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The Once And Future King: Editorial Or User-Generated Content?

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Synopsis — It’s no secret that content is king when it comes to online marketing, but knowing which content strategy to use in your marketing efforts could have a significant impact on business outcomes. No matter which direction you go in, whether you create editorial or user-generated content, you want your marketing strategy to effectively reach out to your target audience and foster stronger relationships with potential and returning customers.

In his article, “The Once And Future King: Editorial Or User-Generated Content?,” Benjamin Spiegel expands on the strengths and weaknesses of editorial and user-generated content to help you design the most effective program for business needs.

The complete article follows.

The Once And Future King: Editorial Or User-Generated Content?

Content rules! But if content is king, what’s the role of editorial content? Or that of user-generated content? Knowing which type of content ranks highest in the realm — and acting accordingly — could have a big impact on your content efforts.

Why Is Content King?

The web brought about a fundamental shift in marketing. Prior to its advent, organizations had to rely on traditional media or advertising to get the word out. The web, however, allows companies to publish their own content to tell their story — a story that has evolved into a highly effective strategy called content marketing. Instead of pushing product and services, this new strategy uses content to pull an audience in. The result? Content marketing allows organizations to foster better relationships with customers and prospects because it gives people what they actually want or need.

The good news is that there are many options for content marketing today, including whitepapers, slideshows, press releases, videos, product reviews, podcasts, customer testimonials, ebooks, Q&As, and infographics. The bad news is that marketers often dive in without a strategy.

However, for a content effort to succeed, it needs to be strategic. And having an understanding of the structure of the entire “kingdom of content” can help guide strategy. The landscape is divided into two main areas: editorial content and user-generated content. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each will help you design the most effective program for your needs. Let’s take a closer look at each.

1.  Editorial Content

Sometimes referred to as corporate content or brand journalism, editorial content is the primary focus of most content marketing programs. In general, this type of content is a controlled corporate initiative, and the material is designed to educate or entertain (or do both). It usually focuses on important customer/industry topics, tends to be well-researched, includes numbers and facts, and targets well-defined personas.

Editorial content is key to a company’s content program because it provides them with a valuable resource to consult and share with their audience. Organizations can customize editorial content to reach specific audience segments. Editorial content is particularly effective in helping companies demonstrate thought leadership and establish themselves as an authority on various topics. Typically driven by an editorial calendar, such content is usually highly produced, creating a long-term asset to leverage for the company’s lead generation activities.

To best reach customers and prospects, editorial content can be created in a variety of different formats, such as ebooks, videos, and infographics, which continually adds value and creates new interest. However, such an effort requires considerable production resources. A content marketing program is a machine that needs to be fed. Organizations need to ensure they have dedicated resources in place in order to develop relevant editorial content on a regular basis.

When it comes to search, editorial content tends to perform well. It usually focuses on a small set of highly targeted keyword phrases, and as a result, ranks very well for its intended short-tail terms. But user behavior does not align with most editorial content strategies, since most searchers use terms that are two words and longer. Nor do searchers usually query specific values, which tend to be a key component of editorial content.

Also problematic is the fact that editorial content is usually produced with a long-range use in mind. As such, it tends to omit events or use phrases that are current in nature, aiming instead to focus on topics of an evergreen nature. At the same time though, specific content should be updated regularly to ensure that it evolves and adapts to meet changing interests. When you consider that Google reports that 20%-25% of its daily queries are totally new, it’s clear that up-to-date, relevant content is a must.

Although editorial content is rich in the value it provides, it is not adept at gaining traction in social properties. This is unfortunate, as viral quality — the number of times a piece of content is shared, tweeted, or liked — is a key indicator for content success. Not surprisingly, editorial content’s lackluster performance in this area is often due to a brand’s legal restrictions, which can adversely impact the ability of a piece of content to resonate with its intended audience.

