Monday, October 8th, 2012

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A relentless deluge of info

Most didn’t see the current content deluge a decade ago. Actually, most didn’t see it two years ago. In the thick of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Flipboard and even (shudder) Foursquare, something happened: We found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a content flash flood that shows little sign of subsiding. Just consider that more than 50 million tweets are barfed out of Twitter daily—that’s a whole lot of nonsense about Lady Gaga.

We’ve also started to find that the joy of instant access to a sea of content is quickly overshadowed by the challenge of parsing it in some meaningful fashion. RSS feels like a fire hose, FarmVille and its clones are as persistent as ants at a picnic, and getting through one’s Instapaper readings feels like a Herculean task. It leaves us almost empathizing with the misery contained in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” How did that go again? “Content, content everywhere, but not a drop…”?

We do “the” social media

I was recently at a meeting with a large company. My Vancouver agency, smashLAB, was the design partner, and another group was handling the social end of things. I knew we were in trouble when they explained, “Well, we definitely do have to do something with the Twitter and the Facebook.” Oh, shoot me now.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be quite so snarky. We’ve all been hit by the same challenge, regardless of how our agencies and studios are geared. The calls for integrating social functions, informing corporate blog efforts and providing general social insight can become overwhelming. It’s hard to say “no” to any such work, yet it’s such a new space that best practices and standardized procedures are still largely undefined.

Couple this with the immense noise out there (BlogPulse tells us there are currently about 150 million blogs) and it’s even more daunting. So, what do we tell our clients when they come to us with high hopes for “using social media to engage their audience”? For that matter, what are we supposed to do for ourselves?

A little prognostication

My bet is that, in short order, the current glut of digital content will lead to disenfranchisement and an inevitable levelling of the amount of content creation occurring out there. In spite of some potential relief, it will remain a messy space. This means we’re going to have to work awfully hard to get our messages to stick.

Whether it’s for your clients or yourself, I ask you to really think about the kind of online dialogue you want to create with your particular audience. Opening a communication channel on the Web is very easy; the hard part is what you do with it. The truth is, not all blogs are created equal, most tweets aren’t worth skimming and most Facebook pages aren’t worth “liking.”

Forgoing fantasies and getting back to basics

No matter what you search for online, you find more chaff than wheat. This is our big opportunity. If you want your social media efforts to break through the static, you simply have to avoid making, umm, static.

We don’t need more links to popular memes, nor do we need to have thinly veiled sales pitches eking their way into our news feeds. All we really want are meaningful stories from people we trust.

Such content really isn’t hard to create, but it often depends on some kind of an editorial mandate. This necessitates pruning through all of the delivery devices and things we could “share,” and focusing on a particular area of interest. That’s another good word: interest. Instead of writing pages that try to trick Google for “link juice,” how about just creating some interesting content? You know, the relevant, opinionated, exciting, surprising kind?

From this point, it becomes a game of persistence and consistency. Social media isn’t a bullet train to marketing nirvana. Actually, it’s more like building a sandcastle one grain of sand at a time: slow, perpetual and cumulative. If it’s done well, though, you just might capture the interest of a few onlookers.

And BTW: if you’re asking for a retweet, you’re probably doing it wrong.

This article originally appeared in Applied Arts Magazine.

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