Social media sticker shock

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This column marks the start of my fifth year writing New Channels, so it seems appropriate to reflect on how much has changed in that brief time and how the stakes are about to get higher. Back in 2007 I told you about notable corporate blogs, a public skirmish between Dell and a consumer advocacy site, the revolutionary potential of Second Life (OK, you can't get them all right), a curiously addictive new service called Twitter and the virtues of listening to online conversations. That was news at the time, but today it's ancient history. There are now more business blogs than you can count, some companies have 50 Twitter accounts and YouTube accepts 33 hours of new video every minute. Media has become fully democratized, and now the challenges—and the costs—are going to rise. Today a young man posting profane witticisms from his father can attract an audience of 2 million Twitter followers, a book contract and a network TV show. As barriers to entry have collapsed, content has become the only significant source of advantage. It used to be remarkable to have a few employees contribute to a company blog. Now, it's just part of doing business. Chris Boudreaux of social media consultancy Converseon likens the new scenario to getting a free puppy: The tiny acquisition cost is dwarfed by the long-term expense. And it's only going to get more expensive as Internet cacophony grows and content becomes the new marketing battlefield. Take Marketo and Eloqua, two b-to-b marketing automation companies that are engaged in a war of generosity. Both are furiously seeding the market with intellectual property that would have once been considered a prized corporate asset. They ask for no money, just links, comments and tweets. “We feel that people will be so wowed by our ingredients that they'll assume we're a company of chefs,” explains Joe Chernov, Eloqua's director of content. A lot of b-to-b companies are about to find themselves doing the same thing. Quality content is expensive, but there is a silver lining. Mainstream media organizations have laid off tens of thousands of journalists, from print editors to broadcast professionals. These people understand storytelling and the tricks of building audience. You can hire them today at a fraction of what you would have paid three years ago, if you could get them at all. Internet publishing may be free, but attention is precious. As Seth Godin says, the challenge is to be remarkable. Are you ready to start paying to give away your prized intellectual property? Thanks to BtoB for the soapbox and to BtoB's readers for all your e-mails and comments. I look forward to continuing the journey. Paul Gillin's new book, co-authored with Eric Schwartzman and published by John Wiley & Sons, is “Social Marketing to the Business Customer.”
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