Saturday, March 15, 2014

Content Marketing - don't worry about viral, worry about relevancy

+Wyatt Urmey and I were bouncing some ideas around the office just before the National Retail Federation show back in January. We didn't have a big presence there, but we wanted to have something interesting to say about social business. Little did I know that this exercise would finally lead me to better understand how to make content more viral. But bear with me as I tell the story.

As we were talking about collaboration, particularly the newer social collaborative tools like Enterprise Social Networks, we discovered a bias in our thinking towards the classical Information Worker: marketing, finance, management. But there are tons of workers who may not sit in front of laptops every day, but still need to collaborate, find, and share information: manufacturing line workers, in store associates, delivery truck drivers, and more.

We know about examples like Apple, with their now famously mobile-clad Apple Store employees who can do everything from their iPhones and iPads: not just look up inventory or check you out, but also read online product reviews, and send questions to other store associates live. We've also heard about Zappos, with their famously social customer service reps. So clearly associates and customer service reps were a good initial target for expanding the scope of social collaboration at work.

For lack of a better term, we called them "boundary workers" -- workers who are at the boundary of information and process, or at the boundary of the enterprise and the customer. So Wyatt and I, knowing the Apple and Zappos ideas best, worked with a small volunteer team to build a short synthesis of the concept into an infographic: The Rise of the Boundary Worker.

Wyatt, being a far better writer than I, turned the idea into a blog post on the Social Business Insights Blog. Which led to Wyatt being asked to write another post. Which another team used to write another one. Which another team then turned into a SlideShare presentation. Which was tweeted and retweeted. And further blogged about. All of which, have, at last count, garnered in combination several THOUSAND page views, millions of impressions, trending on SlideShare, and more.

Which brings me to the a ha moment I had about viral content, and four things I learned about content marketing in general.


  1. Be relevant AND provocative. Our idea took off because it was both relevant to the audiences we were trying to reach and it was just provocative enough to get their attention. It engendered thought and debate and excitement, not just from IBMers but from the community.
  2. Viral for viral sake is not a business activity. I cringe every time I hear "we need to have a viral marketing campaign!". My stuff isn't a mass-market consumer product...why would I want to behave like Old Spice? I much prefer the Blend Tec model: our content took BECAUSE we were not actively seeking to be viral (see Point 1). 
  3. Viral isn't a siren, it's a hockey stick. We didn't add to the noise of the marketplace like some kind of vuvuzela. Rather, we took a smart idea , started slow, and nurtured it as it built.
  4. Viral isn't about volume, but share. No, we didn't break Twitter.  But we had a meaningful, measurable, unexpected impact on our community, customers, and markets. For people looking at collaboration, we were able to break through the noise and engage them.


I'm excited to see how far this idea can go. We've already looked at Retail and Insurance. I can easily see manufacturing, public safety, distribution and delivery, travel, hospitality, process industries, and a lot of other use cases.

What do you think makes content more viral?

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