2010: Social Media Removes the Dam of Gutenberg-Google

One of the most interesting trends to watch unfold is the discovery process of quality content. Many take for granted how they find content or what they default to as good content sources, but if you look closer you’ll see that social media (specifically, social networks) and UGC-based ratings and reviews are starting to control the flow of content to the end consumer. And every marketer, PR professional, publisher, blogger, and agency should take note.

Back in the Day, Gutenberg Reigned Supreme

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, the age of information dissemination changed forever. Those who had the money and influence to own a printing press dominated the landscape of common thinking because all that was read was their content. The Bible benefited tremendously from this as it was one of the first to be widely distributed as a result of the church’s power and coffers. Later in history, you can look at the influence folks like Benjamin Franklin had on America, writing under a specific pen name and distributing his thoughts about society in a way that only a handful of others at the time could.

Even today, most of us get our information from the handful of big publishers that have dominated the space for so long. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times being the grand example for news — few others outside of some local tribune publications are so widely read.

The flow of information was, and still is, controlled by a few companies that have particular agendas (political and profit based). Moreover, those publications also have a small group of journalists who submit stories to one or two editors who then decide what becomes a story and what doesn’t. That is serious power and a virtual “dam” to the flow of information, where only a small portion trickles through.

Google Replacing Gutenberg

Over the past decade, Google’s rise in search dominance has also been the rise in information flow dominance. The major publications still have a loyal base of readers that will come back time and time again, but those looking for new information, those who are curious to see what else is out there, those who are just beginning to absorb information (i.e., Gen Y), and those simply frustrated with the lack of objectivity or quality of publications will start at Google.

Google has become the ultimate starting point and, in turn, the flow of information has opened up more, but it’s still far from breaking the walls of the dam. In fact, Google could be considered its own dam with just a few more exit points. With only 10+ organic results and a similar number of paid results, consumers will only find content they seek in those 20 places — with less than 20 percent being relevant as it relates to information they seek.

Social Media Slowly Removing the Dam

Social media is the “dam buster.” We can now get good information through tweets of those we follow, Facebook Sharing, and from others within our networks who are usually connected online.

We have a new discovery outlet and a new way to find stories, whether mainstream or from an unknown blogger. We find things based on recommendations of trusted colleagues, friends, etc.

In addition to this happening in a social network, it also happens in e-mail. Many of the larger ESPs will tell you that the “share this” buttons, links, or applications inside an e-mail usually have the highest CTRs (define). Meaning, most use such to re-disseminate good content they read in an eNewsletter.

Another non-Google, non-Gutenberg source of information is ratings and reviews. You can go to information sites, vendor sites, blogs, and social networks and see what people are saying (e.g., Digg, Stumble Upon) and aggregate which articles or content they like best.

Now we’re talking — content found by the people for the people. Sounds like a new “Content Bill of Rights.”

Now, how do we apply this?

  1. There is less of an emphasis on having to contact a prominent journalist to write a story about your company and more on consistently writing good content worth tweeting and sharing.
  2. Leverage your own social networks to start sharing content and build strategy around that to really make an impact (look at it like word of mouth on steroids).
  3. Be sure that when your content is found that you let your loyal readers/customers know about it and encourage them to review and rate it; and the domino effect of more ratings/reviews has a much greater chance of catching.

Even the big publications, which have everything to lose, understand this. When The New York Times allows you to share an article on LinkedIn (the deal they did earlier this year) or the walled garden of The Wall Street Journal allows you to review an article — they’re saying “please share our stuff” on the place you actually find us — the social networks and social media sharing sites.

What it Means for 2010 and Beyond

On the whole, consumers will control content flow. If a good article is out there, it will be found, shared, and read, even if it’s just on a corporate blog. It means that the quality of writing will be raised, because now every journalist will be competing with every other journalist (not just the handful inside their own publication) for attention, and the reader will decide whose content is worth rating high, sharing with friends, or posting on their Facebook wall.

It won’t all happen immediately, but the rise of the journalist (professional or amateur) will happen at the same pace as the fall of the publisher. Independents that syndicate widely and freely will win at first and then be able to charge publications for its content or share in revenue. Marketing professionals who wish to get in the flow of this need only publish a blog that has good content written by themselves and aggregate other great content to fill the gaps.

In the end, the winner is content. Good content, sharable content, and consumer-driven content will allow us all to have a broader spectrum of information and, for the marketer, an easier way to connect with their base.

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