Is Stock and Flow Still the Right Metaphor for Creating Content?

Digital Advances Are Blurring the Distinction Between the Two Ideas

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Four years ago, Robin Sloan, a former Twitter manager, argued on his blog that the economics concept of stock and flow was a useful metaphor for content marketing too. Stock, he explained, is "the durable stuff ... the content you produce that's as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It's what people discover via search ... building fans over time." Flow is "the posts and tweets ... the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist."

With everything that's happened since then in the social and content landscape, is this still a good way to approach creating content?

To answer that question, let's start with what's changed. The core social platforms, Facebook and Twitter, have continued to explode. Mobile has enabled a host of new social platforms such as Pinterest and Snapchat to grow at breakneck speed. LinkedIn has added informational content like LinkedIn Today, LinkedIn Influencer and sponsored updates. Google has built a massive social system with the deepest mobile integration of any platform we've ever seen (thanks to Google's Android mobile operating system). "Native" advertising has come to the fore. And search and social have crashed together: According to SearchMetrics, seven of the top eight signals in social now come from search.

So is stock and flow still a useful way to think about how to create marketing content? I'd say yes, though, the distinction between the two is becoming more blurry.

Thanks to ad products rolled out by the social platforms, the dream of marketers to reach a specific consumer at any time has become a reality. Two years ago that just wasn't true, as marketers had to rely largely on the size of organic audience to drive the reach they needed. Now we can deliver striking stock content that's been tweaked to meet the needs of a specific audience. But this sounds like the definition of flow, doesn't it, as it can satiate the day-to-day needs of brands. On the other side, flow has grown to include more than just organic audiences, as marketers think about targeting smaller consumer segments and communities with content that sits at the intersection of the brand's voice and cultural relevance -- more than just a reminder update.

You don't have to look farther than a cookie to see just how much the ideas of stock and flow have come together. Oreo got much attention in 2013 with its Daily Twist campaign, which connected Oreo to major world events. What struck me most about Daily Twist wasn't the speed of delivery, it was the quality, proving that even in social, good creative is good creative. In other words, stock started to look more like flow, and flow more like stock.

It helps to keep your balance of stock and flow in mind. That can be as simple as thinking about how you take a piece of stock content and break it into smaller pieces for flow, or how you prepare yourself for major seasonal events by creating a backlog of flow content that's ready to deploy at a moment's notice. Either way, to be successful in this mobile social world, brands need to be creating content that covers the spectrum.

Noah Brier is co-founder of Percolate, the enterprise content marketing platform.
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