I came away from the SIIA Content Summit in New York City this week enthused by the upbeat tone, but with a few alarm bells ringing in my head.
It started with the keynote presentation by Ann Moore of Time Inc. After taking us for a ride through her celebrity-studded product portfolio, she casually mentioned that while Time has created 133 viable, targeted communities in print, they will henceforth be lumped together into a handful of "content cluster" sites online. Rationale? Advertisers like big traffic numbers and operating 133 sites is too much work.
Maybe that's an intelligent approach in the consumer realm, and maybe more celebrity dross in one place makes for a more compelling site, but note to business information providers: don't try this at home. The targeted audiences you have built are, and will continue to be, one of your most important assets.
In a similar vein, references to "Second Life" managed to creep into virtually every session. The buzz around Second Life is extraordinary, though few in the room (including myself) seemed to have more than a vague understanding of this online simulated world. But I get nervous when I hear the discussion turn to how we need to "adopt Second Life concepts" in our own online sites, and possibly how we should even be looking to Second Life as a marketing channel. Though we learned that Reebok sold 20,000 pairs of sneakers through Second Life, I still suspect it will be a long while before there is a meaningful market on Second Life for industrial buying guides and business credit reports. Indeed, I'd want to run a credit check on anyone who said he found my business while pretending to be someone else in an imaginary online world! Second Life is fascinating, but that doesn't mean it has any relevance to business marketers.
Finally, there continues to be intense interest in user- generated content and the somewhat related concept of online communities. While I remain bullish on the power of user-generated content generally, I continue to shudder every time I hear community used in a discussion of a business site. I have seen far too few successful online business communities, and most of them seem to cluster in the IT/engineering world, where they exist as giant, collaborative help desks. It's not a concept easily portable to any business vertical, though it remains enticing because of its success in the consumer world where exchanging online opinions passes for entertainment. When it comes to role models and best practices be careful to stay on the proper side of the consumer- business divide because being on the wrong side creates a giant mess, and the middle is nothing but a deep hole.