More Social Services Feed An Open Web Content Strategy

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you noticed Google released their new social product buzz.  Predictably, it was met with both positive and negative reactions from the industry.

I watched (mostly in amusement) as the usual meta discussions took place.  How it’s disruptive to this, changes that or transforms everything.  If I was a creator of social web applications I’d have paid more attention.  But I’m not – I’m a marketer, a blogger and an electronic music artist.  My job is foremost to understand why people share content, then create ideas stemming from that understanding that feed an objective.  And to be perfectly honest, I’m less concerned with how people are sharing it.  It’s important to know but it’s tactical knowledge.  Understanding the how is trumped by knowing the why.

From a strategic standpoint, if you embrace the open web with a focus on quality – every time a new social service is released it should just play into the strategy.

The more social sharing channels/communities that exist, the more content is necessary to feed them and spark discussions in the first place.  And whether created by Google or a VC-backed start-up, the truly sought after, lasting ideas are too valuable to live within the confines of aggregators.  While the masses may drop their Blogger or LiveJournal blogs for real-time discussion tools – artists, businesses and those who create digital content professionally still benefit most from having a place on the web that is their own.

Let’s dig into why more social aggregators are a good thing for your open web content strategy.

Real-time = disposable discussions, however generate traffic and linkjuice

My subjective observation is that higher quality discussions still happen directly on blogs, articles, web forums and niche communities themselves – not in the stream.  Savvy web users realize that their words have greatest impact by living next to  source content.  They know that the original piece of content – along with their comment – is given infinite life by the engines, so they’re willing to vest the effort to write something impactful.  Discussions are distributed, impact is not always so.

Read the comments on this post about balancing your interests as an example.  They add quite a bit of value to the original post.  Of the 17 comments left, the average comment had 75 words or 330 characters.   There were more than 3 times that many comments in Twitter as one example (obviously each less than half the size in terms of volume) but were still almost all just a link and a title.  Twitter for many is just content sharing, and so this makes sense.

But all the external comments and discussions across various channels do provide value for search engines:  they helped spawn 72 organic links to the page.  Let’s not forget the 1,241 words left on that page in the comment section feed the tail of search.  This all plays into a social SEO strategy that you only uncover by embracing the open web.

Networks can and do fall out of favor

Web users are fickle.  They migrate from service to service in relatively quick amounts of time.  AOL and MySpace still exist, sure, but they don’t get the same headlines as Twitter and Facebook.  There is an equal impermanence of these networks as well.  The social landscape splinters for an obvious reason:  we’re all very different.  You can’t create normalized experiences and play to the middle without alienating someone, and so attrition will always exist (whether from a new generation wanting a place all their own to something trendier coming along and reasons in between).  The opportunity, then, is to funnel visitors out of these services to a place you control.  That way, when the inevitable rise and fall of networks occurs, you’re always in a position of strength.

Everyone uses the web differently

I’ve contributed well over 15,000 posts to various forums and boards since 2000 and still frequent most of my favorite communities.  And guess what – almost all are still active.  Some people still love Delicious and StumbleUpon.  There’s even a tight knit group of people clinging to FriendFeed.  The point is, while early adopters flirt from service to service, plenty get along just fine with services that might not be as “sexy” as what’s new, but are just as useful.  Always remember, usefulness is relative and just because you do something a certain way doesn’t mean it’s how everyone sees it.

Search still rules

I liveblogged Nitin Mangtani, Lead Product Manager at Google give a presentation on on how to convert your visitors to customers and he noted search is one of the most vital features of any content-rich or product-rich web site.  Notice the new layout of Facebook?  They put the search tab front and center:  not because they have Google envy, but because they know this fact, too.  Despite the fact the site is social, one of their main CTAs is to search out information, as it is a powerful experience to seek out and connect with content based on intent.  The social traffic to your site is well and good, but search engines are still the bread and butter of high quantity and quality traffic.

It’s a cacophony

There’s no reason to feel overwhelmed, as the cacophony of information is easy to filter (and sometimes half the fun).  But it’s still just that:  a cacophony.  And the disposable nature of the stream encourages a less than ideal signal to noise ratio.  By having content on the open web which maintains refined quality of signal, over time users will become conditioned to share it and mentally you’ll be filed outside the cacophony.

The open web requires commitment.  It requires passion.  It requires strategy.  But if you do things right, more social services should play right into your efforts.