I often get asked, particularly by clients, what the ROI of content and engagement is. What is it going to cost, and what are they going to get out of it? This is always a tricky question to answer, but I’ll attempt to do so at the end of this post. First, some context.
Nothing in life is guaranteed…unless you’ve been working in advertising.
Content in old advertising was pretty simple: shoot a nice, glossy ad, pushing your product/service and then pay CPMs to distribute that content. Advertisers knew exactly how much that ad was going to cost to produce, how much it would cost to distribute and how many people the ad would (potentially) reach (“potentially” because impressions are not synonymous with engagements).
The Wild Web
Today’s content is a different beast. A good content strategy incorporates paid media, owned media, relationship media and SEO to generate earned media. None are mutually exclusive. And, the emphasis is on the engagement, not the impression.
Notice I didn’t even mention social media in there? That’s because social media is ubiquitous across the aforementioned forms of media. Social media is a channel for paid media (e.g. Facebook Ads and Stories, Twitter’s Promoted Trends and Tweets, to name a few of the biggies). It’s a channel for owned media (e.g. Facebook Pages, Google+ Brand Pages, YouTube Channels, Tumblr accounts, Twitter accounts – these are all places to build an owned community). Social media is a channel for relationship media – my term for modern day PR (you can now identify who the top influencers for your brand are; many, if not all, will have a social media presence). Leverage these three media well, coordinated with a strong content strategy, and social media helps facilitate scaled earned media. But, please do not mistake social media as a siloed form of media.
The Brand’s Predicament
Now coordinating these media and solidifying one unified content and engagement strategy is difficult – particularly for Fortune 500 brands with large marketing budgets. That’s because each medium is often handled by a different agency or group. Paid media is handled by media agencies. The content for paid media is produced by the creative agencies. Relationship media is handled by PR agencies. You have a new breed of social media agencies doing some pieces of each (paid, owned and relationship media), while the PR, creative and media agencies are all fighting each other and the social media agencies for a piece of the social media pie. No wonder brands are confused.
Building A Newsroom
To help solve this issue, I’d like to see brands build something akin to a newsroom. This would be a cross-divisional/agency team focused on content and engagement strategy. They would work together to
- Identify the key existing and target audiences (i.e. consumers) for the brand;
- Identify what content is valuable to each of those audiences at different stages of the purchase funnel;
- Identify where (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, TV, news outlets, etc.) and how (video, pictures, text, slides, etc.) audiences like to consume that content;
- Identify who the brands’ top influencers are; and,
- Then, assign team members and agencies to produce the appropriate content and distribute it through the appropriate channels (i.e. execute on the plan)
Calculating the ROI of Content and Engagement Strategy
Now, I believe that social media and mobile technologies have empowered brands (large and small) to
- Access more specific data about their audiences;
- Produce and distribute a higher volume of content that is more valuable to their audiences, and do so more efficiently; and,
- Build deeper, longer lasting relationships with their audiences
With this in mind, I’d like to see brands and agencies use the following as a benchmark for calculating ROI
- calculate the average Customer Lifetime Value (= revenue x time [per month/per year])
- calculate Allowable Cost Per Sale (i.e. the amount your willing to spend to acquire a sale – e.g. 10% x CLV)
(Note: Jamie Turner does a great job describing Customer Lifetime Value and Allowable Cost Per Sale in this post)
With a successful content and engagement strategy, average Customer Lifetime Value should increase over time, while average Cost Per Sale should decrease over time.
I’d like to place emphasis on the words “over time”. While you can certainly run one-off social media campaigns, content and engagement are long-term initiatives that involve constantly listening, learning and iterating. You won’t see ROI tomorrow, or maybe even six months from now. Anyone that has ever started a blog and tried to build an audience/community around it will confirm that. But, I think a year in, you should probably start to see these effects starting to take place.
Are any of you building a newsroom in your organization? How are you calculating ROI for your content and engagement efforts? Would love to know.
