals, but also by communities as whole.

However, social content should not be interpreted as merely content which is heavily shared on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. If this were true, then a highly Liked, Shared, +1ed page should have high quality social content, but this is not always true. There is high correlation between these two characteristics4, but there are other explanations for this correlation. One would be that social content causes a lot of sharing on social media (not the other way around), while another is that social content ranks well in search engines, which in turn causes the social media presence.

So what does this mean for businesses? The main social change is that users are more demanding and do not want to be seen as merely consumers. They want to be engaged in the process wherever they are: in an organization, at a company website, or in a personal communication. The best customer strategy for companies is to ask their client communities and listen carefully. They should be flexible and responsive in order to adapt to changes in customer preferences, needs and resources. Transparency is another key issue because the age of social content has made the flow of information faster and easier. Practically speaking, this will be reflected on the company website, whether all relevant product, company and staff information is displayed or not.

Another profound impact will be on the marketing and branding strategy of the company. Consumer communities will gain more power and authority, and their support will be more valuable than ever. It makes sense for corporations to build strong and positive relationships with their client communities by, for example, communicating with them and addressing their concerns. Strong advocates will be harder to win but their opinions are more authoritative and widely trusted than the company they support, so it is a worthwhile investment.

In the past it was enough for writers and other content creators to write out well-informed text in order to attract users. Nowadays, to win the discerning reader, the content creator must utilize multiple types of media, such as images and video; must make use of interactive interfaces as much as possible, should create informative, interesting and actionable content; and offer easy sharing options. Nevertheless, companies can take advantage of this social content trend. Outsourcing product design and development to user communities is both cost-efficient and PR friendly, while organizational transparency can improve accountability and management.

So, as with other major changes, it is important to get on the wagon as soon as possible to beat the competition.

References:

  1. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa261352(v=vs.60).aspx
  2. http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/04/27/future-of-the-social-web/
  3. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremiah_owyang/3478041905/
  4. http://www.seomoz.org/blog/do-improved-social-signals-cause-improved-rankings

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