Seeking reach, keeping control

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While “feeding the beast” of content marketing is a persistent direct marketing challenge, distributing that content to the right people at the right time is just as important. The use of open APIs is gaining dominance, aided by social sharing, while RSS feeds, microsites and portals remain effective. As always, determining the best approach depends on targeting. “These days people consume content in many different ways,” said Pawan Deshpande, CEO of content marketing technology company HiveFire Inc. “For example, some may go to RSS aggregator FeedReader first thing in the morning; others may go to a browser [on their PC] or their mobile device. With content marketing these days, you need to distribute content in all the channels.” Deshpande said social channels are overtaking RSS feeds as the preferred way for marketers to distribute content and cited the increasing use of APIs, a technology that enables content and data sharing between software applications and online communities. For example, company APIs can serve as real-time conduits of content to special-interest forums of users eager to follow company news, and publishers can funnel their content directly to key users. APIs from certain social networks (Flickr-posted photos, for example) can be shared immediately with Facebook pages, or enable greater functionality through such third-party applications as Twitter APIs feeding posts to HootSuite. The use of APIs to distribute b-to-b content “is the story of 2012,” said Drew Bartkiewicz, VP-strategy services at API technology company Mashery Inc. Bartkiewicz cited the API agreement between Dun & Bradstreet and that went into operational effect last month, in which D&B's account information on various companies is instantly funneled to Salesforce's sales-lead database to be accessed via the Salesforce CRM application. A company also might establish API arrangements with customers, in particular, social forums and channel partners. Given an API key—a website-generated code that tracks the activity of an API by any user—third parties can immediately access, repurpose and share the originating company's product descriptions, white papers, thought-leadership pieces and videos for informational or e-commerce purposes. Bartkiewicz also said that APIs are the basic underpinnings of mobile apps, which he added are currently running “neck-and-neck” with mobile browsers in accessing and disseminating company information. A relatively early adopter was electronics retailer Best Buy, which in late 2010 began offering its Commerce API to third parties to present Best Buy information and products within their e-commerce or Web-based applications—a form of affiliate marketing notably employed by Inc. The surge in the use of mobile devices is fueling other API implementations. Last month, AT&T Inc. unveiled its API Platform, which allows developers to build apps that give mobile users the ability to review information about AT&T products and, through the same app, make purchases and pay bills. In certain heavily regulated industries, open distribution of and access to the entirety of a company's information can be costly. “The worry can be that people strip away the context if you make things too available—or you lose the ability to license the information,” said Ken Fredman, head of digital programs and operations at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. “But with certain types of content, you may want open access, such as with information that positions you as a thought leader or with material that is clearly associated with your product offerings.” Publishers in particular have traditionally tried to control access to their content, a move that is gaining momentum through the increased use of metered paywalls or license agreements. For example, data services from Bloomberg have regularly been served up only through Bloomberg's proprietary terminals. Tight control on content has been the Bloomberg business model. “It's our brand, and the reliability and trust is [in] Bloomberg,” said Lou Andreozzi, chairman of Bloomberg Law, who defended the company's approach at last month's Software & Information Industry Summit, the annual meeting of the Software & Information Industry Association, in New York. “We have a distribution model, and we can bring it to every user based on our brand, content and ability to get the data. That's what we bring to the table. At the end of the day, that's the value we add.” However, on Jan. 31, Bloomberg opened up its market data APIs to trading firms and software developers without cost or restriction. Now, companies can use Bloomberg APIs to build access to all Bloomberg market data into their own applications. The implication, Bartkiewicz said, is that Bloomberg now is becoming “a supply chain for others.” “Dissemination can happen via social networks, APIs or other ways,” he said. “You can distribute a white paper by putting a link in Twitter or Facebook. When it's downloaded, you can put in another action asking the user to share it. You need to understand where your customers and users are, and how they are interacting with your product or content.”
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