Aggregation in practice: 3 issues dashboards

I’m always writing about aggreration and aggregators i.e. “a web application which aggregates syndicated web content such as news headlines, blogs, podcasts, and vlogs in a single location for easy viewing (Wikipedia)”

Aggregation can be extremely valuable in two respects in particular:

  • As a learning tool: you’re being fed content from a wide array of sources – issue, market, sector or personal interest news – constantly and with little effort; great for keeping on top of developments
  • As part of your content strategy: add third party content to your own sites, enriching your content without actually producing any yourself and increasing credibility via third-party association

At ZN, we’ve created what we call “issues dashboards” on energy, food and environment, bringing in feeds from a number of sources as well as via keywords from search engines. Here they are:

If you have other sources to recommend please let us know.


Aggregation of content as the first step in your online communications programme

Unless you’re involved in cement, sea salt, seeds, bricks, envelopes and the like, chances are there are relevant conversations happening online about your sector or the issues affecting it. Across the globe, experts and non-experts are likely asking and answering questions, putting their points across, or engaging in dialogue in blogs or forums about the very things you communicate about.

Does this matter? Yes, because the beauty of the web doesn’t lie in having another medium you can use to push your key messages. It lies in hyperlinking, aggregation and engagement – in short, all the other people out there who are communicating who you can connect to or whose content you can use, and who might use and spread your content too.

What’s my point? In short, if you run a campaign, hell, if you even just barely communicate, you should leverage this activity rather than just letting it happen and getting on with your own thing. You can take this as far as you like down the social media engagement path, but the best way to get started is to simply collect (aggregate) relevant content published by other people on their sites and blogs and showcasing it on your own.

By doing so, you’ll be adding value to your output by having more good quality content and you’ll hopefully have material that backs up your side of the story, giving you credibility in the process. What’s more, the people providing the content will be happy that you’re promoting them and might reciprocate, and best of all, it’s automated and done using free tools.

How do you get set up? Two basic steps:

  1. Listen. Establish a simple monitoring set-up so you can follow what’s going on around your issue in the blogosphere or from news sources published online. I won’t get into the details here, but in short, using free tools, you can pick up all relevant blog posts or news items on your issue, automatically via RSS, in what’s called an aggregator (Google Reader or Netvibes, for instance). It doesn’t take long, and once it’s running, that’s it, the process is automated.
  2. Publish the best aggregated material. Once you’ve listened for a while, you’ll know what bloggers (or whoever else) provides the best quality and most relevant material on your issue. Remove all the clutter from your aggregator and only provide material published by your trusted sources.

If someone is struggling to visualise an “aggregator”, have a look at Alltop. Alltop takes a number of terms, news items, people even (Barack Obama, for instance) and aggregates material from relevant sources on each, such as key sites, news sites and blogs.

Bringing social media content together in one place: the Intel benchmark

I recently wrote about how Friendfeed could be a useful tool for organisations who publish material on a number of social media sites but want to bring it all together in one place. In a similar vein, but this time with content published by 3rd parties, I came across this post by Jim at Insight, in which he showcases a site – Consumer Electronics Insider – which his team has built for Intel. It’s a simple, nice-looking, custom-made aggregator which picks up relevant material from blogs, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr and presents it on the one site.

There are admittedly some limitations to Intel’s site:

  • There should be more basic information: what exactly is Consumer Electronics Insider; how is the various content collected – is all material picked up via keywords and RSS or are the content producers hand-picked?
  • The material is split by platform but not content topic, so it works OK for browsing but not if you’re looking for anything specific.
  • They are not fostering a community by enabling comments and conversation on their actual site, just showcasing material in loads of other places. Although I’m sure this is deliberate on their part, I think it’s a lost opportunity, as aggregators can be a good way to build a community.

Nonetheless, I like Consumer Electronics Insider. The web is a big and daunting place, and aggregators can facilitate access. So for organisations who appreciate that endorsements or even just mentions by 3rd parties in social media provide valuable word of mouth marketing for free, making it easier for people to find relevant content online is a smart tactic.

Showcasing your expertise through ebooks

Some posts by US marketer David Meerman Scott on free ebooks (i.e. books available in their entirety online , whether to be read online or printed), which he’s also written about in more detail in The new rules of viral marketing (itself an ebook), have got me convinced that organisations should be publishing a lot more of them. Not reams and reams: 15-30 pages is enough, nicely laid out both for reading online or if printed, and easy to read.

