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Strategic analysis
How Many Channels Do You Need?

Written by on July 30, 2009

These days it is all about Twitter profiles, Facebook pages, life streams, and real-time feeds, but how many do you really need?

While our media landscape has definitely changed over the last 5 years, the underlying concept is still pretty much the same. The key to being successful is:

  • Create amazing content, that is highly valuable and useful.
  • Get it out to where people are, using the best method for the job. Don't expect that people will come to you, and never demand it.
  • Combine the two to start a conversation. The content itself is meaningless unless you use it to create a connection.

The big change is thus not what you should do, but how you can do it. 10 years ago we had very few ways of communicating. We had to format our message for a specific channel, and it was very hard to 'get it out there'.

The traditional media basically controlled the flow of information. If you wanted to share something with the world, you first had to 'persuade' a journalist to write about it. And even when you manage that, there was no conversation. People could not connect with you. It was nearly impossible to establish that all-important connection between people.

The shift in format and channels

Today we live in a very different world. Everyday new ways of formatting our information is popping up, and people are inventing an increasing amount of channels for us to use.

We can create movies, videos, interactive videos, exploratory videos, short clips, and live video. We can get them on TV, on online TV channels, on gaming platforms, on our mobiles phones, or embed them as part of other content. Create custom apps, post them as tweet-vids, post them on Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, Blip.tv, Metacafe or simply stream them directly from anywhere at any time using one of the many live-streaming services.

And that is just what you can do with video.

You can do the same with audio and pictures, and use even more channels. And with the new services coming, you can now create real-time multi-conversational streams about pretty much everything.

If we move on to articles, the world of information gets even more complex. Not only can you publish your content in a bazillion different places, you also have a ton of different formats to choose from.

Compared to the old world these are very exciting times. There is almost no limit to how you can communicate. And you can reach a lot more people than ever in the past.

The problem, however, is that it is suddenly far more complicated to decide where and how you communicate. On one hand you want to communicate via channels where you can reach as many people as possible. But this is rather complicated because no channel fits everything.

Twitter is a good example. There are a lot of people using it, and it is definitely worthy of your. But with only 140 characters, no images or videos, it is exceptionally limited form of communication.

Communicate first; then optimize the channels

The solution to all of this is to go back to the original concept:

  • Create amazing content, that is highly valuable and useful.
  • Get it out to where people are, using the best method for the job. Don't expect that people will come to you, and never demand it.
  • Combine the two to start a conversation. The content itself is meaningless unless you use it to create a connection.

Create amazing content

First, find out what kind of content you wish to make. That is the key. Don't decide to use Twitter, and then try to fit every message to that platform. Decide how you can create the best content possible.

Then either find the best platform for that content, or create one yourself. For some people this means creating a blog or magazine style website (like what I am doing here), for others it is a life stream. Maybe your content would be better presented as a podcast. If you are a photographer covering race events, maybe it is a combination of a life-photo-stream (tumblr on steroids), combined with a really great photo channel.

But you need to use the best tool for the job. If you are a photographer, then Twitter isn't the best tool for the job. Just as if you are a management coach, then Flickr isn't where to put your focus.

I decided to create a magazine, because that is the best way for me to publish my articles. I didn't create a blog, nor did I create a life-stream. I decided that a magazine style publishing was the best way to publish my content.

You might also consider using more than one platform for publishing. I also use Twitter to publish short tweets. These tweets are much shorter bits of content that I think will be better served in a shorter form. Small tweets that make you think. Provocative thoughts that challenge traditional thinking, and additional information, links and stories that I think are adding value to those who follow me.

Just remember one very important thing. The best platform might not be a website at all. Just look at Oprah Winfrey. Her primary platforms are her Facebook and Twitter pages. Which is then 'augmented' by a number of extra platforms (one of them being a number of blogs). But most people follow what she do on Facebook, rather than visit her website.

Spread the message

Once you have created the best platform for your content, you need to get it out there. The best option is, of course, if your best platform also happens to be a social platform. Like my short messages that works quite well on Twitter.

Using the social channels to your advantage is critical. You need to get your content to where people are.

I republish all my design and future trend articles on Facebook as a 'note'. I upload a few of the best images in my Facebook photo album. Every article is also available as a Twitter feed + you can get it as RSS.

When I write an article that includes video, I use social channels like YouTube or Vimeo instead of hosting the videos myself. One example is the article about the mechanical cheetah, which is an amazing sculpture by Andrew Chase. He sent me a lot of images; of which 8 of them was a motion captures sequence you can see below. I decided to turn these 8 photos into a stop and go video, and uploaded it on YouTube.

The effect was amazing. As of writing this article, the video has been seen 40,000 times, while the main article has only been seen 3,500 times.

Socialize the conversation

In the past, when all we had was a blog, the high point of online conversations was posting a comment. Today the conversation happens all over the place. Almost 95% of the reactions and comments about my content take place somewhere else than on baekdal.com.

You need to not only design for that, but also enhance the experience. On Facebook people can comments and 'like' you content. On Twitter they can retweet it, post replies. On YouTube they can mark it as favorites, rate it and post comments. And then there are all the people who will rather just send you an email.

You need to use all of them, so that you and your readers can take part in this conversation, no matter what social platform they use.

Bring it all together

The last thing you need to do is to tell people where they can find you, what you do and how. I am in the process of creating thomasbaekdal.com, which is the 'hub' for everything that I do. I also include a 'Baekdal everywhere' panel with every single article. So that you can easily find all the other channels that I use.

How many channels do you need?

Getting back to the original question. How many channels do you need? Well...

You need to use a number of primary channels that helps you publish great content. What channel or channels that is depends on the content. It can just be a Facebook page. It can be a combination of Twitter + a blog. It can be a life-stream + a Flickr page + a gallery. Or it can be a Podcast + a real-time video feed + a FriendFeed chat stream.

What you decide to use, depends on what kind of content you make.

You then need to take advantage of as many secondary channels as possible. If Twitter and a blog is your primary channel, then you should also put the content on Facebook, FriendFeed varies photo or video channels depending on the type of content you make.

But since these are all secondary channels, you need to figure out how they can be automated. Some of them, like FriendFeed and Facebook, can help you do that by default, while others need a bit of special work or custom development.

These are my channels.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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