Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Set Your Content Free

Shel Holtz writes about the YouTube "embed" model and "content on the edge":

Between RSS feeds, widgets, and embedded video, content is moving steadily to the edge. Companies like Shell would do well to consider freeing their own content to be offered and viewed wherever people want it, exposing those videos to a far bigger audience than the one that will make a deliberate trip to the corporate website.

This is an important idea, and one that I haven't heard discussed much. When online marketing started (yes, some of us can remember the days before that!), the mantra was "drive traffic to the web site." Use email with lots of links so people will visit your site. Ads should create clicks through to your site. And so on, and so on.

But guess what? People don't really want to go to your site. Oh, they will if they see value in it, but why raise the hurdle that way?

And so now we see video living on YouTube showing up on lots of other people's sites, thanks to their embed code. We see RSS feeds that extract the meat from your site and let people read it somewhere else. We see interactive ad formats that let people complete forms and download information without ever leaving the site they were on when the ad showed up.

YouTube and RSS are particularly interesting because they free your content to go live on somebody else's site. RSS draws content from your site, but others can incorporate it into their own sites. And YouTube exposes your content to people who may never come to your site... but might become your customers.

(There's also an interesting small business play here. I was talking to my sister, who runs a one-woman business, about a video clip she wants to put on her simple, informational web site. She started worrying about how that would work - how do I add that to my page? won't I need hosting that supports streaming video? But she can just put it on YouTube and embed it. Plus, it has promotional value to people who've never heard of her, so tagged properly, all kinds of new people can see it there. This means that even the tinest businesses add video to their sites in minutes.)

This also means that those web stats we all know so well aren't as meaningful as they used to be. If people aren't coming to your site to consume your content, you need different metrics.

It's taking many companies a while to catch on to this idea. But after a long period of turning web sites into marketing venues, we may be seeing a new era - where the web site is repository that supports marketing activities happening elsewhere online.

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