Content Curation: Digging out and delivering digital content that works

Content Marketing is the trending Digital Marketing topic of 2013. A strategy for the online content you are publishing, now more than ever seems essential for online engagement, search and social sharing of your brand messages or services. It’s not new of course, it’s always been there in various forms. Now though, everyone is a publisher – everyone is a mass consumer – everyone is a media outlet to spread the news – everyone is using digital as a communication tool. Now you simply cannot afford not to give your audiences the digital content they crave, how they want it and in a way to keep you competitive and engaged with your audience and customer. It’s not an easy challenge to effectively and strategically develop a content strategy that will work, especially if resources are limited.

As a blogger I know all too well that thinking, planning and actually delivering on original content to write on my blog or post on social media can be time consuming and challenging. Inspiration comes in many forms. Often the best content is not always 100% original. Often the best traction can be attained from curated content; but it has to add value. It must correlate to your brand, products, services and generate insight, interest and debate beyond the original author(s) points. Now… if you are really looking to have an impact with your audience, curation should not be the beginning and end of your content strategy. Totally original content (if there is such a thing) if you are involved in digital marketing, or mostly original, should still be a key part of your content strategy; it will build brand recognition, trust, thought leadership, differentiation and enhance your sense of meaningful content contribution to your audience. Overall though, for the majority of brands, organisations and individuals – it makes sense to centralise content curation in addition to publishing original articles and any other form of content such as news, events, products etc in their various forms.

It Takes Time…

Effective content curation happens over time. Of course it cannot exist individually, staying active across social networks, industry events and of course originating your own content play a big part of the content marketing challenge. Curation though, can play the central role in generating your brand awareness, credibility and popularity. Having something interesting to share in context to how you interpret it, the benefits to your audience, or your opinion on it’s industry validity and use can often be as effective, or if not more, effective than original content that might not meet your audiences needs.

1.Source – 2.Curate and Comment – 3.Publish

Successful curation does not happen by chance. Of course, stumbling across something worth sharing naturally occurs, but this doesn’t mean you should; you are right and also your audience might not want or care about it right now. By effectively setting up channels, approaches and time to correctly source, filter and the in a timely and effective manner, publish content, you will find results become measurable, resources can be allocated and trends can become established.

1. Source

Your sources of content to curate could be.

  • Subscribing to the most appropriate online and offline publications
  • Social Sharing sites you can or should subscribe to
  • Social media monitoring tools like Social Bro or Hootsuite
  • Aggregators such as Storify, Flipboard and Scoop.it
  • Press release distribution services
  • Google Alerts

2. Curate and Comment

Your curation content can be a selection including some of the following content types

  • Statistics, research, white-papers and reports
  • Posts from influential people important to your target audience
  • Best practice content writers on blogs, news, training, industry events sites
  • Guides and eBooks
  • Infographics are hugely popular and easy to digest information from
  • Tips and “how to” lists.
  • Videos are great for engagement so embed away…
  • Slide share presentations, which can also be embedded

3. Publish

Where might you publish curated content…

  • Company or brand blog, of course – this should probably be your hub
  • Email Newsletters
  • eBooks, guides and white-papers
  • Social networks
  • Guest author posts on industry sites

Success Factors

Strategic and timely content curation, as part of an overall content strategy can lead to many positive online factors:

  • Improve website traffic, interactivity and engagement
  • Help you or your brand / business to become a thought leader particular topic (this will take time!), naturally you’ll be more find-able online as a result
  • Generate website leads through awareness, SEO and carefully constructed calls to action.
  • Become well known by people of influence in your industry leading to networking opportunities and organic sharing potential.
  • Increased conversion on audience goals due to improved confidence in the curator and organisation

Success will be gained, as with all content marketing, when you take the time to learn and focus on what matters to your audience or community and align that with your own online value proposition. The more considered you are about any content you curate, or in-fact create, the more naturally you’ll optimise the content that your audience is craving and it will gain traction across search engines.

This video below is well worth a watch, breaking down the purpose and tactics around successful content curation and supporting some of my previous points.

