25 Content Highlights Of 2011

There are some people who are theatre people. There are some people who are music people. And—getting closer to the point of this post—there are the book-lovers. Me, I’m an online content junkie.

With this post, 12 months in the making, I delight in that special piece of content found swimming out there in a sea of perfectly average content. This is my list of what I found to be the best marketing, digital marketing and/or investment-related content—with a few wildcards—of 2011. It's an updated edition of a similar list published last year at this time.

Uh, slight correction. Who found these? Not me, more often than not. I need to send a shout-out to the tribe of people whose content recommendations I follow on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, SlideShare and a little bit of Facebook. By riding along with them, I benefit from the content my connections discover and they have excellent taste.

1. Just Be Sure You're Consulting

Six days into the new year, I read Paul Ford's The Web Is A Customer Service Medium and it hasn't been far from my mind since. You can just scan most of the content recommendations that follow, breeze through them and get the gist of what they're about. This post may ask more of you but please keep with it.

The overarching premise is that people who use the Web expect to be consulted by brands and other entities that use the Web. If you have an online agenda that doesn't consider the online community, there is going to be blowback. People will want to know, Ford says, "Why wasn't I consulted?" And that's not going to go well.

We are in an industry where I fear that many firms still think they can control what happens online. There's a reason this is first on my list of endorsements.

2. Why Marketers Said Aha This Year

This kind of thing doesn't always work but Daniel Burstein, director of editorial content for MECLABS, got some terrific perspectives when he interviewed attendees and speakers at Marketing Sherpa's B2B Summit 2011 in November.

The question: What was your aha moment of 2011?

3. How Mobile's Different

One advantage of blogging is that the blogger can take the space he or she needs to do the job right. That's definitely the case in this thoughtful, timely explanation 10 Ways Mobile Sites Are Different from Desktop Web Sites by Shanshan Ma on the UX Matters Website.

4. A Powerful Way To Convey The Reach Of A Disaster

We loved them in 2009 and in 2010 but in 2011, some people turned on infographics and data visualizations. While it's true that many were little more than illustrated data sheets, some data-based interactives took the art to a higher level.

The Japan Quake Map animation of more than 1,600 earthquakes in March is a superb example of how visualized data conveys information in ways that words can't. This couldn't have been a planned project, of course. Notice how function trumps design. Amazing. (Click on the image to go to the site to play.)


5. Why Signals Are At A Premium

One focus this year was on understanding social signals and the role of social networks in influencing people. Google’s need to capture those social signals as a means of continuing to produce relevant search results was believed to be the motivation behind Google+.

A lot happened, including the launch of Google+, after the February publication of this The Next Generation of Ranking Signals post. Nonetheless, it provides excellent background on how relatively new metrics will influence search engine ranking signals.

6. A Gallery Of Steve Jobs, The Marketer

What was so great about Apple CEO Steve Jobs? You know that some whippersnapper will ask that someday soon. Refer him or her to this awesome collection of the brand’s history from the first Macintosh computer to the iPad 2.

7. Done With 2012? File This Away For Next Year

I liked the thinking and the step-by-step breakdown of this presentation by Jamie Steven, vice president, marketing at SEOMoz on building a 2012 marketing budget. It all comes together on Slide #38.

Building a 2012 Marketing Budget

8. When You Care, Really Care About Usability

Have you hugged a designer today? Every honest marketer recognizes the significant if sometimes nuanced contributions that design makes to communications effectiveness.

This post from the UK Website UserFocus.com expands on how four visual design principles—contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity—improve usability. The examples in the image shown here illustrate ways in which contrast can be used to distinguish primary action from a secondary action.


9. Can't We All Just Get Along?

Unless you’re willing to subscribe on the spot, you’ll have to register for limited access to this article from the UK's Marketing magazine site. It's worth it for the insights on what four financial directors (CFOs) have to say about marketing and marketers. Evidently, some think that spending an afternoon “strategizing” with an advertising agency is on par with taking a lunch break.

10. There's Listening And Then There's Predictive Analytics

Online asset management communicators compete for investor and advisor attention with an array of wily content providers, including those who are getting very sophisticated about the content they’re serving, to whom and during what part of the day.

Watch the full Gigaom interview with Bloomberg Digital head Kevin Krim. Here's just a taste: “The company now collects over 100 data points for every page a reader loads, based on what they interact with, what time of day it is, etc.—more than a terabyte of data every day in aggregate—and the team has 15 different algorithms running in parallel to make recommendations for what that reader might want to see next.”

11. Blogging Is This Advisor's Job

When I tweeted this blog post How Do You Have So Much Time to Blog?, I went a little further than I usually do. I admitted to a wee crush on investment advisor Josh Brown.

Yes, I follow Brown (@reformedbroker) on Twitter because he has a way with 140 characters. But this post sent me over the edge because I think he nails the argument for why a financial advisor should blog, and in his inimitable style. No one should have any questions after reading this.

12. The Photo That Launched A Thousand Remixes

Online mischief-makers took every opportunity they could this year to remind us that you take your chances when you upload an image to the Web.

When the White House shared this photo of the national security team awaiting news of the Osama bin Laden raid, Photoshoppers got to work adding their own touches to the famous Situation Room photo. No one at the grave meeting actually wore Princess Beatrice's hat, for instance.