What’s the point? Like any publication, ebooks can showcase expertise. Done well, they can enable stakeholders to understand your position on a given issue – imperative for the array of companies, agencies, associations and pressure groups in Brussels – and perhaps even win them over. Or if you’re looking to win new business, prospects who have read a relevant and high-quality publication you’ve produced are more likely to trust that you’re capable of producing good work for them. And so on.

Expertise can be showcased in a number of ways, but ebooks have some great benefits:

  • Like any publication, they’ll always be available. Unlike books and reports however, they won’t gather dust on a shelf, but can be sent time and time again, be uploaded to any site anywhere by anyone, and be saved on social bookmarking sites so other users find them easily.
  • Unlike traditional publications, they’re free to publish (apart from the time to write them of course).
  • What’s more, they’re easy to publish – type it up, get someone to brush it up to look decent, and upload it.
  • As alluded to in the first point, they’re free and easy to distribute. Put download buttons on your site, send a link around – and if the content is good, it may go viral. David Meerman Scott’s ebooks have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times and he states that he’s never spent a penny on promoting them.

If you’d like to see what a few ebooks look like, take your pick from this list of ebooks on social media compiled by Chris Brogan, or wait until February, when an ebook I’m writing with ZN on online communications in Brussels should be available!

On multiple online platforms? Try Friendfeed

A post by US blogger par excellence Robert Scoble made me finally have a look at Friendfeed. It’s been fairly big across the pond for a while now, but no one seems to be talking about it in Europe. What it is is one aggregator that allows you to publish updates from all social media and social networking websites you’re active on in reverse chronological order via RSS.

I can see real value in Friendfeed for companies and other organisations in Brussels once they begin to become active in social media (I have high hopes for 2009). Say an organisation has a blog, publishes video interviews on YouTube, and pictures from events on Flickr, these can all be relayed via Friendfeed so people don’t have to go from place to place to see the content. Anyone interested can subscribe to the single feed rather than three, and a feed can be made available on the organisation’s website. Result? More people will find, view, and comment on your content.

Wikipedia? Yes, it's important

wikipediaContaining well over two and a half million articles in English alone, written and updated by anyone with access to the web, Wikipedia is an amazing resource. It’s also the eighth most visited site on the web, and many people’s first port of call when looking for information on something or anything.

For this reason, I often recommend that clients check the Wikipedia entries relevant to them to make sure the content is objective and fact-based, as it should be (note: I’d never recommend amending an entry so that it is overly supportive of a client’s position, brand etc – 1) it goes against the spirit of Wikipedia, which is to be a balanced and fact-based source of information, and as an avid user, I want everyone to abide by that spirit, otherwise it’d stop working; and 2) content which is not objective or well-referenced is simply removed by other users, so there’s no point).

Many times, clients don’t think it’s important. An article in a trade publication read by 10 people is, but a site with tens of millions of visitors every day isn’t. Go figure. However, I recently discovered a site which gives stats for every wikipedia entry, and since clients have started understanding the numbers at stake, they’re seeing Wikipedia in a different light.

Just take any current controversial topic and you can see just how many people landed on the relevant page on Wikipedia in any given month. Some sample stats for October to whet the appetite:

  • Sarah Palin: 2,489,570 visits
  • GMOs (article: genetically modified organism): 37,400 visits
  • Pesticides: 24,040 visits
  • Artificial flavouring (article: flavor): 13,100 visits
  • Sub-prime lending: 183,900 visits

The Conversation Prism

Renowned US PR professional and blogger, Brian Solis, has devised the “Conversation Prism”, a chart which marks all types of online interaction as well as many of the tools which perform them. Brian remains true to the essence of the online community by allowing his users to contribute – items he might have missed may be added to the Converasation Prism image on his Flickr account.

Aside from the sheer number of online tools, two things stand out for me when looking at the prism: 1) is the amount of lifestream/micorblogging related tools – these are all the rage in the US, but nowhere near as much so over here in Europe; and 2) the relatively few numbers of wiki tools, although online collaboration using wikis was expected to rival blogging as the new web interaction method of choice a couple of years ago.

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