Using your business data to create viral content

It’s fair to say that we’re still learning how best to use the market space we call “online”. It may be that we always will be, because it’s in the nature of the beast that it continually evolves. However some aspects of its use are taking us longer than they should to grasp. take for example the production of good quality content that has the potential to become viral content. Typically speaking, the hardest part of creating viral or high quality content is coming up with an idea. Well it may just be that you don’t have to look too far for good ideas anymore.

In the beginning, online content didn’t matter much. Your site either could be found or it couldn’t, and that was basically that. It was an electronic billboard, with most of the traditional billboard’s limitations as a medium for telling stories. Even in the early days of Google, which transformed the “findability” equation, content quality was not at a premium, and “keyword stuffing” was the order of the day.

But Google’s purpose is to maximise the reward for (all) those using it. Yes, it wants to extract its own reward for online transactions, but it reckons the best path to that river of gold is to ensure that its search results bring the greatest satisfaction to the greatest number of people. So it has developed a search algorithm that favours sites that engage visitors, and that requires good content, and the best content is viral content!

Coke Isn’t It Anymore

Remember that campaign? In the days before the internet, advertisers were compelled by the media available to them to limit their content to little more than bald assertions of the merits of their products. Most of the creative effort around content was directed at compressing the message into a one-way missile like the Coke slogan. Consumers, by and large, accepted this ballistic style of advertising because they, like the advertisers, knew no alternative.

The internet brought the alternative. Now businesses could, to a greater or lesser extent, engage in a more conversational relationship with their customers – one that didn’t require them to shout at them across Piccadilly Circus. Internet marketers figured out that dropping the slogans and the bald assertions, and discussing the issues that really motivated people’s buying choices paid dividends in the form of trust, loyalty and, eventually, sales. The only drawback was that it required content, good content, markedly different in style to traditional 20th century advertising copy. And then came blogs, and Social Media Marketing, with their own appetites for content, sometimes overlapping, sometimes not, but always linking, linking.

The Content Problem

Well, the first problem is that too many businesses still tend to see their online presence as an electronic billboard – a continuation of 20th century advertising by 21st century means. Familiarity with their own business blinds them to its stories, and 20th century thinking leads them to think of their advertising as an appealing façade for the customers to look at while behind it the real business grinds away, doing stuff that nobody but its employees would be interested in. That’s wrong, as we’ll see.

There are a number of ways of addressing the content problem. We recently looked at Pain Points. Today’s article discusses using data your company owns to create engaging and even viral content.

Data has its own story to tell

One business that grasped the content nettle was Pricenomics, a US online price guide for second hand consumer goods. They knew they needed online content to promote their business, but their own “operational” online content consisted of line-by-line database entries, each with its own little web page – the nuts and bolts of their pricing guide, but unpromising as a source of “conversation”-starting material, no matter how good the product.

Then it occurred to them that they had accumulated an exceptional volume of data on how people valued all manner of everyday products, how those values fluctuated seasonally, and a host of other parameters that revealed interesting aspects of how humans relate to things. And they knew that most of us harbour an inner geek that loves a bit of data, particularly when it reveals something interesting, or useful, about their lives. The story of how they turned these insights into a productive blog, and ultimately into a business itself is well worth a read by anyone involved in online marketing.

Pricenomics’ first successful blog told the story of how Pricenomics had used their data on second hand values of furniture to underpin an enterprise buying and selling Aeron chairs in the Bay Area. Published at Hacker News, and free of any the story of this quirky, off-the-wall and ultimately only modestly profitable venture somehow captured imaginations online, and with the help of a well-placed personal intervention that saw the blog linked to by TechCrunch, the blog went viral. It was upvoted rapidly and eventually spent 24 hours in the top spot. Linking proliferated and Pricenomics flourished. Further data-based blogs followed, and eventually they began offering content-making services for other businesses. You don’t have to go that far, but the Pricenomics experience has lessons for all businesses which, like theirs, don’t seem at first sight to offer easy opportunities to create content.

So what are the take-away lessons?

  • Your business is probably more interesting than you think it is.
  • You probably own data that contains information about human affairs that is important – or just interesting.
  • In the right hands, data-based stories are extremely valuable for your business. But as the guys at Pricenomics point out, “the default state of the internet is that no one cares”. No matter how interesting your content, you have to give it a start by personally intervening to persuade influential players to publish or link to it.
  • Be prepared to spend some time with your web developer workshopping the narrative potential of the data you own, and creating a coordinated campaign for writing, publishing and promoting your stories.
  • Go away and start reading the priceconomics story, it will change your entire outlook! it’s long, but so s worth it!

If you want to create a content strategy using data, but want some assistance, get in touch with Webfirm today, we can help you nut it out.

About Andrew H
Andrew is an account manager at Webfirm with special expertise in SEO, PPC and data analysis. Developing digital marketing strategies is his bread and butter!