My Top 5 Digital Marketing Curators

Some of the many blogs and social accounts I value highly from a curation point of view are listed below. I could list 20+ reputable sources but I guess everyone that might read this already subscribes to mashable and e-consultancy for example. For me, these curators add value as they don’t always post the same content type, don’t simply re-tweet the obvious posts from the big players, they have interesting comments and opinions based on their sourced content and keep their curation efforts varied, fresh, engaging, on brand – and importantly sprinkled with thoughtful opinion and insight. Naturally, they do not solely curate. Original and engaging content forms part of their mix and that’s one of the key reasons why their content curation is also highly valued by myself and many others. I’d recommend you visit and follow them for your own digital marketing curation efforts, or look at what they post to get some good ideas.

Simply Zesty

http://www.simplyzesty.com – @simplyzesty

Christopher Wellbelove

http://about.me/wellbelove – @wellbelove

The Drum

 http://thedrum.com – @thedrum

Silicon Republic

Siliconrepublic.com – twitter.com/siliconrepublic

Ion / Niall McKeown

http://ionology.com – @niallmckeown

Digital Human

Staying Human in a Digital World

I have recently read Nick Harkaways book “The Blind Giant” and found it a fascinating, engaging and eye-opening read. It makes you realise that we must not forget that those who follow us, will be born into a purely digital society, where eBooks and augmented reality will have gone from exotic to everyday. In The Blind Giant, Nick Harkaway, considers whether this new world of ours will be a place of purpose or hellish.

Some of Nick’s arguments about what could lie ahead seem a little extreme, a little affiliated to “Minority Report” but we cannot ignore that as more and more of how we consume and deliver content is not only digital by nature, often it’s out of necessity, not choice – and that trend is likely to continue. Ultimately, Harkaway makes the case that technology is like any other tool: neither a good or bad thing, except in how we use it.

Reading this book opened my eyes not only to the future of digital in our world but also the present. Technology, software and the devices we use have of course shaped our social and human behavior on a number of levels, from shopping, to leisure, to business. Lives are lived online, and the opportunity to have a live feed into the minds of those you care about is becoming a clearer reality. People are more willing to share and consume horizontally through their social networks, rather than vertically. The organic spread of ideas, relationships, and trade can now be observed and measured on scales of unprecedented detail.

Amongst all the positive aspects of instant global communication, accessibility of information, improved efficiency and the potential for learning, it is clear that there are negative “de-humanisning” aspects of the Digital World now and this will likely continue in the future. People see less of other people, there can be a lazy attitude inherited as a result.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to highlight how in the context of businesses to consumers, organisations can act, appear and deliver more human aspects of behaviour both through and alongside their digital communications to complement each other.

As more and more businesses advertise, show and deliver pre – sale and post – sale communications online, there is no doubt that they have had to adapt to a world of highly concentrated digital consumption. This though can deliver opportunities to show human connection through and alongside digital. For example an online retailer can still bring visible human aspects to their business. They can:

  • Show the people within the business on their website and LinkedIn page etc,
  • Personalise their twitter with a unique or range of staff administrators assigned to social media, giving a personal tone to the messages and responses
  • Ensure sales and support emails are from staff addresses and use appropriate signatures
  • Deliver video and audio content to connect with the audience on real terms and improve brand personality.
  • Personalise emails both through whom it is addresses but also based on preferences.

A high street retailer that also has an “inevitable” online presence can also humanise their consumer’s digital experience as well as complement the real in store experience by:

  • Promoting specific exclusive offers and promotions online but only available in store to drive footfall
  • Building knowledge of the online offering amongst staff to help deliver sales and consumer loyalty
  • Use social media to help profile the products, local team(s) and staff to consumers
  • Have staff actively engage with customers online
  • Ensure telephone numbers are clearly promoted online.

I think we all know the inevitability of an increased trend for more digital consumption and communication out of necessity due to rapidly evolving commercial, media and interpersonal landscapes. But this doesn’t mean we have to be any less human. It’s about balance. We must continue to act, sound and appear human even online and I hope that the norm isn’t that we get lazy and devalue personal contact by default over a more convenient digital equivalent or alternative.

