The electronic and egalitarian publishing era ushered in by the blogosphere has created a unique set of problems. Digital publishing volume continues to expand, and in its growing wake, users are left in a constant state of uncertainty.
In an age when anyone with an iPhone or a Twitter account has essentially become a broadcaster, users must navigate the clutter of digital content to arrive at trusted sources.
The answer is simple: Confirm authority through curation and context. On the other hand, the process has changed quite a bit.
1. Build Authority
As new delivery mechanisms and distribution platforms emerge, both new and established media are able to reach a mass audience. Those media outlets now find themselves contending with hundreds, possibly thousands of competing brands. And the lines only continue to blur for consumers.
Therefore, authority will become the next sought-after currency for the app-social generation.
What is authority? Who has It? How can it be earned? How can it be proved? Simply put, an authority is an accepted source of expert information or advice. For example, I trust BBC News when it reports on a story about UK politics (and even U.S. politics sometimes). I trust MTV’s Matt Pinfield when he directs me to a good song or cites a band’s influences. I trust ESPN to provide accurate sport scores.
In today’s fragmented media landscape, trusted and authoritative brands run the gamut from traditional media companies like The New York Times, to small niche-specific music bloggers like Arjan Writes.
However, it takes time to build this type of trust, and consumers are quick to skepticism when information is reported inaccurately or presented in an inauthentic manner. While there’s no blueprint, remaining relevant and trustworthy requires ongoing work and periodic self-evaluation. Brands must frequently ask themselves:
- Who is my audience?
- What do they care about and believe in?
- Is my voice authentic?
- What distinguishes my brand from my competitors?
- What do my competitors do better than I do, and how do I fix that?
Brands committed to honestly answering these questions and fine-tuning accordingly will gradually start to feel their influence rise. While the transition may not immediately translate to traffic spikes or press coverage, influence can be measured non-traditionally — for instance, a rise in the number of retweets and link backs.
It’s through link banks and social media sharing that we’ll start to actually measure authority. And with advertisers eagerly looking to lock arms with key influencers, the importance of building authority is more important and critical than ever.
There’s an overabundance of distracting media clutter. It seems everyone has a megaphone and access to a million or more channels they’re using to share their thoughts, spanning everything from world politics to their lunch menu.
With all of this noise, people have begun seeking safe havens in the form of trusted sources. Those sources provide a valuable, curated experience that selects and spotlights the best news, sports, music, technology, etc.
Simultaneously, however, new technologies and algorithms have allowed a variety of services to attempt to recommend the same news and information. While innovative, the technology alone isn’t enough to service a super savvy consumer market. Nor can crowd sourcing, since the general public is not professionally trained in reporting or branding.
The missing and always relevant piece is experts — human experts. Yes, humans still have a role alongside technology. The future of curation is one part experts, one part crowds and one part algorithms.
Over the past 10 years, much of the movement in the content world has been driven by machines and crowdsourcing. It’s time to bring the human expert back into the mix, but to give him or her the companion toolkit of great technology and access to crowd wisdom. That way, he or she can truly curate thoughtful content that will cut through the noise, and ultimately rebuild the trust and authority severely damaged by content overcrowding.
The element of surprise and delight is also key to the art of curation. Human experts still have an edge here. An algorithm may tell you what song you are “most likely” to enjoy. An expert has a chance of surprising you with a tune you never expected (“Wow, I didn’t know I liked German opera music!”).
Fans are pleading for their favorite brands to help them cut through the media mess, to provide destinations that highlight and showcase valuable information. If your brand relies solely on algorithms or on inexperienced and unknowledgeable editors, don’t be surprised to find your install base quickly deteriorate — if you ever had one to begin with.
3. Provide Context
While authority and curation are important, without context, they mean nothing.
Context adds essential meaning to information. It answers the questions: Why should I care? What does this mean for me and for society?
Brands that can clearly articulate the proper context around curated information will build authority by bringing the big picture into focus for their audience.
People are tired of scratching their heads, feeling like they’ve received fragmented, re-hashed or irrelevant information. Social media provides brands the amazing ability to not only speak to, but also to listen to their audience. By asking questions and then implementing feedback, brands can increasingly contextualize the information they present. Failure to do so will frustrate and deplete a brand’s fan base.
Finally, social networks may allow for super distributed data, but humans crave context, the knowledge of how information relates to a larger scheme. The brands that put the effort into providing context will win in the app-social media future.
The Content Future
Build your content future around the three pillars of Authority, Curation and Context. No brand is exempt from these rules. If you think you have time to coast, even just a little, you’ll soon find yourself and your brand out of vogue.
Taking an internal audit and implementing change is not easy, nor is it cheap. But in the end, the payoff will be felt all around.