Free-range content on the move

During Greek Week on our campus this fall, our social media coordinator was on his way to cover another event when he saw some fraternity members dressed up in dinosaur costumes. Not an everyday occurrence, so he stopped to shoot some iPhone footage of the goings-on, then posted a 15-second clip of the frolicking frat boys in tyrannosaurus rex costumes on our Facebook page.

One month, 44,470-plus shares and more than 4.1 million views later, that little video is still chugging along, getting likes, shares and views by the minute, it seems. It found its way to imgur and some similar sites. But most of the attention resulted from shares in the Facebook ecosystem.

In terms of views, this bite-sized piece of content crushed every other video we’ve posted — on Facebook, YouTube or any other venue. It has generated 41 times more views than the most popular video on our YouTube channel (a technical film about a non-destructive testing technique that has a respectable 105,000-plus views).

From a content marketing perspective, what makes the success of this video so remarkable is that it was a chance occurrence. It was not part of our content marketing strategy. In fact, the video wouldn’t have happened if our social media staffer hadn’t stopped on his way to another event — one that was planned and previously publicized on our website.

Another interesting thing about this phenomenon was that it had absolutely no connection to our official web presence. Which raises an important question about the nature of online content and the purpose of our websites in relation to the content our institutions create and share.

The rise of free-range content

This occurrence, coupled with a recent post by Shel Holtz about the marginalization of content sites in today’s social media sphere, reminded me once again that we are in the midst of yet another sea change in the online and social media spheres. The content of organizations — businesses, news agencies, universities, governments, non-profits, even individual bloggers like me — is becoming unbundled from of official publication channels.

Just when we’ve gotten used to the idea of switching from traditional approaches to getting our story out — from the idea of pitching press releases to the news media or publishing stories in our alumni magazines — to the “new media” way of posting our content on our own websites, of pushing it to our audiences via email or social media, of amplifying our messages through social media and of thinking like a media organization, the winds of change are blowing our way once again. And once again, PR practitioners and marketers need to rethink how we do content marketing. We need to think about how to free their content from its traditional containers and get it where people are sharing content, which is — more and more these days — on and in social networks.

As this article from marketing news site ClickZ points out, “Homepages are no longer the primary entry for readers to access content” (more about that below) and thanks to the Instant Articles format launched recently by Facebook (Apple and Google have similar approaches), publishers who rely on ad revenue now have to share it with those tech giants.

These days, Holtz notes:

If every company is a media company, as Tom Foremski argued back in 2009, then companies need to recognize the pivot and think more like NTN [NowThis News, which shuttered its website] — or at least The Washington Post — tailoring content for distribution in various social channels. Companies like Coca-Cola. that have developed terrific content sites don’t have to abandon them, but they do need to inject the individual stories into the channels where mobile users will find them, quickly access them, and then share them.

This raises important questions for colleges and universities that are taking a content marketing approach to their visibility and media relations efforts. Among them:

What is the purpose of the home page? This is a question that even The New York Times is grappling with. When someone leaked the Times’ newsroom innovation report in May 2014, this was one of the big questions. “The number of visitors to the New York Times home page has been shrinking,” I wrote at that time. “Fewer readers go there to start their journey into the Timescontent. More readers are finding their way to the content they’re interested in from other sources.”

Where should our content live? As Holtz points out in his post, we don’t necessarily need to abandon our content sites or online newsrooms. We do, however, need to understand where our audiences are going to find the information they want and need. And we need to get our content into those places.

What is the role of media relations? Perhaps I’m biased as a long-time PR practitioner, but I agree with Holtz when he writes that traditional media relations efforts should not “grind to a halt. … Ultimately, it’s all a matter of ‘along with, not instead of.'”

“I have no doubt, though,” Holtz concludes, “that if we continue as a profession to focus only on the old way of earning media coverage the audience that ever sees them will grow smaller and smaller.”

We need to answer these questions, lest we all become dinosaurs.



Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

2 thoughts on “Free-range content on the move”

  1. Thanks for Sharing!
    You have really presented an excellent strategy for utilizing social media. Web pages should no longer be the single entry of engagement for students , potential students and parents. By blogging about and making a video entry of an “out of the box” activity on campus it went viral and the school received recognition from that activity

    Sheila Lee

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