Google Glass is an example worth noting. This technology due to launch next year has the potential, for us to act more human, from the perspective that our digital media consumption can be consumed whilst interacting visually and in body with the real world. An argument to this though is that we may as users of the product, disconnect from the real world as we focus on what the heads up display is communicating to us. The latter is a de-humanising effect, (well… based on our definition of human behaviour) but perhaps a new set of human and social behavioral attributes need to defined “the norm” in light of communication and technological advances and trends.

Related to this discussion from a social media perspective is a really good Q&A worth checking out with Nicholas Christakis from the TED series, entitled: “Our modern, connected lives.” It’s interesting as it raises many points around the our influence and behaviour driven by our modern connected online social experiences. It’s a well-balanced series of responses to topics of friendship, social influence and even online dating from a real world vs digital perspective.

The Importance of a “Digital Centric” Approach to Your Brand

This post is a summary of a recent blog I wrote for Smart Insights on how a brand strategy must consider and ensure a “Digital Centric” approach to the brand creation and ongoing activities.

In 2013, more than any other year; website(s), search marketing, mobile content, social media, rich media, e-commerce, email marketing and their interaction, all have to be carefully considered in a brand building process.

Key Brand Factors

1. Customer

In a branding process it all starts with the customer; considering a number of factors from age to gender to disposable income, through to their estimated frequency of purchase.

The demographics will have a digital footprint, It is vital to determine what these customers will search for, what devices they will be using and when and which social networks, websites and apps they engage with, how often, and when.

Offline, a brand’s connection with customers will deliver an experience good or bad. For example in retail, a customer can call to get a location and opening hours, drive to the location, walk into a store or warehouse, access the checkout, purchase effectively and leave safely and securely.

Online branding should deliver the same experience that you wish to deliver for your customers; including accessibility. There is though a long way to go for this to be taken as the norm.

In a recent survey only 18% of brands surveyed admitted to being “seriously” committed to delivering the best possible online user experience (UX). More reading on this statistic via a recent Feb 2013 report is available via e-consultancy.

2. Identity

For some, this is their understanding of where branding starts and finishes. Of course, we know there is much more, but it is true that it is what instantly connects customers with brands. It can create interest, curiosity, affinity and connections.

A hugely important factor to consider when it comes to identity is naming. In Digital Marketing this impacts most on search.

Another key factor is how the brand stands out in a multi – platform crowded experience. Our bookmarks, web apps on our browser, image results for search and also our mobile app icons and more, should make everyone think about how the identity performs and connects with the audience.

Facebook is a great example of how it’s distinctive “Blue F” and like “thumbs up” icon works well alongside or in isolation to the Facebook logo making it perfect for a multi – platform approach.

fACEBOOK THUMBS UP Facebook logo Facebook

 3. Competitors

From searching online, to sampling apps, to experiencing website UX and subscribing to their emails, competitor analysis is more open and accessible than ever before.

More than ever before, insight can be gained to learn what they offer, how they communicate, what experiences they have and where they focus customer and product attention.

All brands have to be aware that they are being watched, Prices are being matched, tweets are being scanned, and websites are being trawled through so as brands can  begin to gain a competitive advantage.

4. Messaging

Key messages to support the product, service or customer value are essentially what add weight to an identity and enable consumers to “get it” in a few seconds.

Tesco’s key ‘brand driver’ is simple; “Every Little Helps”. This means different things to different people, but Tesco strive through digital, to make shopping easier, more helpful, and personalised and more rewarding through its content, features, rewards, mobile apps, personalised offers and multi – channel shopping experiences.

“Every Little Helps”, suits perfectly.tescoonline

Sky’s key message is “Believe in Better”. Sky do, over all the home entertainment and connectivity providers, have best in class solutions and the user experience it always seems is largely ahead than their competitors. Sky online products just feel right. I believe their products and user interface is “better” and I also have noticed  their belief in being better has led to them being first for key innovations such as their “Sky Go” app.

