by Matt Kapko

Audience Is Dead, Long Live Active Content Consumers

News Analysis
Aug 04, 20143 mins
MarketingSocial Networking AppsYouTube

Today's hyperactive users present brands with exponentially more opportunity than the passive audiences of years passed. On YouTube, users are seeking out and finding the content they want with no direction. To tell your brand's story there, focus on what happens to that story after it’s told.

LOS ANGELES – Audience is dead, says Eric Solomon, head of brand strategy at Google and YouTube. The notion of an audience in today’s hyperactive, hyperlinked world just doesn’t fit anymore, he tells attendees at last week’s [a]list Summit.

“It suggests by its very nature that it’s passive. I like to call these people users… because people are using advertising in very particular ways now,” he says. “We don’t just consume it.”

Call it what you will, YouTube continues to redefine how stories are told. Its outsized role in media and entertainment can’t be overstated or downplayed by marketers or brands. More than 6 billion hours of content is viewed by a billion unique visitors every month on YouTube. With at least 100 hours of new content uploaded to the site every minute, YouTube eats up 20 percent of all Internet traffic any given minute, says Solomon.

[Related: A Look Inside the YouTube Culture]

“We’ve been in the midst of a digital revolution for a long time,” he says. Whereas brands used to worry about targeting their videos on YouTube to the right users, people are now finding the content they want with little to hand holding.

Active vs. Passive Engagement

Users are now leaning in and looking for the next big thing instead of idly sitting by and waiting for it to fall in their lap or show up on their TV, he says. Universal authorship – the idea that no matter what exists in the world, we have a right to add to it and even feel compelled to share our opinion – is driving this changing of the guard.

“Advertising is about orchestrating things, not just creating things,” says Solomon. The role and responsibility of today’s digital marketer is to understand how all of this works together, something he admits remains “very complicated.”

“Kind of like water in a bottle, the idea of content these days is very liquid. What you’re able to do in traditional media is very limited by the space,” but on YouTube there is no limit, he says.

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“If it was passive before, consuming content now is a very, very active thing. We’re actively doing it. For brands, the idea of interrupting can no longer work,” says Solomon. “These days it’s not so much about telling a story if you’re an influencer or a brand, it’s about what happens to that story after you tell it.”

Brands need to provide value and extend conversations in a social context. Instead of simply fomenting conversation, the most successful and savvy brands are blurring the lines between advertising and content by curating and sharing ideas that invite more dialogue.

“I don’t think our job anymore is to be storytellers. We’re hyper tellers,” he says. That reimagined role requires brands to employ equal parts creation, collaboration, curation and orchestration.

[Related: Traversing the Labyrinth of Social Marketing Metrics]

Far too many marketers think brand-created content has to be epic and overly produced, but it’s even more important to hit the right message, says Solomon. Content curation doesn’t have to only come from people unaffiliated with the brand, for example, it can also be derived from your own heritage. He encourages brands to use that authentic history and narrative to their advantage.

“Brands are being built by the power of content curation,” he says. “The relationships that people have with brands are becoming more and more like the relationships people have with each other.” In other words – a little bit of give and a little bit of take.