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Content Versus Curation

Valuable content will find an audience. Google and other search engines guarantee it. Society today has come to completely rely on these magic websites, which locate relevant information on any topic in mere milliseconds.

Search engine optimization, a marketing tool for several years, is no longer the magic potion enabling corporate websites to insert their content into the buyer’s decision-making process. Increasingly, search results will guide a buyer somewhere other than a company’s self-provided marketing material; more likely, the destination will be informed content from humans.

For example, as a society, we used to rely mostly on travel agents or published brochures to tell us which hotels to use when traveling. Today, a simple search query leads to potential accommodation.

Searching for a hotel might land on Hilton.com, but it could also land on booking.com, TripAdvisor, Yelp, or countless other sites that provide vehicles for customer feedback. The hotel can no longer rely on glossy photos or cozy relationships to bring them business; they simply must provide a good product and compel their customers to be vocal about it.

At IBM, we recognize the need for humans to curate all the information available from our organization. In the past, marketing’s primary objective was to bring potential clients to the pages of IBM.com. Today, there is recognition that every buyer begins his or her journey through search, typically focused on earned media, rather than vendor insertion into their path through paid media such as advertising.

One of the benefits of encouraging all IBMers to participate in social networks is that those unique voices provide individual perspective and valuable insight into our offerings and solutions. Product managers, developers, sales engineers, and consultants can all add their own perspective to IBM product news, documentation, and resources.

As an example, during a 19-day period in June 2012, IBM’s own Unica® enterprise marketing management tool1 was used to monitor referral clicks from EdBrill.com that landed somewhere on IBM.com. During this time, nearly half of all tracked registrations for a set of particular IBM.com “events”—such as downloads, white papers, or other marketing collateral—were completed by readers who started their visit to IBM.com coming in from EdBrill.com. More than 900 such event engagements took place over the 19 days. Another 149 event engagements occurred as a result of inbound referral from other influencer blogs, with content similar to EdBrill.com.

The results were interesting, and surprising to me. Something about the content on my blog was attracting engaged readers. About half of all EdBrill.com visits originate from Google searches, meaning they are not regular readers of the site. The information provided on EdBrill.com was sufficiently appealing that they then clicked through to a linked page on IBM.com containing additional information. The IBM.com page subsequently offered something that was valuable enough for the reader to take an action.

The credibility and authority of EdBrill.com created the opportunity for positive results on IBM.com. Although it happens to be my own blog, it falls into the category of earned, rather than owned, media. I am personally as in control of what I write about as any other blogger. The blog content is a deliberate choice of using authentic voice when it is the right time and topic, not simply echoing party lines.

The lesson learned: Humans want to learn from other humans. Prospects, buyers, and advocates listen to and take guidance from trusted sources. Therefore, it is critical to empower proponents with the right information, tools, and credibility to share their insight in ways that result in meaningful interactions.

Any product or service has someone in the marketplace who enjoys advocating for it. Usually these supporters are directly connected to the product—customers, suppliers, vendors, or partners. Among a potentially infinite number of people, especially for consumer products, finding those that love your product enough to tell the world about it is a challenging task.

Today, many tools in the market do sentiment analysis of online social networks. IBM’s Cognos® Consumer Insight (www-01.ibm.com/software/analytics/cognos/analytic-applications/consumer-insight/) can pinpoint key influencers as part of both traditional and digital marketing activities. These tools are especially useful in broad horizontal or consumer markets.

Analytics, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and voice of the customer (VOC) tools can be used to understand your advocates and measure their level of influence. These systems all feed into marketing efforts, where you can develop care and feeding systems such as newsletters, Twitter IDs, Facebook fan pages, event invitations, and other standard marketing tools.

For the social product manager, though, harvesting the cream of the crop among all your advocates becomes a very personal exercise. Sometimes, you will want your outbound communication to use all those marketing vehicles, such as broad announcements and new product introductions. Then there are other opportunities best kept to a chosen few. The brand manager needs to clearly identify and classify their most important influencers, a ready “go to” list of top voices. Selecting those supporters is up to you.

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