In my last article I declared that content was dead and community was the new king online. The title of that post was a bit of an overstatement which wasn't backed up by the rest of the article. (It was a link bait-y title, but yet another example of community ruling content. But I digress.) In the article I found some stats that some have used to re-declare (yet again) that "content is king" but I went on to show how those stats really didn't say that at all.
I wanted to go a bit further in today's post while also clarifying a few things. The point I was making with that first article was that the "content is king" manta has now become so overused that it is a meaningless cliche in our industry. Content is not the be-all, end-all of online marketing. In fact I said just that in the first article. Furthermore, building content is only a single step in the process of creating a community. Given a choice between content and community I think most would choose the latter. Content sells to one. Community has a much broader reach.
You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake in your bed and you believe content is still king.
One of the comments that most amused me was someone saying "meanwhile over at reality central". Sorry, my friend, but you've swallowed the blue pill on the whole content issue. What's wrong with content? Well, nothing really. It's a great way to disseminate knowledge, talk about your products and services, educate, and so on and so forth. The problem, however is that content in and of itself speaks to one person. Someone searches, they click a link, they land on your site, they read, maybe they buy, they move on and then do the same thing all over again the next time. Only next time perhaps they click a different link, land on a different website, read different content, maybe buy and then move on. They cycle is endless.
Was there anything wrong with that content? No, not at all. It performed its duty. It captured the visitor's attention, gave them the information they needed and convinced them to buy. Great content does that.
What I found most interesting in reading the comments made regarding my original article is that I agree with many of the "dissenters". It just seems that they've missed my point. Here is an example. We all know that good search marketing isn't just about getting top rankings. Rankings are merely a means to an end. But so is content. Content is a means to help us make a sale, sell ad space, etc. Whatever the goals are for your website, content can be used to achieve those. But so can a number of other tools too. Content may hold more value than some of those other tools, but it's still pretty much just a tool.
You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep community goes.
When I said community is the new king, I wasn't trying to establish a new philosophy in our industry. In fact I was only verbalizing what many already know. The web is moving toward communities and sites like Digg, Delicous, Stumbleupon, Sphinn (and the list goes on and on) only prove the point. These are all "content driven" sites but it's the community that makes them useful. A community of users add stories, vote for or against them, comment on them, and participate in the discussion. Could you imagine any of these sites surviving long without the community involvement? They wouldn't. Which says something about who rules who, content or community.
The primary difference between content and community is that people read content and move on. Community, however, brings people back. And people come back for a number of reasons. Maybe it's to learn. Maybe it's to teach. Maybe it's to interact. Maybe it's to evaluate. Maybe it's to rate. Maybe it's to research. Maybe it's to share. Or maybe it's to buy from someone they have learned to trust.
Yes, you have to have good content--real content--to build a community. But there is a real world out there that goes beyond just individuals reading content. It's a world full of communities of people. If you want to do more than achieve one sale at a time then you need to leverage your content to help build your own community.
Buckle up Dorothy, 'cause content is going bye-bye
Let's take a step out into that "other" reality known as the off-line world. Image if stores like Target or Costco had to rely entirely on new business, and that they rarely ever brought back a single repeat shopper. It would certainly make things more difficult for them, but it's not at all unheard of. Car dealers come to mind as places that probably don't get a lot of repeat business... at least for a few years. This is the picture that I get when I hear people talking only about building content. Content will bring a person to your site, maybe they'll even buy, but it doesn't necessarily create a lasting experience. They next time they shop they might go somewhere else entirely.
Target and Costco don't build communities they way we think of them online, but they are communities none-the-less. By using customer service, discount prices, large variety, bulk products, trendy products, and so on, both create a shopping experience that keeps bringing people back time and time again.
On the web we can build communities using all the same strategies that Target and Costco use, but we also have other tools at our disposal. Ratings, reviews, feedback, comments and, yes, content are all additional community building tools that can be leveraged to bring people back and, in some cases, to interact with one another.
I'm trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the community. You're the one that has to create it.
Content is effective and it is one of the best ways to help develop a community. 90% of online communication is done through content. I agree that content is even necessary to build a community. But unleveraged content only reaches one person. Leveraged content develops a community which can then be steered toward your products, services, ads, or whatever.
Every online business should be seeking to build itself a community. Building community is about building trust that brings people back to your site for thoughts, opinions, advice, service and even your products. Communities don't necessarily have to interact with each other (though that can help) but they do need to have an interaction with you, which can be as simple as an emotional or intellectual interaction. Build a community and you build repeat customers.
Content isn't dead, but it has stepped off the throne to serve in the new kings court. But if you don't buy any of this then go ahead and take the blue pill.
September 25, 2007