You can see some of the alterations to this lone piece of content and additional background on the meme on this Know Your Meme page.


13. The Need For Speed

One might argue that working on a Formula One racing pit crew and working for an asset management firm are at two ends of a spectrum. Granted, the need for speed isn’t quite the same for the mutual fund/ETF marketer.

But a pit crew's rules for creating a speed culture, as outlined in this Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) post by Stephen Denny, are as relevant to your work as they are motivational. My favorite line: “Obstruct a view or take one unneeded step and crucial time is lost.”

14. Struggling With Conversions? What If You Could...

I couldn’t sleep the night I read this Keyword-Level Demographics post because of the possibilities it suggests. Even if you're not into analytics, please give it a look. It’s about combining Facebook data and search referrers in Web analytics to get to demographics at the keyword level. With that information and analysis, you should be able to understand the keywords that lead to conversions for certain personas. OMG.

15. Neighborhood Crime? Home Buyers Want To Know

Home sellers don’t need any more piled on them. But this crime data mashup provided by Trulia is too good not to include.

As the FastCoDesign post explains, Trulia took available data and made something valuable to and at the same time relevant to their core business. This is a great example of content marketing.

16. But 7 Is Good, We Can Work With 7

Anticipation, risk-taking, pairing. These are three of the seven things that algorithms cannot yet do, justifying the continuing existence of human editors. This is according to Eli Pariser writing on the Harvard Business Review blog network. Why seven? Why not a nice round number like 10 or 100? Try not to think about it.

17. The Communications Evolution Of Portfolio Managers

You'll recognize the Type One and Type Two portfolio managers described in this Interloping blog's perspective. I mean, does this sound like anyone you work with? “They are pissed when the marketing department drags them out of their cave before they’ve finished investigating a fishy footnote in the last quarterly statement.”

That's Type Two, the gruff non-communicative portfolio manager lovable for his commitment to his work.

I understand the point the blogger is making about the correlation between bad public speaking and strong investment performance. Still, I have to think that public communicating—whether in person or via social network participation—is going to have to be a core competency in the future. This is a period piece. The days are ending for money managers to be all about the analysis and not about the communicating.

18. Logos 2011-style

Have you ever wasted hours on the Web trying to get some sense of what’s new in logo design? Not this year, thanks to Stock Logos' comprehensive discussion of logo trends, including color, gradients and some applied terms I never heard of. Juvi? Dandruff?

19. Taking 24/7 Seriously

Years ago when my mother couldn't find my father she'd call the fire station and asked the firefighters to send my Dad home. Fast forward to today. If you're ever looking for my Dad's third daughter, you'll probably find me here, monitoring the Internet nerve system using the OnlineSchools.org's State of the Internet Now! data extravaganza.

It's an ever-updating page of data counting what's going on right now on the Web, on Google, on YouTube, on Amazon, on Twitter...you get the idea. Clicking on the image below will take you there.

State of the Internet 2011

20. Think of #Occupy As An API

Even if you didn’t experience it on the streets yourself, no doubt you read plenty about the Occupy Wall Street movement. This Atlantic article is one of the smartest pieces I saw. The writer explores the concept of #OWS not just as a physical movement but as a hypothetical API.

As an API, the components of the movement, which writer Alexis Madrigal breaks down, can be taken and applied by others in other settings. Long but excellent.

21. Tell Us How You Really Feel

And now for something completely contrary: The Social Graph Is Neither. Maciej, the author of this post, takes issue with the characterization of the connections being made and exposed today by “primitive” social networks as a social graph. And, he substantiates his views.

I Laughed Out Loud when I read these two sentences: "Imagine the U.S. Census as conducted by direct marketers--that's the social graph. Social networks exist to sell you crap.”

22. This Guy Could Sell Anything

What seemed like just hours after Facebook announced its timeline capability (yet to be fully rolled out), enterprising technology strategist Eric Leist created a video that mashed up an actual scene from Mad Men and a fake Don Draper Facebook timeline. Brilliant—and a case study of creating content so good, so smart and so quickly that it deserves to go viral.

Click on the image below to watch the video on YouTube. I wish you could stay here and watch it but embedding has been disabled.


23. Drilling Down Into Reader Behavior

Who Are The Most Read Authors? is a fascinating analysis by bookmarking service Read It Later using anonymized data from May through October. Author popularity (as measured by the number of articles saved using Read It Later and returned to), content length (longform versus blog) and loyalty are examined as measures of content effectiveness.

Sorry, no investment companies or financial bloggers have broken into the all-top list. However, the post also looked at a more narrow set of writers--those just from the New York Times--and economist Paul Krugman towers over all other Times’ writers as the most-saved. Financial content readers are out there and they’re bookmarking.

24. Apple's Purposeful Email

What, specifically, can marketers learn from Apple? I know it's the second mention of Apple, but I just have to include this Flowtown infographic tracking the “trademark characteristics” of an Apple email.


25. How It All Began

Ah, Internet history. Check out this list of screenshots showing what Amazon, the New York Times and six other major Websites looked like when they launched. Note that for your far superior experience, I’m linking to the one-page view versus the slide show gallery. Nice of Mashable to give us the option.

26. ...And Yours?

And, per what I learned from #1, this is where I consult you. What online content made a lasting impression on you this year? Please, please chime in below.