Neil Perkin, Director of Marketing, Strategy & Digital at IPC Media and the auteur behind the seminal What's Next in Media (above) has had his thinking cap on again. And it's good stuff:

Conventional wisdom positions the website as the destination and focuses investment on search to 'drive' traffic to it. Think about the language we're using here. Do we really think that people who are 'driven' to your website are going to stick around, interact with your stuff, click on your banners? Search is attractive because of it's accountability, control and efficiency but ask yourself this: who would you rather have on your website - a person who is looking for a specific piece of information and is likely to leave as soon as they've got it, or a person who is passionate about what you do and has a desire to connect, interact, share, contribute. Both people count as a unique user. But only one of them will likely stick around, come back again and again, and be truly engaged. So I would argue that their value is very different.

There's nothing wrong with investing in search, and it is an important tool, but it is not everything. Deploying search optimisation without social optimisation is only a partial solution. What do I mean by social optimisation? I mean participation in the conversation. I mean making the community elements in your own content as visible as possible (it has to feel like a community). And I mean creating tools and services to facilitate what that community is trying to do. This has pound notes attached to it - community facilitates repeat visits, engagement and interaction. Repeat visits, engagement and interaction facilitate subscription, transaction and advertising.

In a follow-up post, he goes on to say:

Aristotle defined three types of friendship - friendship based on utility (utility being an impermanent thing, changing according to circumstance, disolving when the utility is no more), friendship based on pleasure (of the moment, changing as pleasures change), and 'perfect' friendship which is based on goodness (mutual respect, nourishing, lasting, trusting). Friendship is not black and white, and 'friend' (or 'fan' or 'follower') is a very blunt term.

Think about participation. There are many forms of it, and a significant difference between simply reading, or commenting and actually contributing. Forrester's Social Technographics ladder does a good job of reflecting the broad scope of such participation inequality.

I think one of the most useful ways of thinking about your audience is through the level of engagement and interaction they have with what you're doing. The internet is a does medium. It's not for passive consumption, it's about interaction. So thinking of your audience in this way you immediately start to think differently about your content, and about the value you are delivering. Wary as I am about segmenting people into homogenous groups, I think it's useful to put a simple framework around this:

In Tribes, Seth Godin talks about the fact that what people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies, so services that facilitate connection, give people stories to tell and something to talk about, build permission. It flips the focus from looking for customers for your products, to seeking out products (and services) for the tribe.

This means that content owners need to reach out and engage their audiences wherever they are. When we think about online communities, it's easy to slip back into old destination thinking about attempting to "build" an online community around your brand. But to paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg, communities already exist, so the job instead should be to think about how you can help that community do what it wants to do. Communities are fluid and ever changing. So a better model is to think about multiple assets (social objects or ideas if you like) each with their own levels of participation.


Anyway. My brain hurts now - you should go read his posts in full, and leave comments there...