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To all B2B media: A modest proposal

Make branded media available on your site, behind a special “paywall”

B2B trade media’s evolving at a terrific clip. One masthead I know from the shipping industry, for example, is flinging itself into data journalism. The likes of Econsultancy and Mashable represent a brand new, purely digital, community-driven approach. If the industry’s not at death’s door, it’s certainly getting pretty existential.

It’s in everyone’s interests, however, for there to be a rich, successful, dynamic and influential trade media. From a content marketing agency, which makes its living (to some degree) by disintermediating the traditional revenue streams of trade media, that’s an admission.

But it’s true. Strong vertical communities make for healthier industries, more openness, more critique and more sharing.

In that spirit, I have a modest proposal – a meeting of apparent interests between B2B companies and B2B trade media.

The Proposal
B2B trade media websites make branded content (that is, eBooks, white papers and the like) available in a special area of their website, free of charge to the brands and to site visitors, but requiring visitors to “pay with a tweet”.

I recognize that much of this is not necessarily new (and, for all I know, it’s already being done somewhere), but there are differences with existing approaches.

White papers
Media sites have long offered to host companies’ own white papers, and allow downloads from their site. This has two costs: The cost to the brand of the placement, and the cost to the visitor, who needs to fill out a form for the white paper (for which, the lead is handed off to the company).

Pay with a tweet
Content “in the wild” has been gated behind a tweet before, though only in a few instances (most notably, the book Oh My God What Happened and What Should I Do). Whether the tool can manage being implemented hundreds of times on the same site, or even the same page, is uncertain.

The beauty of “pay with a tweet” is two-fold:

1)   Interest in the branded content is immediately broadcast through the downloader’s social network, flagging interest to others in the content (specifically) and the B2B media site (generally).

2)   The number of times content has been paid for with a tweet provides future site visitors with a rough barometer for the relative popularity of an eBook (though it should be supplemented with longer-form reviews or comments)

The value for the brand (“content owner”)
Many brands and the agencies who work for them (ahem, us) want to give great branded thought leadership content – eBooks, infographics, white papers, etc. – better distribution than can be obtained by publishing it on the brand’s own site. Putting it on a site with larger, relevant traffic would add value.

The trade-off comes with the issue of cost. Traditionally, putting white papers on a B2B media site came with a price tag; in return, the brand received all of the details from the form-fill that was gating the white paper. Making this free would boost its popularity among brands. Though they lose the lead data, they would be able to see who was reading/tweeting the content.

The value for the B2B media (“traffic owner”)
Admittedly, some branded thought leadership content is of very little value, and a B2B media site would gain little by providing it on their site. The idea would be that valueless content (unread and untweeted) would drop off the listings. Only virtuous content would climb.

Many B2B trade media titles are only so-so at building social momentum on their sites. A “pay with a tweet” function would help rectify this. Every tweet from an industry reader says “I found great content on this B2B media site, and so can you”. Not a bad thing.

The value for the reader
I’d argue professionals have a love/hate relationship with thought leadership content in their field. Me, I find thought leadership from the likes of Adobe, Google and Kissmetrics tremendously valuable. I’d love to find a single spot with great branded content, and would gladly tweet for a valuable eBook. And I’d return regularly.

There’s a proof of concept for this in inbound.org’s set-up, which is working very well (both for publishers, readers and the site itself). A reformulation featuring “pay with a tweet” and longer ratings/reviews would be a tremendously valuable thing.

Some keys:
1)   The tweet that people would need to make to “pay” for the download must not state that they love the content – because it’s a pricetag, not a review. It should be specified like [“I just downloaded “eBook title” by @brand on @b2bmediasite. Check it out: bit.ly/xxx”].
2)   In order to provide potential readers with more information to make their decisions, the number of tweets should be supplemented with longer-form ratings and reviews. An automated tweet could ask “purchasers” to come back to the site to review/rate the branded content.

It’s an idea based on a need I’ve experienced. Any one else see the same need? Thoughts? I would love to hear from a B2B media site willing to pilot this…

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3 Responses to “To all B2B media: A modest proposal”

  1. Kelvin Newman

    Having released a book a couple of years ago under the Pay with a Tweet system I can certainly see where you’re coming from. It didn’t reach Oh my God levels but did get thousands of Tweets. It worked well, largely from the novelty, but I can’t help but feel if more people were doing this with more content the backlash would come pretty sharpish. Similar to the way people just ignore paper.li summaries.

    I see more of this in the future, especially as social signals grow to influence search, but I think in many b2b publishers the value of an email far out weighs a tweet, no matter what it’s viral effect

  2. Ryan Skinner

    I’ll track down your book – sounds interesting.

    That issue of social signal is one that both brands and media sites are struggling with. Right now, there just seems to be lots and lots of experimentation, for better and worse.

    If it turns out as bad as paper.li, then it definitely has little to no value, though.
    Paper.li = Slow, painful death by curation

  3. Neil Stoneman

    Hey Kelvin,

    I downloaded your book and paid with a Tweet (happily in the end). But I did find it a bit strange effectively endorsing a piece before I’d read it.

    Ryan’s ideas on how to manage that unease are good. Gathering ratings and reviews on content quality certainly feels like a fairer response.

    We’ve done that in the past – http://www.velocitypartners.co.uk/2011/03/28/the-b2b-content-marketing-tutorial/ – and you can see the response to our prompting for feedback and comments wasn’t all one way, which we chalked up as a good thing.

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