- Google+ Pages: Real-Time Platforms for Connected Brands (greatfinds.icrossing.com)
- The Content Strategy Burger [Infographic] (socialmediaexplorer.com)
- Infographic: The Content Strategy Burger (aht.seriouseats.com)
- How to Design a Content Marketing Strategy in 3 Simple Steps (e1evation.com)
- 7 Tips for Stellar Social Media Community Management (hubspot.com)
- How does an effective website content strategy benefit a business? (marketing.yell.com)
- A Deep Dive Into GetSatisfaction’s Content Strategy (contently.com)
- 5 Trends That Will Shape Small Business in 2012 (ducttapemarketing.com)
- Measuring Social Media ROI: 3 Things to Consider (socialmaximizer.com)
- Building a Content Platform (reciprocitytheory.com)
- Why Every Agency Needs an Earned Media Director (adage.com)
- How Can Startups Leverage Social Media? (currentindiaaffairs.wordpress.com)
Yesterday, I discussed content as a platform. Today, I’m going to provide tips for building your content platform.
The 90-9-1 Rule
The 90-9-1 Rule is more of a benchmark, but it states that 1% of the online population is highly participatory (producing original content), 9% participates some of the time (usually curating content – taking an action with the content from the 1% such as commenting, sharing, reposting etc.) and 90% “lurk and learn” or do not participate (they consume the content, but they don’t take an action with it).
It stands to reason then that the 1% are the most influential people on the web, followed by the 9%. But, what about those that produce original content AND curate? They reach influence at scale.
Some brand publishers are already doing this; I touched briefly on the subject in my post, “The Valuation of Content”. The Huffington Post sets the bar with a mix of original content from its editorial staff, curated content where they write two paragraphs and link to another publisher’s content and content from third party bloggers. But, this alone, isn’t enough. They have treated content as a platform, using a social layer to encourage their audience to participate.
Optimization for Participation
One quick look at The Huffington Post homepage, and you can see they’re serving up, not just the latest content, but the most popular, the most discussed, “Hot on Facebook” and “Hot on Twitter”. Dive into an article, and you’ll find it’s easy to comment on posts and share the content through social media.
What does this mean? The Huffington Post are experts at getting their audience to participate, and effectively making content go viral. Their content gets engaged with, curated and broadly syndicated by its own audience because The Huffington Post makes it easy for their audience to find great content and engage/curate/syndicate.
How Can Brands Build a Content Platform?
Ten Tips for Building a Content Platform
- Don’t be a used car salesman (i.e. a good content strategy focuses on building a relationship and trust with the audience)
- Identify what kind of content your target audience finds valuable
- Is there a reoccurring complaint about your product/service? Offer up a piece of content that helps them troubleshoot the problem.
- Are they looking for guidance regarding a topic in which you’re company has domain expertise? Offer up content that can help them (e.g. tips for managing personal finances, a guide to eco-friendly living, considerations when selecting a safe car for your teenager, etc.).
- In what format do they like to consume that content (e.g. video, text, photos, slide presentations)?
- Where do they like to consume that content (e.g. YouTube, blogs, Instagram, Slideshare, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.)?
- Select a product/platform on which to build your hub (WordPress, Facebook, Google)
- Add a social layer (commenting and sharing functionality), if it doesn’t already exist. A great tool to incorporate here is Disqus, which is a comments community, serving as the comments engine for over 1MM sites and has almost 60MM users.
- Produce original content that meets your audience’s needs.
- Curate content that adds value to your original content and to your audience
- Engage with your audience, as they comment and share on your content
- Listen and improve
The image below represents the type and amount of content you should produce against the 90-9-1 rule. In the end, you want to product content that instigates your audience to take an action, including creating more content for you. As a brand, you likely won’t be able to produce enough good content yourself, in-house. And, it’s not your job to either. But, if you use content as a platform for your advocates to create more content about your brand, then you’re reaching scale both in volume of content and syndication of your content.