5. Location

When developing a brand project, location is a key factor. With online, location becomes important because the business is not in total control of its audience and their location.

A key element to online branding with regards to location is the fact that if a business is selling online across various countries then it MUST invest in a commitment to at least consider the impact of language, culture – centric online advertising and importantly also be able to deliver on shipping timelines which customers expect.

Location, as part of brand awareness and engagement has also become much more of a factor with the use of smartphones. Location based apps to help customers on the go find a business, buy using their mobile, share etc are adding value to the brand. A great example of a brand investing successfully in digital brand strategies per location is Starbucks.  Read More about Starbucks’ digitally aligned strategy here

6. Product

In branding processes, products are considered in terms of their key messaging and top level display in line with the brand image and positioning of the company. If a brand is positioned as having unique or ‘competitor busting’ attributes then what digital media allows is the opportunity to show this like never before with features such as:

  • Video content
  • Interactive personalisation
  • Sharing facilities
  • Augmented reality
  • Real time configuration

A great personalised online brand product experience comes courtesy of Nike. Nike ID  This fits Nike’s highly personalised and user -connected brand experience which offers personal and complementary products such as Nike + and Nike Fuel.

v

7. People

How people in an organisation understand and deliver the brand are central to making the brand work. Online, people still remain an important element to the brand on a number of levels. Customers may see, hear and read about key members of the team; customers may wish to check the history or find out more about a person they met to ‘suss them out’ further.

People are responsible for the online brand delivery because a digital brand communication strategy is nothing without content. Businesses must ask these people related questions:

  • Do I have the resource to communicate online?
  • Does my online content style match my messaging and tone of voice?
  • What channels do I use to enable efficient customer service?
  • I have a team of content writers online how do I ensure consistency?
  • Will my staff’s personal and business related online activity strengthen or harm my brand?

In Conclusion…

Branding and brands simply are not successful in 2013 without ensuring digital is central to how they are communicated, advertised, consumed and shared. By taking into account the key factors mentioned in this article and ensuring there is a strategy that considers the right digital mix in support of the brand position, businesses can strengthen their online position in the marketplace and thrive in the digital world.

View the full article on Online branding: a digital-centric approach to developing brands here.

Billy Ray Harris: Lord of the Ring

A Homeless Hero: The Power of Online Storytelling

This week I stumbled across a story online, not only worth sharing for it’s interesting content but also for it’s ability to highlight the true power of the digital world to share something positive, engage with people’s emotions and then encourage positive action.

Billy Ray Harris of Kansas City recently returned a diamond engagement ring, which fell into his collection cup, to it’s rightful owner. He found the ring among loose change after its owner, Sarah Darling, accidentally dropped it when she was giving him some change. When Sarah went back the next morning, she found that Harris had been waiting for her to return that ring.

What a humbling and amazing gesture for a man with nothing. A man who could have used the ring’s value to improve his current situation and get himself some things to help him survive. This story certainly helped add some more positive weight to my global humanity perception scale.

As if that wasn’t amazing enough, to show their appreciation, Sarah and her husband set up a Giveforward fundraiser with a goal of raising $1,000 for Billy Ray. The total now sits at the time of writing, €138,000 after only 10 days. With 81 days left Billy Ray could become a very wealthy man indeed. He certainly won’t be out on the streets begging for loose change.

Sarah’s husband posted a blog post updating donors with Harris’s response to the news and his plans for the future. He wrote:

“We talked about a lot of things related to my family’s ring and the many donations. We talked about one day in the future the ring may … be passed down to my daughter. We talked about how insanely positive all this has been. We talked about what he’s planning to do with the donations. The details would be better left for later but know that he has a very solid plan and a very solid way of making it happen.”

For me this example really highlights the ability for the virality of the web to raise awareness, capture the hearts and imagination of those that care, of those who become aware of such kind acts of humanity and who may not have given Billy Ray or any other homeless person their loose change. How this money and new found fame affects Billy we’ll soon see. I’m sure his selfless attitude will ensure he spreads his fortune. I’m sure amongst the escape from poverty will come a struggle with adapting to the real world and rebuilding his life under the public eye, but for now I am delighted to see the virality of the internet once again proving it’s positive worth for sharing stories, connecting individuals, raising hope and rewarding those who deserve it with positive actions.

