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A question of curation

Facebook pages are the new customer magazines, says Simon Tapscott, MD of recently launched conversation agency, Jack.

By Simon Tapscott

I’ve spent my entire career working in publishing companies that make content. At first it was magazines, later it was websites, both first party and third-party agency work for brands. We used to sell magazines for £6 a pop and then repackage them as bookazines and sell them for twice that much. We were specialists, experts in our field, and readers couldn’t get enough of our output.

So at a time when the publishing community is looking at new ways of charging for content, and watching avidly to see how successfully the News International paywalls persuade consumers that the best quality content is worth paying for, I feel I should be at the front, banging the drum, leading the charge.

But the truth is I’m not.

Not because I don’t agree that people will always be prepared to seek out the best content and make time for it in their busy lives. I genuinely think that quality will out, and while it’s a bit of a hassle rummaging for change when you’re running for your train, The Independent’s ‘i’ has a good chance of succeeding for the simple reason that 20p buys you a better read than you’ll ever get in Metro.

No, in my view, the main threat to publishers isn’t the abundance of freely available content online, it’s the abundance of online content CREATORS. But this is also where a new opportunity lies.

The social web has changed everything. It’s broken all the rules of content. Almost overnight, content stopped being the domain of the specialist few and now everyone’s at it.

Thinking of buying a new camera? Reevoo has hundreds of reviews submitted by people with similar needs who have actually gone out and bought one. Or there are always the customer reviews on Amazon. Fancy a winter holiday in the sun? TripAdvisor can provide you with the experience of someone who chose the package you’re looking at and they stayed there only last week. And there are all the Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Posterous blogs, Flickr galleries, YouTube videos..... the list continues. Content is everywhere, and it’s being created faster than the speed of sound.

Any publisher worth their salt will tell you that the golden rule of editorial is to understand the needs of readers and deliver content that helps them and compels them to take action. But in a media world drowning in user generated, freely accessible content, the reader need is fast becoming curation more than creation. Consumers need more help than ever to find the content they want and need.

I think branded Facebook pages are the new customer magazines, but better. They’re published in real time, are highly interactive, and reward attention with genuinely useful and interesting multimedia content. They allow brands to listen as well as talk, and build communities where like-minded people can share stuff with each other, and create and source their own content. Deep conversations are highly effective noise filters, and the new challenge in managing relationships with customers will be to strike the right balance of not just creating the right content, but finding, delivering and sharing existing content with them.