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I’m particularly interested in social media sites with traction focused on topics appealing to endemic advertiers. Social media sites because of their extraordinary ability to grow without incurring marketing costs, and endemic advertisers because of their willingess to pay double digit RPMs to reach that audience. For such social media sites (where the key driver is not communication as it is at the broad reach social networks), there is usually a distinction between the readers and the writers of content.

Much has already been written in the past about the ratio of writers to readers in social media; the 1:99 ratio, or as some have put it the 1:19:80 ratio. I like to think about these three groups as the Creators, Curators and Consumers of content. Just like in the Art world, there are those who create art, those who tell us which art is good, and those (like me!) who merely admire the art. Some best practices are starting to emerge for how to encourage all three types of user.

Creation Adulation

Creators are critical to social media sites because they generate the content; without them you have nothing. Creators use the keyboard – they write, cut, copy and paste. In most cases, creators do what they do for passion, not for money. They need to be celebrated and highlighted on your site to give them the adulation that they seek, and to keep them creating content. This means focusing on positive feedback for the creators (e.g. do you really need a thumbs down? Or is a thumbs up enough, with the lack of thumbs up being information enough), prominently displaying the metrics that drive behavior you desire, and providing them with leaderboards and other ways to distinguish themselves.

Cash in on Consumption

Consumers are critical to social media sites because they are the drivers of pageviews, and hence advertising revenue. Consumers use the screen – they merely navigate around your site, and do little or nothing to add to it. But because they outnumber the other groups so significantly, they dominate your monetization opportunity.

Because of their weak connection with your site, consumers need help to discover the content that they will enjoy. They may not be regular visitors to your site – they may never have been to your site before. Your challenge is to maximize their chances of discovery.

At a minimum, this should include search engine optimization and social media optimization (digg, delicious, stumble etc). Ensure that high quality content with mass appeal is well presented, has well written title, is grouped together appropriately, and is easily found, and that you are not “foot faulting” by your page construction or URL structure.

Equally important is helping consumers discover new content once they are on your site. Some of this comes down to the basics of click density (more links means higher clickthrough rate) and programming the home page. But as more traffic comes in “from the side” due to SEO, (rather than from your home page) you need to make sure that you have an efficient mechanism of prompting the “next click” on every page. This can include collaborative filtering (people who read this also read that), related content (whether through taxonomies or folksonomies), most popular content, or through other tried and true mechanisms.

Lubrication for Curation

Curators tie these two groups together. Not all content that the Creators create is of equal quality, and the Curators perform an important filtering function to bubble the best content to the top, hence keeping the Consumers happy, engaged, and coming back. Curators use the mouse. They click to vote/digg/rate. These actions are what give the Creators the attention and affirmation that they are looking for.

It’s important to make it very easy for Curators to give their feedback. This means making the feedback process as close to frictionless as possible. The feedback mechanism should be immediately adjacent to the content that is being rated. Such clicks should be part of rich internet application, and not take you to another page – there should be no “wait time” penalty for providing curator feedback as they wait for a page to load. Ideally, it will not require registration, or registration will be kept as light as possible. Since Curators use the mouse, avoid them from having to touch a keyboard as much as possible.

While this construct is a useful framework, it isn’t absolute. There are occasions when you can mine the behavior of Consumers to drive some measure of the quality of the Creators work. Without requiring active participation, the metadata that Consumers generate in choosing to read or not reach an article, click or not click a link, play a game many times or quit half way, and other such behaviors implicit in their clickstream can also be used to judge the quality of the content that they are exposed to.

I’d be interested to hear from readers about which sites do a particularly good job in encouraging each of these three groups.

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