- AOL Buys The Huffington Post (sixestate.com)
- Content As A Platform (reciprocitytheory.com)
- A Case for Social TV (reciprocitytheory.com)
- Unpaid Bloggers Uprising: The AOL / Huffington Post Lawsuit (sixestate.com)
- The Valuation of Content (reciprocitytheory.com)
- Top Eight Reasons B2B Marketers Use Content Curation (e1evation.com)
- 3 Ways Content “Curation” Can Boost Content “Creation” (logicamp.wordpress.com)
- Top Eight Reasons B2B Marketers Use Content Curation (mktg2bizexecs.wordpress.com)
- A Marketer’s Guide to Content Curation (hubspot.com)
Most advertisers see content as a product – something they can produce and release to an audience without third party iteration. Advertisers often pay six to seven figures to produce that content. And, in traditional media, that’s OK because you can pay for X number of impressions (i.e. X number of people that might have seen your content) to validate the high cost of production.
But, if you want to capture earned media through social media (there’s a distinction between the two, which I explain here), then you must think of content as a platform. A platform is a technology platform upon which additional technology (such as applications) can be built. Your iPhone or iPad or Android are built on platformed OS (operating systems), upon which third parties can build applications (or “apps”). Both Apple and Android have robust app ecosystems that are much of the draw for buying their products in the first place.
Any social media technology company worth its salt is platformed. Facebook is a platform, which enabled the unprecedented growth of a little gaming company called Zynga. Twitter is a platform. Companies like TwitPic and TweetDeck (now acquired by Twitter) were built on Twitter’s platform. YouTube is a platform – quite literally for content.
Why build a platform? Because Steve Jobs only comes once in a lifetime, if that often. Steve Jobs had an uncanny ability to predict what the consumer would want in the future and be the first to offer it to them. He built products people didn’t know they wanted. But, most people aren’t Steve Jobs.
The companies that build platforms understand that there is power in the crowd. Opening up your platform through APIs, enables the company to harness the passion and power of third parties to build upon and improve your technology. Steve Yegge explains this brilliantly here.
Content shares the same DNA. There are few people/companies/teams that can produce create content. Even in Hollywood, content created by the most premium content producers and powerful distributors doesn’t always make it. We see it every weekend at the box office and every fall and spring when TV networks release new shows. This is even more apparent with the top print and digital publishers that are competing for pageviews, video views and engagement. And, these are all content producers that produce with the audience in mind. Advertisers, on the other hand, produce with the brand in mind. With content, as with platforms, the power is in the crowd.
The ease content creation and distribution on the social web has empowered individuals to rival even the most respected premium publishers. The mid-long tail of content publishers is vast as well. And, even the just the socially active individual has a network (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) through which to create, engage with and syndicate content.
Treating content as a platform through which you can instigate participation, conversation, engagement, curation (i.e. the creation and syndication of more content) will enable publishers to reach scale
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the 90-9-1 rule and offer up 10 tips for building a content platform.
- A Case for Social TV (reciprocitytheory.com)
- 8 Tips for Leveraging Platforms for Marketing [@InboundNow #37] (hubspot.com)
- Socialtype™ Launches Gaming Player Acquisition and Rewards Platform across Social Networks (prnewswire.com)
- Occupy Wall Street Provides Showcase for the Best Free Citizen Journalism Tools (savings.com)
- Become a Content King with Ideas from the Ultimate Content Creator (creativeconsiderations.wordpress.com)
- Indian Government Pressure Facebook, Google, Twitter to Censor Content (searchenginewatch.com)
When I left Hollywood and moved to NY Summer 2010, I started thinking about how I could start my own company, using digital media to disrupt the Hollywood system. I had just listened to Ted Turner’s autobiography, Call Me Ted, and was inspired by his innovation in the industry. I became convinced that digital to my generation was the broadcast to his generation and nothing significant had been done to tackle premium video entertainment (TV and movies) in a meaningful way.
Distribution Wields the Power
Having worked in the movie business, I had a first hand understanding that distributors (or aggregators) hold all the power and make most (if not all) of the money vs. the content producers. If you look at any of the media conglomerates’ financials, you’ll find that their distribution/syndication/aggregation businesses (i.e. studios’ theatrical distribution networks for movies, TV networks, MSOs) are the real moneymakers. This notion is validated by the book The Curse of the Mogul: What’s Wrong with the World’s Leading Media Companies.
While YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo and others had democratized the distribution of video content, those sites were populated by short, user-generated content. While fun to watch, this doesn’t satisfy those looking to fill the average of 3 hours of TV that people watch per day.
Furthermore, in the premium streaming business, companies like Netflix and Hulu don’t have live, or even up-to-date, content. Their streaming libraries are populated with older content that has been cleared for broader syndication. Again, while the content is valuable to satisfy short cravings for premium entertainment, they don’t satisfy the need for new, fresh, premium entertainment on a regular basis. The average person is filling 2 hours and 31 minutes of their day with TV programming.
The Rise of Mobile and Broadband
I also saw mobile entertainment beginning to mature. Gaming is the number one activity on mobile devices. The first iPad had just been released. And, i saw video eventually becoming the primary source of entertainment on those devices.
With broadband, WiFi and mobile data network speeds accelerating to the point that, not just streaming video, but live-streaming video, in good quality and without much buffering was possible, I felt even more strongly that premium video entertainment needs could be fulfilled on mobile devices.
How great would it be to have the ability to watch live, premium content on your mobile devices – anytime, anywhere?
TV Everywhere and the Digital Powerhouses
About this time I started hearing about TV Everywhere. MSOs and TV networks started releasing mobile apps where you could view their content.
I figured with all these powerhouses, they were bound to get it right. So, I put the idea aside and moved on to my new job at Big Fuel – building a social content distribution network for the agency and its brand clients. Similar to how Ted Turner felt when he first conceived of a 24 hour news network: he just figured one of the other networks (ABC, CBS or NBC) had to be working on something like this. Ten years later he woke up and there was still no 24 hour news network. So, he founded CNN. Well, just over a year later, the media companies, Google, Amazon, Apple, Netflix… they still haven’t figured it out.
Sometimes the Best Way to Disrupt Is By Not Being (Too) Disruptive
I would venture to say that iTunes wasn’t that disruptive to the music industry. What was disruptive was Napster and other peer to peer music sharing sites. Then, Steve Jobs came in and offered record labels a lifeline: make premium recorded music (not the ripped, copied or live-recorded music that you found on Napster) available in the format that audiences now want it (single songs vs. whole albums), make it extremely easy for them to find and consume that content, and they’ll pay for it. What Steve Jobs did wasn’t necessarily disrupting the big music business, but, rather, saving it.
Similarly, movie studios, TV networks and MSOs are scared to death of losing control of their content, and with it, the advertising dollars that make them multi-million/multi-billion dollar companies. They’re the force behind the Protect IP Act (#stopPIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (#SOPA) (aka E-Parasite Act) in Congress. If you’re not familiar with these legislations, please see this video below.
So, how do you play to the Hollywood moguls AND satisfy audience cravings for premium content, live, anytime, anywhere?
Subscription-based Social TV
Create a MSO that is socially integrated and socially distributed, meaning
- You can check into shows with friends and interact: My wife and her sister used to call each other on Monday nights and watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette together. They loved engaging with the show, discussing the men and women, the dates and who might win. I can’t watch sports anymore without Twitter – especially Syracuse basketball. I’m constantly checking my feed on my iPhone or iPad (or both!) to see what other fans are saying.
- The lesson here: valuable content + accessible platforms = scalable communities.
- What does this mean for the moguls? More engaged audiences, around the most valuable content and the analytics to prove it. Traditional media relies on Nielsen data which many consider to be limited. But, online, MSOs could have access to an ocean of demographic and psychographic data about their audiences. This means higher rates for CPMs, sponsorships and product placement.
- You can share, rate and comment on shows/episodes: Say you’re on the NJ Transit commuting from NYC, or at the airport waiting for a flight, or visiting family or a friend that doesn’t have premium cable. How would you like to check your Facebook or Twitter stream and see that a friend has liked/shared an episode of your favorite show – or even a show that you’re not familiar with? You click on that show in your stream and are able to watch the show on Facebook or Twitter – never leaving the platform? And, because you trust that person’s taste, the show is relevant to you and you enjoy it? In fact, you enjoy it so much, that now you share, rate and/or comment on it? Suddenly, you have access to curated, relevant, premium content in your social stream.
