Mar 14, 2013

Common Themes from the Content & Distribution Track at SXSWi 2013

This year’s programming for South By Southwest featured an entire track devoted to the subjects of content and distribution.   The sessions in that track varied wildly from ultra-tactical (“How to Rank Better in Google and Bing,”) to the esoteric (“#CatVidFest: Is This the End of Art?”) Despite the wild array of subject matter and expertise that are the hallmarks of SxSW Interactive, common themes did emerge over the course of the conference, and communicators should take note.

Don’t forget we’re talking about human behavior.

In addition to the hundreds of panels devoted to the discussion of storytelling and other content tactis, the Interactive program also devoted considerable space to user experience design (“UXD”) and different aspects of psychology.  Why?  Because ultimately, marketing communications exist to influence human behavior.   Sitting in sessions that picked apart the psychology of habits, the social behaviors that drive the rapid spread of a meme across social channels or discussed how YouTube’s treatment of comments encourages troll-like behavior among those commenting on videos really drove this fact home.

The discussion of what makes media spread in the panel titled “Spreadable Media,” offers a profound example.  Think about it: we sit in front of our screens, and an avalanche of Tweets, Facebook posts, links in emails and other content floods our attention.  As human beings, we make specific choices about that content. What’s worth passing along, and to whom?  And in which channel?  And as part of what conversation?

UPDATE: The speakers have published a book titled (unsurprisingly) Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. It sounds like a good read. 

“If we just think in terms of going viral, we’re not treating the audience as having social agency or cultural effect,” one of the panelists (I didn’t catch which, though I captured the quote verbatim) noted. “We strip away the politics of what goes viral.”  Simply referring to a piece of media as “viral” in nature glosses over the choices that went into mobilizing the material, which means that we overlook the very mechanics of the message, and what caused it to resonate with the audience.  And I think that any marketer can agree, that is stuff worth knowing.

Content needs to be quality.  Everything else is a waste of time, and can injure your brand.   

There are myriad reasons why it’s important to be selective about what you publish – and that message was emphasized in a variety of sessions.  Quality content that’s useful to the audience generates the kind of engagement signals (e.g. time on page, click-throughs, shares) that search engines notice.  The same sort of quality content is that that is most likely to spread and augment your brand’s image and credibility.

It turns out that the downside to publishing content that doesn’t make the grade with the audience isn’t simply a waste of time.   Lightweight content that doesn’t deliver value to the reader will cause visitors to “bounce” (immediately leave) from a web page, sending a negative signal to the ever-vigilant search engines.   Bad content can also result an active departure from the brand audience, by motivating people to disassociate from the brand by un-liking or un-following social presences, or unsubscribing from an email newsletter.   Content for content’s sake is a bad idea.  It won’t trigger the human behavior you’re after, which in turn won’t result in the search engine ranking the brand desires.

Now that you’re back home and have had a chance to unpack – both your luggage and your brain – what were the theme that stood out to you at South By this year?

sarah avatarAuthor Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik

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