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The Signal

Social media is running to the end of its first decade. As it matures and rides the hype cycle to its inevitable conclusion new ideas are emerging. Most will be forks in the social media road but one won’t. It will be the new Social.

There’s a very good chance that will be something that hasn’t fully formed as a meme yet, but I’m going to call it “Signals” for now. Just as Facebook catapulted social media into the mainstream, Twitter will do the same for the Signal. Tweets and the sharing of moments are the currency of the Signal, just as pages and posts were to Social. Where Social was rich in content and narrative, Signals will be rich in our moments and those that surround us.

Moments will be the currency of this new era. Connected to the moments I am experiencing, you amplify and compliment them. As I watched the Lions and Wallabies play in Brisbane about the only thing absent from the ground from my seat was the match clock. As I shared my moments from the game, others signaled the time to me. The same will be true of all moments signaled – friends, family, fans, and soon, marketers will add vibrancy.

As a result we are now seeing up to 30% of new traffic on sites come from Twitter. Where as the social networks preferred to keep you inside their walled gardens, Twitter enriches your moments with a direct path to relevant content. Where Social looked to engage in a sub-stream – the comments section; Signals will engage in the stream of moments.

The list of implications is long, but here are two that became clear to me over a week of America’s Cup Racing:

First, content matters. No new news there. But it’s not the content we have for the most part been producing. The inane lists, expert perspectives, and goofy infographics that have contributed to the content tsunami have less relevance in this new era. What will matter is content relevant to the moment we are experiencing.

While marketers are going to need to generate more rich photography and video they are ultimately going to need to be even better at stimulating, curating and rewarding users for content. Take a look at Coke’s Youtube feed – its richness is in large part due to the content generated by consumers.

They are also going to have to adjust their metrics for success.

During the 2013 Americas Cup we saw some interesting patterns on the Emirates Team New Zealand site. While overall traffic to the blog and site was strong, the real news was in the connections to content via Twitter and Facebook (with many of the Facebook posts coming from Twitter). From the start to the end of the race we saw over 32 million requests on images. During racing were serving up to 20 gigabytes of data an hour. Rather than just looking at Google Analytics say, marketers are going to have to start looking at all content requests in aggregate. Site traffic and impressions only paint a fraction of the story.

At the same time, many of those links are being trafficked via old postal routes – email in particular. Upward of 50% of all links to traffic still circulate via email.

There are two other related marketing lesson in our Americas Cup experience. The smart marketers will first leverage their sponsorships through social amplifying their brand alongside that of the team. And technically never underestimate the traffic you could get – link to a content data warehouse rather than your site to avoid performance issues.

If the first lesson was that content matters the second is that what goes into the content matters more. In particular language frames. In the age of Signals, frames in the form of language manifest themselves most strongly in hashtags. They first started as a way to sort and find content. Now they are as much a form of expression.

Its easy to dismiss hashtags as nothing more than an irritant. And some are. But for the most part they’ve become a cultural meme, way to abbreviate and a form of expression. For instance, I might feel comfortable directly expressing how annoyed I am with my phone company in 140 characters. A simple #epicfail fixes that, signaling my dissatisfaction to them and my network. Marketers and their agencies are going to have to become great framers with strong systems for listening.

Hashtags are also the shortest route to what is happening. The America’s Cup apps delivered by the organizers were annoyances, frequently breaking during races and rarely loading content well. Twitter became a quick and reliable way to see what was happening and keep track of the race.

A new era is upon us. Signals will be critical currency to marketers everywhere. They will power data and analytics. They will become aggregation points for the moments that matter most of all to us. More importantly, the Signal will become a guidepost to a open Internet, letting us experience its full richness.

And that is where the smart marketers will meet us.

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