Whilst writing this article it made me think of a previous blog post that I wrote after my Ad Age Digital Conference attendance last year. In this article I mentioned how the true value in content engagement is creating content that is emotional. People will take action, engage with and share content online that emotionally connects with them and their friends, peers and connections.

With Billy Ray Harris and this campaign, those who donated are not just donating money online to any homeless guy they heard about. If that was the case, every homeless person would set up a donation page right now and get rich. With Billy Ray, your emotions are supercharged by the story behind the campaign; the humbling actions of a man in need, who made the right choice over the selfish one and who has created the unlikeliest of friendships that we can all now read about. Now that’s emotional content. That’s what makes a difference to people’s level of engagement and that’s what has made Billy Ray Harris an overnight sensation and changed his life forever.

finish app

Need a new ‘To Do List’ app for 2013? Maybe Start with Finish…

I’m a fan of to -do list apps, I have 3 or 4 installed and I’ve experimented with them all over the last couple of years, but I am now a monogamous user of my preferred app (so far), the fantastic iOS app ‘Clear’. It is the simplest of to do list apps, with a delightful gesture based UI and sounds; it doesn’t have a calendar or a reminder system and that’s maybe why I like it. It doesn’t bug me. Although that has the added risk of me forgetting about my to do lists sometimes. That kind of defeats the purpose right? So anyway, this week, I decided to try Finish from reading largely positive things about it online.

It’s premise; Finish what’s most important first.

The main point to Finish is that the things you must do fall into three broad categories: Urgent, less urgent, and not urgent. It is based on you preferring to organise items by “when” rather than “what”, which would be my preferred set up historically in terms of home, work, fitness etc…

Importantly, Finish lets you decide how soon those time frames should fall too, which could be very useful if you don’t mind mixing up to do’s based on priority.

After that, it’s really straight forward. Every new item you add is allocated to one of these three time-based categories automatically, based on the due date you give it. This is good, because you don’t have to remember what your Term Lengths are.

As time passes, items you’ve failed to mark as “done” will turn red, and items that started out as medium / long term will move up the list, until they become short-term. Then they too will turn red if you’ve not checked them off. I can start to see the benefits over clear already.

But – It’s not without flaws…

The main one is very annoying thanks to its presentation of tasks, you have to keep task titles very short in order for them to show up. When I added “Write blog article for website” as a task it told me “That’s a pretty long name!” What? No it isn’t!

For 69p it’s good value. It does have the time based and calendar functionality, which substantiates and warrants it’s ‘non – free’ status and I’m going to give it a go for a while. I’m not sure if it will pull me away from clear as it’s so lovely to use, and I know for other’s it’s niche time category format will be not for everyone. I think it’s suited to people with short to do lists, and generally short titles of things to do like “shopping” “gym” “pay phone bill”. But for those who wish to create detailed to do lists with very specific deadlines, or who love the simplicity of clear like me, it might not be for you.

heart engine optimisation

SEO it with Love. Heart Engine Optimisation.

This week, millions of us around the globe will be giving or receiving gifts and romantic gestures for Valentines Day to the ones we love. When we love each other we go the extra mile for those we care about, share our belongings, have an open forum for communication and stay loyal and faithful.

I believe success in Digital Marketing benefits from the same principles. Love for what you do, love for what you offer, for the people you are providing products, services or content to. In this article I wish to focus on how the principles of love can be applied to ensuring that you, your business, your product or your organisation’s content is up there on the “most desirable” list, i.e. the first page of Google. You could look at it like an online dating site. Finding the right (long term) match it what it’s all about.

