If Your Content Has Fleeting Value, It’s Your Own Fault

Everyone is obsessed with micro content. Make no mistake about it, the fixation on short, real-time quips has reached epic proportions.

While we urge readers to open their eyes to the fact the web is holistic and to reach beyond Facebook and Twitter it is a topic that we do keep coming back to in order to balance other discussions around the web.

An unrelenting emphasis on the real-time web simply does not allow for scalable results. It’s shortsighted because not all content needs to be consumed in real-time and not all users even prefer it.

As a consultant for a global agency I analyze web and social analytics for hundreds of brands, sites and channels and while real-time is important to spark interest it is not the end all be all of digital marketing success. It’s also almost always the lowest conversion channel. That’s not to say it isn’t valuable as part of a larger strategy, but it’s just a piece of it. Live by real-time, die by real-time.

So it was good to see Bit.ly publish some data on how long links in micro content are clicked:

Basically, your short URLs released into the stream are dead in slightly over 3 hours.

Well, yeah. This data shouldn’t be a surprise and is exactly as we’ve said before: that on social sites, page 3 might as well be page 50. We’re equally surprised with this data as we were with Facebook brand page visibility stats. So basically not at all.

Anyone who has been involved in social since boards and forums reigned supreme could have told you about content decay. It shows human behavior on the web doesn’t really change even as tools do. The latest wave of social sites have implemented usability features like the infinite scroll to try to encourage users to go further back in time but they’ll only go so far. In social platforms (especially stream-based) we want what’s new, now.

One of my favorite bloggers Mitch Joel laments this in his response to the Bit.ly data in a post titled: the fleeting value of content. But I don’t think content has to have fleeting value for marketers, publishers or users. Web content done right can have long-term value for everyone.

So what can you do to create long-term value?

Following are a few ideas that are beneficial for both publishers and users. And since every company is a media company, it’s advice that’s applicable to everyone.

1. Use micro content to encourage reactions outside the stream

Pouring links into the river of real-time is fine to spark some initial interest. But if that’s all that happens you’re creating ephemeral value. The goal of sharing short links and micro content should be to catch the attention of those who have a publishing platform and audience external of the stream. Reach them to help build more in-roads to your own community that have lasting value.

How much value?

Leo Babauta keeps a few sites where he shares unmissable ideas on a variety of subjects. He linked to one of my sites from mnmlist.com in 2010. Note that Leo’s link on mnmlist sent a spike when it went live, but that one link still sends more than 100 visitors per month nearly a year later.

Micro content / short links  helped create initial visibility for the post, but the open web provides life long-term. And that’s just one site linking to one piece of content. Now imagine hundreds of sites doing the same thing: that’s how you grow scalable referral traffic. I get the feeling a lot of marketers new to the web only think about links in micro content and social sharing but the independent web and hyperlinking aren’t going away either. It’s and, not or.

With just 14% of the general population using Twitter, but 73% of the state of the blogosphere, it is true that Twitter in particular is a high value channel. But my sense is it is less valuable for the initial deluge of traffic and even more valuable to reach an audience who can link to your content on open web and send you consistent traffic.

2. Optimize your content – search engines want to reward you

More than two years ago I created a quick visualization of how I saw search engines and social media working together at the time. Since then, the link between the two has become even tighter.

One of the many reasons you should blog as the hub of your social presence is clear: search engine traffic. This is why I think lamenting “the fleeting value of content” is not really accurate. Users across all categories enjoy the web for a reason many early adopters have forgotten: that content is on demand and while some enjoy getting it in real-time, perhaps even more enjoy getting content on their own time (hello 17 billion+ search queries / mo). But what does this look like?

Here’s a sample page one of my clients published that received some good initial attention from social. But note the page still receives a steady stream of interest – over time far more than the initial spike:

Where’s the traffic coming from? Search engines, of course:

The content developed for this client was highly useful, resource-oriented and is consistently found by users in search. A funny thing happens next: many of these users then go ahead and re-share this or other content on the site with their networks, helping create even more sustained visibility:

Now imagine you have hundreds of pages on a site following this process. It’s how modern media companies are organizing. If you’re not optimizing your web content (in 2011!) you’re doing it wrong.

All of this is helping overall search traffic look like the below, where the client site now has nearly 30K visitors / month in niche traffic from organic search:

The thing is, it’s not just SEO. The social metrics for this brand are similarly up and to the right. With optimized templates and content, search feeds social and social feeds search.

And what’s interesting is there have been no other tactics in place for this brand other than creating interesting content which gets organically shared and growing a community. AdAge is right: search engines are rewarding creativity over shady tactics.

3. Evolve beyond curation: add context, lead your category

HubSpot adds to this conversation by encouraging marketers to focus on quality of content shared. It’s fine advice but I think you need to go beyond this. If you merely act as an aggregator of quality content you’ll never build momentum. It’s not what people are looking for. We can use machines for that. When diversity, aggregation and incentives are in place (think sites like Reddit/Stumble, search engines, etc.) crowds will predict what is interesting far better than individuals can. Even if you think you’re sharing quality it might not matter. If you can evolve beyond curation and add context / lead your category you’ll be positioned to not just survive, but thrive in a web that is both real-time and archive-powered.

4. Develop processes to re-imagine content and re-feed the stream

I’m not advocating you re-publish content verbatim or simply re-share the same links multiple times. Be more creative than that. Develop a process to re-imagine your content in a new format. Turn research and data into an infographic. Take 15 interviews and pull out the best tip from each. Consider making a text-based post visual. The point is you should become efficient not just recycling, but re-imagining content to activate your network again using the hard work you’ve already done. If executed right, it’s a win for both readers and media.

All of this leads to the fact that you need to market sites holistically, don’t yield your presence to the stream, and learn search engine optimization before you get involved in social media.

image credit: Shutterstock