- Take that a step further. Say, instead of being restricted to viewing premium content at home on your TV (because that’s the device your MSO connects to) or on an app on your desktop/laptop/mobile device, you can log into your MSO on anyone’s Internet-connected device. And, when you log in, you have all the premium content channels your MSO bundle normally would have, plus a list (think DVR playlist) populated with the most shared, highly rated and reviewed content from your social and interest graphs (Facebook and Twitter, respectively). Channel surfing becomes curated content surfing. And, you can log into your parents computer and get access to all this content as if you were at home on your couch.
- The lesson here: According to AOL’s study, “CONTENT: What Drives Consumption?”, Unique Content + Quality (trusted, fresh, relevant, authentic) Content = Valued Original Content. Or, as I like to say, content without social context is worthless
- What does this mean for the moguls? Viral effect of their content to the most relevant/engaged audiences (i.e. more views and more engagement), again leading to higher rates for CPMs, sponsorships and product placement. In addition to more accurate data, producers will have direct feedback from audiences – what did they like/dislike about an episode? what do they think about specific characters and story-lines? Who should live or die or breakup or get married? Producers will have a new ability to engage with, and satisfy, its audiences.
If this can be accomplished while maintaining the security of the content, so that it can’t be ripped/pirated easily (and, I think it can), then the advertising model can stay relatively the same as it exists now. Not too disruptive to Hollywood, or out of their realm of understanding (giving them the benefit of the doubt here).
The Side Effects
- The rich will get richer and the poor will fail: More accurate data on premium content will cause hit networks with hit movies and TV shows to be able to charge even more of a premium on advertising, while the niche networks with shows that reach smaller audiences and that rely on the MSOs forcing consumers to pay for their channels in their bundles, will cease to exist.
- Pilots might get longer lifelines: Every season, networks produce and release new TV series. If pilots don’t perform well within the first few weeks of release, they’re terminated. The slots are filled with existing content (often in syndication) or by new pilots. But, with social integration, pilots will have the ability to create strong, engaged communities early on, improving their chances of succeeding (i.e. staying on air).
- A middle class will rise: These are the Revision3, the Maker Studios, the YouTube Creators, etc. They’ll create low-cost, ongoing series in niche topics and genres that will be aggregated and programmed alongside premium, Hollywood content. They may or may not drive as much gross revenue as Hollywood content, but they will make healthy net revenue in context of their production/overhead costs.
- A Cadenced Evolution of the Industry: I can’t predict what the industry’s business model will be 10, even 5, years from now. But, subscription-based, social TV can help Hollywood and digital-native content producers explore new business models without breaking Hollywood’s back the way that music sharing broke the music industry’s back.
Would you subscribe to social TV? Do you know any companies working on this?
- hulu-sale-is-off (venturebeat.com)
- Google’s TV Makeover (thedailybeast.com)
- TV Guide Broadband Achieves Top Youtube Viewership Rankings On Strength Of Emmy Red Carpet Content (prweb.com)
- Apple TV update introduces show streaming, Vimeo support (gigaom.com)
- Apple TV Update Introduces Show Streaming, Vimeo Support (nytimes.com)
- Vimeo Claims 50 Million Unique Users Worldwide, Cites Big Growth in Europe (beet.tv)
- Apple TV now streams iTunes TV shows, Vimeo (macworld.com)
- Hulu signs TV content deal with the CW (venturebeat.com)
- Vimeo Launches Audiosocket-Powered Music Store To Bring Tunes To Video (techcrunch.com)
- Movies, Movies Everywhere (tvtopics.wordpress.com)
David Fossas began his career in the movie business, working at International Creative Management, Endeavor Agency (now WME Entertainment) and Intrepid Pictures. He left traditional media for social media and joined Big Fuel Communications in 2010 where he focused on content strategy, engagement and emerging platforms. He's currently Senior Manager, Interactive at WeissComm Group, focusing on engagement and innovation.
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