SEO as a Science

Often SEO is referred to as a science and there can be no doubt to some extent that is so true. Mike Baxter of e-consultancy certainly believes in SEO as a science and in many ways, rightly so. There are important aspects to SEO that are driven by coding and  technical principles.

christopher-lloyd-doc

SEO is a Science

Much like with scientific discoveries there are probable outcomes based on actions and then tried and repeated experiments to achieve success. SEO experiments are no different. These actions take into account specific keyword references, the quality of a website’s mark up (HTML / CSS), highly targeted link building activities, highly relevant internal anchor links, finely tuned meta descriptions and fresh content added with military precision for targeted keywords published to an exact frequency for key pages

There is no doubt that by investing in the best practice technical, analytics driven and scientific principles of SEO, success can be achieved. Some customers may find your product or service, may indeed buy, may become a customer for life and may tell others. Job done. If this though, is where your activities start and end and you lose sight of why you are investing time delivering an online service or product and the needs of your customer you will inevitably fail in the long term. If a scientific principle was applied and relied upon in life to match individuals romantically I believe it would be largely unsuccessful. Falling in love is emotive, subtle and about how you feel, not based on set experiments or probability.

Love your Job. Love your Customer.

Content Marketing is the hot topic of 2013 and a discussion on it is for another post but I find it strange that it is being portrayed as so new or forward thinking or innovative. Surely it’s just about doing what those delivering a brand or product experience online should  always be doing or have done. Delivering fresh, engaging, contextual, relevant and timely content about your products, services and your industry. My point for referencing, is that it is clear to me that for SEO, a content strategy driven by love and passion is where long term success is conceived. Love and passion for your content, products and services and for your customers; their needs, their expectations and their loyalty, should be the heartbeat of your SEO.

cast of cheers

Love your job

If you look at some of the world’s biggest brands such as Apple, Starbucks, Amazon, Virgin and Nike they do have huge resource to invest time and money in content and online service of of value, and their rankings on search for what they offer are high, but you can tell they have a love and passion for their own products, their own values, their customers and the desire to do and be better. Of course they are in business to make money but their sustained growth and brand loyalty is driven by love and passion, listening to their customers and delivering products to make them happy. The late Steve Jobs is the embodiment of success through an approach driven by love and passion of what he wanted to achieve, what he wanted to offer and how he wanted us to love his Apple’s products. Citing one of dozens of inspirational quotes Jobs’ infectious passion is put eloquently in a quote from a speech at the Stanford University’s Commencement address on June 12, 2005: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Science, analytics and best practice should not be ignored. Invest time to get your digital channels set up using best practice for SEO and use analytics to gain insights into which key phrases are delivering and which are not, but don’t let this get in the way of what should come naturally. If you are in, or are thinking of starting an online venture I want you to ask yourself these questions; Do I love what I do? Do I love what I offer online to my customers? Do I have a passion for excellent customer service? Do I care about what others think of me or my products? Do I want to make it easy for customers to access, engage, and share what I have to offer? Do I have an opinion in my sector worth sharing or can I provide value to my peers to improve standards in what we do collectively?

Tying the SEO Knot

If the answers are all or mostly yes and you have the motivation to succeed, then rewarding natural and effective SEO will happen, metaphorically tying the knot to a marriage between you, your products and your customers. It will happen because out of all of these factors comes a motivation to say and do the right things online, deliver fresh and relevant content about what you offer in the language you and your customers speak and you will listen to your customers and update your online content accordingly. If you love your product and your customers, you will produce content that is highly accessible, engaging and in the right format for their device, you will use social channels to aid customer service and differentiate your product and tailor it to the right audiences. If you love the industry you operate in you will engage in online communities to learn, advise and share and improve how you do things online and offline.

It will be no accident that by investing time in these activities, driven by love of what you do and your customers, you will succeed in SEO. You’ll also succeed in terms of sales, brand awareness, loyalty and advocacy as a result. Of course it’s an investment. An investment in your time and no doubt some others who need to share your passion and love for what you are trying to do. But if you know you can be successful and want to invest in relationships with your customers, this investment will come naturally from a passion within. It will not be a chore, it will not be driven by a scientific schedule of activities  it will not be highly analytical in it’s approach. It will be natural, rewarding, enriching and just feel right; just like a happy marriage, or falling in love.

