May 7th, 2013
A few years later, a smart young lawyer named Dave Morgan built a company called TACODA, based on the idea that advertising would be more effective if it was built on profiles of users behavior across the web. Publishers believed this approach would improve their targeting capability and therefore potential revenue.
Fifteen years later, not much has changed.
The Government is still poised (any minute now) to regulate how companies and advertisers gather and share data. Publishers have a laissez faire approach to data, dropping as many as twenty to thirty tags on their sites to enable cross site profiling (even though this approach, refined through a decade of creative destruction, has pretty much led to the obliteration of their main comparative advantage). And consumers still can’t possibly control the massive data trails they leave behind.
As Scott McNealy famously said, “Privacy is dead. Get over it.” Privacy and data security are classic economic externalities. Like pollution, there aren’t substantial economic costs to a Publisher in sharing a user’s data, but there can be substantial benefits. Firms generally don’t have good short-term incentives to self-regulate externalities, and many will actively lobby against regulation.
So why a blog post about data security and privacy?
We believe brands, in their new role of content marketers, may be the first group to care meaningfully about privacy issues. Because for the first time it makes clear short-term economic sense for them to care.
For the most sophisticated content marketers, the value in the customer interaction is the data, as they construct content funnels that turn readers and viewers into customers. Unlike the vast ecosystem of “big data”, the relatively intimate interactions that occur within the walls of a branded content site can be considered “small data”. Data that is understandable, useful, digestible, and actionable. Which means valuable.
We have observed that brands are willing to pay nearly ten times as their publisher counterpart to attract an audience to their content. Why might a brand who is spending serious money to become a publisher and attract, grow, and understand an audience, ever allow that data to be shared with their competitors? We think they won’t. In our view, the leading content marketing brands are going start locking their data down as soon as possible. Two or three tags, tops.
At the same time, there are still some times when some data sharing is critical to content’s success. Our model at Movable Media is at least partially based on the idea that content performs much better when authors and content creators are given data on how their content is performing, in the form of meaningful feedback. Given the right feedback and incentives, we have found that our authors double (at least) the reach and audience of their content. Brands shouldn’t just cut these people completely out of the data loop: A balance needs to be struck.
So when we launched this business a few years ago we hypothesized that brands might one day care about the data issues. Unproven hypotheses can get expensive for a start-up, but nevertheless we built the architecture of our platform to maximize the security of our clients content marketing data, while sampling as little data as possible.
So we were pleased that we just completed and passed a fairly draconian data audit from a customer who had basically stripped nearly every other tag off of their site.
As far as news goes, this may sound pretty boring (we acknowledge that it is, in fact, pretty boring) but for us it was a minor victory. Two years ago, we thought that content marketers might eventually care deeply about this data issue. For at least one big customer, we were proved right. Woot.
April 3rd, 2013
We have a confession to make.
When we started Movable Media a few years ago to help brands with content marketing, we might have mentioned that we would be leveraging our “network of thousands of influential bloggers.” Well. Now that we actually have hundreds of active writers working on live projects, we think that “author networks” are actually not great for marketers or the audience they’re trying to reach. This post explains how we’ve reached that conclusion.
Only three years ago, having access to a huge network of writers and scalability was a major area of differentiation in the nascent “content farm” space. Companies like Demand Media earned a billion-plus dollar public valuation partially due to its Google manipulating algorithm and traffic, but also for the vast legions of writers it had recruited to generate content. Today, a number of re-branded content farms, and new “premium” networks still make claims about their vast networks of writers, journalists, screenwriters, and mommy bloggers and their depths of expertise in their respective verticals.
Content firms like theirs, and (until now) ours have engaged in this authorial arms race to help establish credibility with clients. When potential clients seek to compare our capabilities with other firms, I am nearly always asked about the number of writers in our network and which verticals make up our expertise.
This makes sense to me, but at the same time: unless a brand is looking to create the next Huffington Post or Bleacher Report, the number of writers in a providers’ network is a pretty meaningless number. Illustrative fact: When I launched a custom content division for Associated Content (one of the original “content farms”, now owned by Yahoo!) we had over 300,000 paid contributors on our rolls. For reference, this is roughly the population of a midsized, mid-western city.
So guess how many of these contributors we used to create the hundreds of custom, work-for-hire articles we created for Zappos and other brands? Roughly twenty or so. The population of, say, a small mid-western newspaper staff. This, as it turned out, was all we needed to meet their needs.
Scale was not the issue. Rather, quality was the key gating factor. We found that only a few authors could reliably create the kind of content, with the quality we required, on time, and at the cost we needed. Once we found them, we tended to use them again and again, regardless of expertise. Relatively small content staffs are that not unusual: until the content farm era, the average custom content company was well under 200 employees.
So while the marketing world has changed significantly in the past four years, one thing has not changed. You still don’t need a network of thousands, or tens of thousands of authors to create plenty of great content.
And even if you have access to tens of thousands of writers, you might want to think twice about using them.