In order to have viral success, editorial content needs to be engaging and challenging – perhaps even controversial. In other words, it has to make an impact. To overcome its social weakness, editorial content needs to tap into the power of user-generated content. By leveraging social channels, organizations can spark conversations that will drive engagement with editorial products and expand their reach.

Let’s talk about user-generated content and explore how it can work with editorial content in concert, rather than in competition.

2.  User-Generated Content

As the name implies, user-generated content is material created by individual users interacting with various online communities and/or websites. Considering the fast-paced growth of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, it’s easy to see why this type of content can play an important role in a content program. Earlier this year, industry stats estimated more than 290 million tweets per day and more than 700 Facebook updates a second.

Aside from being impressed by the sheer volume of user content available today, why would a company want to tap into it? For starters, it offers unmatched speed. Editorial initiatives can take weeks or even months to produce, while user-generated content can be produced in real time. On top of that, it is far better at engaging an audience than editorial content and is particularly good at sparking discussion and getting the community talking. Because it begins its lifecycle in social platforms, it is inherently short, sweet, and the perfect object to be liked, shared, and re-tweeted.

User-generated content can also add vibrancy to a content program, since it allows you to showcase the voice of the customer. In fact, many companies are integrating social feeds on their websites (examples include the W Hotel, Tide, and The Weather Channel). Ecommerce sites like Amazon and Best Buy leverage user-generated content for product reviews and ratings. Incorporating the voice of the customer in a content program allows organizations to create an authentic and transparent image. This often increases the trust factor, which in turn can boost sales.

Beyond that, user-generated content has the power to boost the efficacy of editorial initiatives. Companies can leverage it to create social snippets that will spark discussion, foster engagement, and promote their editorial content. Since user-generated snippets are much more likely to be shared, they will create a large number of social signals and links pointing to the original piece of content. In addition, user-generated content also can feed an editorial program. How so? Organizations can leverage it as an economical means to uncover important consumer insights by taking what they have learned to build out editorial content on related topics.

Inherently social, user-generated content also offers search engine marketing benefits. In fact, it is the perfect medium for valuable long-tail keyword phrases because it includes the language and terms actually used by customers. This type of content also performs well in search because it tends to have more timely information about trends and current events. With that said however, it is important to note that user-generated content is difficult to integrate into brand sites from a technical or SEO perspective. As a result, it may not provide the search benefit intended. For instance, installing a Twitter widget on your home page might sound like a great idea, but technical considerations may prevent search engines from reading the feed.

While user-generated content offers many benefits, organizations may hesitate to use it because it requires giving up control and worries about negative community input exist. For example, CEOs likely have nightmares about hosting customer rants on their website. But user-generated content doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. It can be managed in a way that allows an organization to reap the benefits, while still maintaining some level of control.

Consider it a hybrid model. How does this work? Companies can leverage user-generated content to spark discussion and engage the community on various social properties. Then they can cherry-pick the content from those arenas that tells the story they want to convey, and integrate the original customer comments into their website, third-party sites, and/or other editorial products.

Summary

Overall, editorial content and user-generated content each play an important role in the content kingdom. But which is most important? Editorial content definitely provides the most value. However, the two content types are complementary — each needs the other to sustain their own efforts. Editorial content needs user-generated content to create interest and expand its reach. User-generated content needs editorial properties to fuel its efforts. When used together strategically, they can deliver the most impact to your content marketing program. Try the following 12 strategies to help bring new vigor to your content kingdom!

Image: Crown — Original Billboard Image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Benjamin Spiegel is the Director of Search Operations at Catalyst Online / GroupM, a WPP Company. Catalyst is a leading search engine marketing agency with offices in Boston, New York, Seattle, Toronto and Chicago. Benjamin defines the organic search process, creates the agency's SEO offerings, develops campaign strategies and oversees talented teams of SEO Managers and Directors. Upon first joining Catalyst, Benjamin held the position of Organic Search Director where he worked with clients in a range of industries, including luxury, mobile, automotive and CPG. Follow him on Twitter @nxfxcom.

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