Content discovery: The new Holy Grail of PR and marketing

Many social media platforms are introducing new tools that give users a filtered look at news and current events. Brands can take advantage, too.

Big name digital properties have been making a lot of moves lately to make it easier for their users to discover great content. On the brand side, we spend a lot of time thinking about being discovered, but we’re largely ignoring the opportunity to be a source of content discovery ourselves.

What would it mean to reputations and loyalty if customers knew that paying attention to us would reveal the kind of content they crave, the same way following Facebook or Twitter helps us unearth entertaining, useful, high-value articles, reports, videos, and graphics?

We already know that customers place a premium on the ability to find great content. A year-old study, for instance, found that a key reason Millennials use social media is for content discovery.

It’s a given that brands need to create shareable content more than they need to create a lot of content. That’s only half the equation, though. Reviewing some of the latest innovations from top social properties raises a question for organizations:

Why aren’t we helping our customers discover great content the same way Facebook does? [Download the Marketer’s Guide to Digital Giveaways, Promotions, and Rewards]

A new focus on content discovery

I’m a big fan of Vellum. Not the parchment material; the site from The New York Times Research & Development Group. Twitter is a huge source of discovery for me as the people I follow share and retweet links. I follow a lot of people, so those tweets scroll by pretty fast. If I’m not watching every minute, I’ll miss something. That’s where Vellum comes in. Vellum lists just the links shared by people I follow. Checking in once a day, I can see everything my friends have shared, making it even easier to discover amazing content than by trying to stay current with my Twitter feed.

Vellum has been around a while, but several social media properties have announced more recent innovations to enhance content discovery:

Facebook Instant Articles Currently available on the iOS platform, Instant Articles has created a lot of buzz focused mostly on its disruption of the mainstream news industry. The worry is that people will stop going to news organizations for their news and rely more and more on Facebook. That’s a conversation worth having, but it’s just as important to know why Facebook thought Instant Articles would be worth a try: People are already getting their news from Facebook. One study, from the American Press Institute, found that 88 percent of Millennials get news from Facebook regularly, and more than half do so daily. Nearly half say content discovery is their primary motivation for using Facebook in the first place.

You’re scrolling through your news feed, and there it is. It might have been posted by a news organization or shared by a friend, but the headline and the graphic intrigue you, excite you, anger you, so you tap. The idea behind Instant Articles is that rather than wait for the news item to load from some other news site—which can take as long as 10 seconds—the article loads instantly (and includes some very cool elements available to media organizations only through Facebook’s Instant Articles platform).

Twitter’s Project Lightning When something newsworthy happens, you can count on people tweeting about it. Whether it’s the Coachella music festival, the Academy Awards, a product launch, a political demonstration, or a breaking news story, you can be sure people on the scene are sharing details, photos, and videos. To make it easier for people to find this content, Twitter plans to roll out a feature dubbed “Project Lightning.”

Editors will cull through the tweets people are sharing from where news is happening. Using the Twitter app, you’ll tap a button that will transport you to an events screen where you can peruse the best content Twitter’s curators have collected. It won’t be a typical Twitter feed. Instead, you’ll find a package of content built around pictures and videos. The idea, according to Twitter product chief Kevin Weil, is to immerse you in the experience. Each item will take up your entire screen. You’ll swipe between Vines, Periscopes, photos, videos, and other content deemed worthy by those editors. You’ll also be able to follow an event until it’s over.

Instagram Explore

“Explore” has been a button on Instagram for a long time, but an update to appear first in U.S. versions of the app will “show users the most important photos from events and places in their regions and across the country,” according to a New York Times article. Unlike Twitter’s human-edited Project Lightning, the images that make it into the Explore stream will be selected by an algorithm.

However, Instagram’s search function will feature manually chosen collections designed to help users discover interesting content. The Times report notes that “It sounds a lot like Project Lightning.”

Snapchat Live Stories Snapchat’s growing influence is hard to ignore. The ephemeral messaging app has been making some serious moves into related categories. Its Discover tool lets users skim through content from a variety of publishers (from People to National Geographic). Not one to miss a trend, Snapchat introduced Live Stories six months ago. The feature (according to Re/code) “uses human curators to stitch together photos and videos into a montage around specific events like concerts and sports games.”

Live Stories draws an audience of some 20 million people every 24 hours, according to Ben Schwerin, Snapchat’s director of partnerships. As a result, the feature is generating some serious revenue for Snapchat, which sources say charges around $.02 per view on a 10-second ad that appears alongside content submitted by a user. At that rate, it would cost an advertiser about $400,000 for a story that drew 20 million views.

Live Stories—like the offerings from all the social media properties launching major immersive discovery features—is not limited to big gatherings, sporting events, and award shows. As The Washington Post pointed out, Live Stories provided Snapchat users with an emotional experience during the days following the tragic shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. The “Charleston Strong” Live Story presented “messages of love, support, and grief from snappers in the Charleston area.” The Live Story featured fewer than 20 snaps (“some from mourners speaking directly to the camera in selfie videos, others snapping scenes from outside the church, and even one carrying nine flowers for each of the victims”).

YouTube Newsire

So important is the ability to assist users looking for news content that YouTube has launched Newswire, “a curated feed of the most newsworthy eyewitness videos of the day,” according to a YouTube blog post.

Why organizations should pay attention

In a story about the content discovery trend, Re/code quoted Instagram’s Kevin Systrom:

The Holy Grail is to give people the sense of now and what’s happening now. The gap between something happening in the world and you knowing about it is becoming fractionally small. I think we’re all in a race as companies to provide you that information.

There is little happening in the world of content marketing that taps into our audiences’ thirst for new content. Content curation was a hot topic a couple years ago, but discussion of how brands can surface great content for users through curation has tapered off. In light of how social sites are satisfying that demand, basic curation looks fairly primitive (thought still useful).

Being discoverable is vital to good content marketing, but being a source of discovery is an altogether different animal. Some organizations have taken discovery seriously. Four Seasons Hotels, for example, launched a Pinterest campaign in 2013 called “Pin. Pack. Go.” The idea was to help travelers find things to do in cities they planned to visit. After a traveler created a pinboard called “Pin. Pack. Go” for their destination city, the Four Seasons property in that city would accept collaboration invitations and local staff would pin material about nearby adventures awaiting them.

Internally, ConAgra Foods shares intriguing Yammer posts from employees on the home page of the intranet, making it easy for employees to discover new people to follow who share information relevant to their jobs, that helps them connect the dots between big-picture announcements and initiatives and their own jobs.

How can organizations become a source of discovery beyond basic curation? Here are two off-the-top-of-my-head ideas:

  • Profiling customers. If you know your audience, you should know what kind of information and resources they thirst for. By profiling customers who have already taken that journey and have answers, you can create points of knowledge connection for your customers, especially when those who have already moved into the brand-ambassador category.
  • Live stories from company events. Raytheon does a great job of reporting on the Paris/London Air Shows, where the company is a regular participant. How much more would air show fans have discovered if Raytheon also provided a Life Stories-like tool that let those fans swipe through images, videos, and other content shared by attendees? Immersing customers in a company event—even including annual shareholder meetings and trade show floors—can keep those fans coming back.

As discovery—particularly discovery of immersive content related to real-time activities—continues to grow as a priority for audiences, tools and tactics are sure to emerge. My advice is not to wait for them. Start thinking about how you can become a source of content discovery for your customers now. Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. A version of this story first appeared on his blog.


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