Social Media Popularity vs Producing content for niches with passion

After ten months on the road I’ve taken a well earned break to catch up on some editing. Well, the plan was to catch up on some editing, what I’ve actually found myself indulging in one of my favourite pastimes…research. I’ve finally had time to watch online videos, read books, study successful people and companies.

One author I’ve been reading quite a bit of is Malcolm Gladwell. He seems to be very clever at defining the Zeitgeist of our times by bringing together studies and statistics across various fields from psychology to epidemiology. I’ve also been studying marketing techniques and social media with the end aim of using my findings to continue making independent media for the travel and tourism industry.

So in this article, I wish to tie all this research together and discuss various ways in which independent media can use different advertising models and platforms to produce content.

To quote Numantra’s Why Social Media Doesn’t Work (and What You Can Do About It) “Advertising is a lot harder today then it ever was before. According to Planet Feedback’s “Consumer Trust in Advertising” report, fewer than half the people surveyed trust print ads or television commercials. Hardly a third of them trust what they hear on the radio. It’s even worse for direct mail and outdoor advertising. What’s the number one trusted source of advertising? Word of mouth!
That’s a huge game changer. Before, advertisers had to convince consumers to buy their product. Now, advertisers have to convince consumers to convince other consumers to buy their product. That is a much harder proposition. Imagine you had to sell your car but you couldn’t sell it directly to the buyer. Instead, you had to convince everyone to sell your car to their friends for you.”

So it is understandable that big corporations desire and require popularity on social networking sites. And let’s be honest, from twitter to Facebook, youtube to website rankings, money can buy popularity. Views, likes, subscribers, weblinks, all these things can be paid for. Which leads to a very important lesson for both media creators and advertiser, Never trust the numbers, trust the engagement!
And even with regard to the engagement, who is commenting, who is the audience? e.g. It always surprises me when reading travel blogs that a majority of comments come from other travel blog writers.

But maybe, as stated by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’, success, whether in social media, or elsewhere, has always been a questionable measurement.

Why an advertising model for travel and tourism media production?

There are other models that I will mention, but given that I’m specifically working in the travel and tourism industry, I don’t think they are sustainable given the huge amount of free information available online.

Crowdfunding – Sites like Kickstarter have lead to the creation of many one off programs, but may not be suitable for long term media creation

Subscriber or DVD sales – I don’t really see anyone doing subscriber based media successfully, it just doesn’t seem to stick, even for Murdoch!

Media creators producing dvd’s or downloads on niche topics have managed to sustain audiences. But with regard to the travel and tourism industry, as mentioned, there is so much free marketing material available, promoting countries, regions, towns, trying to sell dvd’s or downloads would only garner a small audience, unless, once again, making content on niche travel like pilgrimage

Video Platforms and Types of Advertising

Given that the above study by Numantra states word of mouth is the best form of advertising, does it make sense to bombard people with ads such as is done on youtube? Is there a better way?

The other big player in online video is vimeo, of which I wasn’t a fan in the past because there seemed to be a divide between the ‘filmmakers’ of vimeo and the vloggers of youtube which I saw as quite pretentious. Personally I think anyone can make a ‘film’ which is nothing more than a series of lovely pictures set to music, getting an audience is an entirely different skill set!

But on my recent visit to vimeo I was surprised. I did some searches for areas of my interests and found who through video how-to’s, short films, rants and interviews are creating a new platform for independent surf culture. Now they also got started with a kickstarter campaign and are continuing content production via sponsors and an online shop selling surf related products. All with minimal advertising, six second pre-roll ads at the start and mention of sponsors at the end. Five supporter companies who service the surf industry provide funding to keep Korduroy creating content.


When a production company does what Korduroy tv has done, and targets a particular niche, you can be assured all there audience surf or at least are interested in surfing. So keeping the advertising low-key is probably a wise move, as what you are really doing is providing a platform for like minds to enjoy their hobby, funded by business that survive from that hobby. Such a formula, if done well, would lead to organic sharing amongst the community, thus guaranteeing it’s success. The huge views of a youtube viral video….no! A highly targeted dedicated audience established over time with ongoing content, yes! Which one has longevity and audience loyalty?

So how can this example be used in the travel and tourism industry?

The travel and tourism industry is huge. Last year it contributed US$1,850 billion to global GDP and employs over 99 million people.

All types of niches can be developed from grey nomads to fishing. This is pretty easy to deduct, a little bit harder is how to get paid to make this content?

I think the most important thing is to not make content for advertisers! Sounds a little counterproductive, but the reality is, people hate ads, and a lot of those who watch online video do so because they want to escape the bombardment of the crap they find on tv. This is also the reason most travel programs are staid and uninspiring, they are basically platforms for destination marketing.

One production company that has realised this is Vice. They brand themselves as edgy, underground and independent and produce content popular with the 18-29 demographic.

The fact they are backed by youtube and CNN to the tune of millions of dollars doesn’t seem to undermine their street cred, yet! I like vice’s travel videos, but in the same breath, I would not call them independent. Being able to hand out wads of cash to locals wherever you go is not my idea of independent travel. This poor bugger is independent, trying to visit every country in the world without flying. But, the reality of who is paying the tab isn’t so important if you are producing content people want to watch.

Branded Content

And this is where the branded content advertising model can be used by independent producers to feature travel related content. Branded content, where the marketing is not “heavy handed” and is “almost a bi-product” is the most effective form of marketing according to a October 2010 report by the CMO Council.
Featuring items or locations in content people want to watch has already been adopted by television and I think it will be the way of the future for online travel content.

Tipping Point

To use another Malcolm Gladwell term, I think social media has reached a tipping point. When you can no longer trust what has climbed to the top of the pile on social media sites, you have to wonder how long it will take for people to pack up shop and find other places to play.

Youtube for example has become too big and too American-centric. Even this ‘titty’ video got more fews on vimeo than youtube, and youtube has always been about tits and cats! (After one month – 25,787 hits on Vimeo and 1,804 hits on YouTube.)

The epicentre of top youtube creators is Los Angeles and most of the recent ‘original channels’ funding stayed within the USA. The individual creator community that made the youtube vibe have been pushed to the edge of the mega city by large production studios (e.g. vice) and their pre-fabricated instant stars. I can understand why youtube has to make the move towards more professional content, but you would think providing support to already established partners would be more sensible than bringing in outside production companies!

My prediction is little villages (alternative websites) will be established around the edges, feeding niche communities with content made from within these communities. They may still use youtube, or for that matter vimeo, but they won’t be relying on ad revenue from youtube, in the same way travel bloggers don’t rely on ad revenue from google. The clever operators will be making their own ad deals, dealing directly with the industries that service their niches. And clever advertisers will see through the hype of the huge views of viral videos, and understand sustainable communities of passionate individuals means more than short term popularity.

So to sum up, what does this mean for content creators; Produce work you are passionate about and develop your own community destination (websites) and your own advertising deals with companies that service that community. And ensure they understand that understated advertising methods are the only methods that will work.

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