Happy Valentines. x

A Fascinating Insight into the Prototyping of Google Glass

I really enjoyed this insight into prototyping of Google Glass. Chopstix, coat hangers, hairbands and fishing lines all used in prototyping the most sophisticated digital innovation is refreshing and interesting. “Doing is the best kind of thinking!” as Tom Chi puts it.

Tom also touches on learning patterns for us all no matter what we do in our work or leisure. He rightly points out that expansive thinking is innate in all of us and that “non book learning” is where innovation, new ideas and inspiration thrives.

Social Media. Is it the end of Gender Based Marketing?

If you hadn’t noticed, our media climate generally provides a much distorted mirror of our lives and of our gender, and I think that’s going to change massively as social media and advertising continues to evolve quickly. Most media formats, television, radio, publishing, games, you name it – they use very rigid segmentation methods in order to understand their audiences. It’s old-school demographics and we at Mammoth also have to play by the rules when designing and producing media plan driven campaigns for the above channels. It’s a massive part of the marketing driven world we live in. I always though found it slightly presumptuous that companies believe that if you fall within a certain demographic, then you are predictable in certain ways – you have certain taste, that you like certain things. And so the bizarre but very real result of this is that for the last 80 years or more, most of our popular culture is actually based on these presumptions about our demographics.

All the people who participate in social media networks belong to the same old demographic categories that media companies and advertisers have used in order to understand them. But those categories mean even less now than they did before; it’s much easier for us to escape some of our demographic boxes. We’re able to connect with people quite freely and to redefine ourselves online. And we can lie about our age online, too, pretty easily. We can also connect with people based on our very specific interests. We don’t need a ‘media company’ to help do this for us.

I always though found it slightly presumptuous that companies believe that if you fall within a certain demographic, then you are predictable in certain ways – you have certain taste, that you like certain things.

We know, along with all other media agencies worldwide that this is the mass audience of the future. But everyone is having a hard time doing it because they’re still trying to use demographics in order to understand them, because that’s how ad rates are still determined. When they are managing your clickstream – ‘and you know they are’ – they have a really hard time figuring out your age, your gender and your income. They can make some educated guesses. But they get a lot more information about what you do online, what you like, what interests you. That’s easier for them to find out than who you are. And even though that’s still sort of creepy, there is an upside to having your taste monitored. Suddenly our taste is being respected in a way that it hasn’t been before. It had been ‘presumed’ before by traditional media.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while as I am a big advocate of behaviour based marketing, not demographic based and that’s where social media helps break the norm. So when you look online at the way people aggregate, they don’t aggregate around age, gender and income. They aggregate around the things they love, the things that they like, and if you think about it, shared interests and values are a far more powerful aggregator of human behaviour than demographic categories. As an advertiser I’d much rather know whether you like Chinese food, horror movies and ski holidays in France rather than how old you are. That would tell me something more substantial about you.

It’s a Woman’s World

If you look at the statistics in every single age category, women actually outnumber men in their use of social networking technologies. And then if you look at the amount of time that they spend on these sites, they truly dominate the social media space, which is a space that’s having a huge impact on old media. The question is: what sort of impact is this going to have on our culture, and what’s it going to mean for women? If the case is that social media is dominating old media and women are dominating social media, then does that mean that women are going to take over global media? Are we suddenly going to see a lot more female characters in cartoons and in games and on TV shows? Will the next big-budget blockbuster movies actually be chick flicks?

Well, that’s going to be the case. I think women are actually going to be – ironically enough – responsible for driving a stake through the heart of cheesy genre categories like the “chick flick” and all these other genre categories that presume that certain demographic groups like certain things.

I firmly believe that if you want to understand the global village, it’s probably a good idea that you figure out what they’re passionate about, what amuses them, what they choose to do in their free time. This is a very important thing to know about people. The vast and growing volume and influence in social media and user generated content is enabling this to become a reality.

So imagine a digital world that isn’t dominated by stereotypes about gender and other demographic characteristics. I can’t wait to find out what it looks like and the signs show that it’s already starting.