In the “Mad Men” days of yore, brands could push out content a few times a year – a television ad here, a print ad there, maybe a radio spot or two. Now, brands are struggling to stay apace in a world of constant information flow.
That’s where Percolate comes in. Founded in January 2011 by Noah Brier and James Gross, Percolate helps brands cut through the noise and create a stream of compelling messages. By bubbling up relevant information from around the web, Percolate helps brands generate content at the social scale. “Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr – they’re not going away anytime soon,” Brier told me. Brands better get used to having to participate in a constant social media conversation.
But brands have struggled with just what to say on these new platforms (I still cringe when I see corporate press releases posted directly to Facebook). This is partly because, as Brier suggested, in order to be a content creator you need to be content consumer:
“What makes a good journalist is an ability to consume the world, synthesize it in real time, figure out where the stories are and then write about them. Journalists turn their consumption into production. For brands, generally that process happens over a five-year period. Brands spend five years looking at data, finding cultural insights, and then building a campaign around that. How do you move them to being real-time content consumers so that they can be real-time content creators?”
Percolate starts by helping brand editors discover relevant content around the web. The platform then makes it easy for the editor to add insights and re-publish on social media sites or the brand’s blog.
One of Percolate’s biggest early clients was Open Forum, American Express’s small business platform, who needed to create content for its website and Tumblr. The team at Percolate started by identifying hundreds of content sources that related to small business, innovation and technology. Then, the Percolate platform took over, bubbling up the most interesting content. The Open Forum editor could then look at the content in real time and decide whether to push it and to what platform.
What a brand editor might see when using the Percolate platform
And as Gross pointed out, this algorithm becomes more refined over time. “Percolate learns from the editor’s actions,” he explained. “The system looks at what you published, the sources you published from, and then we look at what content resonates.”
Despite the ubiquity of social media, brands cannot subsist on these light interactions alone. They still must produce the higher-quality content that we’ve come to know and love – the expensive 30-second Super Bowl commercials or the glossy fashion magazine spread. But, by seeing what messages and information resonate on Facebook, brands might produce more effective robust content.
Ultimately, the success of Percolate might bode ill for the traditional publishing business model. For years, magazines and publishers have been the content creators, acquiring large audiences in the process. When brands wanted to reach that audience, they’d put an ad in the magazine or paper.
Now, Brier said, “Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are allowing brands to acquire audiences at the sort of scale that was only reserved for a magazine or a newspaper. It’s created a pretty significant shift in the way brands think about marketing and advertising.” Gross agreed,
“I passionately spent almost five years of my life [at Federated Media] trying to help publishers create business models and stay alive. But if you’re Tide and you can buy an audience of 20 million people on Facebook and reach 83% of them, what publisher do you have any business buying a banner ad from?”
Both Brier and Gross cautioned that this shift is far from complete. “People are constantly searching for interesting information. We’re consuming more not less – and especially good quality content,” Brier noted. In the longer term, he suggests that there is probably a way for both publishers and brands to work together. “We’ll see brands start to think of media sites as potential content distribution vehicles. Not just a place to stick a box.”