Real influencers don’t join networks
There are a handful of passionate experts in nearly every industry and segment who have carved out a niche as thought leaders and experts. Some write for a living, but frequently they are not professional journalists. Many have loyal and dedicated followings and understand what compels readers within their market segment. If approached correctly, they are often both open to and flattered by the idea of working with a well-known or reputable brand to create thought leadership content.
These are the folks you want to have creating content for your site.
For example, Tobi Fairley is an influential design blogger with tens of thousands of followers, who creates content for Williams Sonoma’s Designer Marketplace blog. Tobi brings a dedicated audience of decorators and designers to WSI, and also benefits from the exposure her content gets on that site. She lives and breathes the business of design every day.
You won’t find Tobi on a “writer network”, offering to write articles for hire. And she won’t write for just anyone, because blogging isn’t her real job—she runs a design firm.
To find someone like Tobi, and execute this kind of a targeted author strategy, the brand needs to identify the author/influencer, understand her needs and motivations, and recruit her with a program that makes sense. This requires both hard data and soft skills. And to really maximize the return on investment for both the author and the brand, a program needs to be designed that encourages the author to move her audience to the branded content, without ever asking her to shill or impugn her integrity.
This approach to content creation often seems harder and more time consuming than other approaches, just as recruiting a great employee is harder than hiring a temp. But it becomes well worth it when one realizes what Tobi brings to the table: A built in audience of 20,000, deep expertise, and talent – so she regularly brings in thousands of visitors per article, which create much better engagement than any freelancer might create, often at an equivalent ongoing cost — and consequently a substantially lower cost-per-visitor.
Because authors like Tobi aren’t raising their hands, “author networks” tend to fill up with journalists, freelancers, and self-promoters. These types of content creators may suffice if you don’t need true expertise, or if you have an awesome editorial team (which content marketers really ought to have regardless). But for the vast majority of content creation efforts, using non-experts will result in “meh” content, appealing to the lowest common denominator.
Furthermore, author networks will inevitably try to sell marketers on the commoditized authors they have “in-network.” This is the marketing equivalent of trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole. Even author networks that focus on a specific vertical is just putting lipstick on a pig: you’re not getting the best authors for your audience, you’re getting whoever the author network happens to have sitting on the bench.
In a nutshell, this is why we’re retiring the network concept for our clients. The reality is, to find the right authors for our clients and their needs, we recruit the best authors regardless of whether or not they were in our network. To pretend otherwise would be to do a disservice to our clients, and to their audiences. We think most marketers will agree.
January 29th, 2013
At Movable Media, we pride ourselves on working with authors with deep expertise. They demonstrate this every day with the quality of their writing, and we’re honored that they’ve chosen to work with us. One of the ways our writers establish and maintain their authority is by publishing books. So when three of the authors we work with have books coming out at the same time, we wanted to share the news.
Trevor Young, the “PR Warrior,” works with MYOB on their blog, The Pulse. Trevor writes mostly on communications strategy, with an emphasis on social media and content marketing. We’ve been lucky to get some of Trevor’s attention, since he’s been busy preparing for the impending April 2013 launch of his book microDOMINATION: How to leverage social media and content marketing to build a mini-business empire around your personal brand. From the microDOMINATION website (http://www.microdomination.com): “microDOMINATION is dedicated to helping subject matter experts, bloggers, hobbyists, solo professionals and aspiring entrepreneurs to harness their passion and package their expertise, establish and grow their platform, and market their personal brand – all with the ultimate goal of building a sustainable business enterprise while at the same time experiencing a flexible lifestyle that meets their individual needs.” We can’t wait to see the book published: helping subject matter experts leverage social media is one of the things we spend a lot of time thinking about and investing in at Movable Media.
Kelly Lee Creel works with Procter & Gamble on their Home Made Simple site. Kelly is a fabric designer, and writes frequently about fabrics, home decorating, crafting and photography. For her debut book, Handmade Hostess, Kelly partnered with her sister, Rebecca Soder, to share her expertise in crafts and entertaining. Pre-release, her book already has an Amazon Best Sellers rank. Fun fact: after Rebecca made Kelly’s wedding cake, she decided to start her own custom cake business. How’s that for inspiration?
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Kathryn Greeley, a noted interior designer with a specialty in entertaining and tabletop collections. Kathryn writes for Williams Sonoma’s B2B content portal, WSI Designer Marketplace. Technically, her book The Collected Tabletop was published in 2011. However, it’s about to enter its 3rd printing, and continues to rank 21st in the “Tablesetting” category on Amazon’s Best Sellers list. We felt that’s a feat worth highlighting.
Lastly, we should mention that Andrew Boer, president of Movable Media, is also becoming a published author. He wrote the foreword to the book Branding for Bloggers: Tips to Grow Your Audience and Maximize Your Income. The book, co-authored by Zach Heller and the New York Institute of Career Development, teaches bloggers about the importance of branding and marketing. Andrew’s piece, about why the valuation of content is changing, is critical to understanding why branding is so key. The book will be published in May (we’ve seen the galleys!), pre-order yours now.