The Rise Of The Corporate Content Miner

by Tom Webster |

The Center for Marketing Research at UMass Dartmouth recently came out with a study entitled The Fortune 500 and Social Media: A Longitudinal Study of Blogging and Twitter Usage by America’s Largest Companies. This study reprises its similar paper from last year, with the primary difference being the inclusion of Twitter. The researchers behind this paper examined the companies that comprise the Fortune 500 to determine whether or not these organizations had active blogs and/or Twitter accounts.

First, the encouraging news: the number of companies with active blogs grew significantly year-over-year, from 81 to 108 – or from 16% to 22% of Fortune 500 companies. These blogs are not simply one-way megaphones, either – the study reports that “90% percent of the Fortune 500 blogs take comments, have RSS feeds and take subscriptions.” Interestingly, two of the top five companies (Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillps) did not have public-facing blogs, and they are both from the same industry.

Coal Miners Statue located in Benham, Kentucky.
Image via Wikipedia

The most unusual finding from this study, however, was the number of Fortune 500 companies that maintain Twitter accounts: 173, or 35% of Fortune 500 companies. This figure is significantly higher than the number of companies with blogs, a disparity that is unusual given blogging’s sizable head start, and the relatively small number of Twitter users (compared to blog readers).

While there are likely several reasons for this disparity, it should be noted that both platforms have similar burdens in terms of legal requirements, consistency of voice and brand integrity, so it isn’t any “easier” from a strategic sense to maintain a Twitter account over a blog. It is, however, a lot less onerous in terms of content creation, so companies that have not found the time to craft and maintain a regular blogging presence may in fact appreciate Twitter’s lower barrier to content creation. Indeed, active and engaged employees, either Tweeting on behalf of or independent from their companies, might in fact be creating significant quantities of content, albeit 140 characters at a time.

What this study does not look at, of course, is internal communications. Many of the companies that do not maintain blogs or Twitter accounts likely have intranets, wikis and other means of social sharing behind the firewall. In my own company, we use Socialcast to share information; Yammer and Socialtext are also viable options. What Socialcast and Yammer have in common with Twitter are their low barriers to content creation – while few employees are candidates to crank out daily blog posts, the “learned behavior” of status updating is significantly more ubiquitous, thanks in large part to Facebook.

To date, much of the content being created on these corporate microblogging platforms and services is for internal purposes only. We use ours for everything from exchanging best practices to simply alerting everyone that there are brownies in the kitchen. The allure of these services is the promise that content created and shared socially is “unlocked” from email (where it is only seen by a few, and lost when those few change jobs) and becomes a searchable and a permanent corporate asset.

It strikes me that the seeds for external corporate communications may lie here as well, and my hope is that the future of these platforms and services will be to facilitate the mining, categorization and analysis of that content. It may be that your companies next 1000-word blog post could be effectively “crowdsourced” from an amalgamation of what your comrades-in-arms are already sharing internally. I know as my company’s lead blogger that getting others to contribute is a significant exercise in arm-twisting futility, but if I had the ability to easily mine the thoughts and contributions of my co-workers, then all of the accumulated greatness of our staff would finally have a way to shine without the onerous burdens of an editorial calendar, deadlines or otherwise treating content creation as “work.”

In that sense, as these tools continue to mature and evolve, a “job of the future” might be to mine for and curate internal microblog content for external uses. This would give Fortune 500 companies (who have some crowds to source, for sure) a way to tap into the ease of Twitter while creating a compelling, lasting resource of blogged content online. The tools aren’t there yet, as they are largely focused on user-based analytics and search, and not necessarily on text processing and workflow. If they get there, however, we may indeed see the rise of the corporate content miner in the coming years.

What do you think? Job of the future? Or flight of fancy?

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About the Author

Tom Webster

Tom Webster is Vice President of Strategy for Edison Research, sole provider of U.S. National Election exit polling data for all major news networks. Webster has 20 years of experience in market and opinion research, with a particular emphasis on consumer behavior and the adoption of new media and technology. He is the principal author of a number of widely-cited research studies, including Twitter Usage In America, The Social Habit, and The Podcast Consumer Revealed, and is co-author of the Edison Research/Arbitron Internet and Multimedia Research Series, now in its 18th iteration. Reach him on Twitter at Webby2001, or on his blog at BrandSavant.