OPINION: The stream is the new homepage

14 Mar 2015

Unknowingly and very probably subconsciously we have become master curators. In the face of the overwhelming complexity thrown at us by the web, we have created our own online realities.

These realities have been built around our professions, hobbies, personal lives, cultural interests and sporting affiliations.

Thus our Twitter feed and the Buzzfeed homepage are just as likely to determine our in-the-moment online behaviour as the websites of BBC, The New York Times or The Guardian. News has become social and the online media platforms that have successfully democratised the news agenda are winning the battle for web traffic, or in advertising speak, eyeballs.

Some years back, we reached the point where many news stories broke on social media, or at the very least relevant unofficial video or audio footage complementing the story was socially driven. The most recent example of this is the video footage of TransAsia flight GE235 crashing into a bridge and then into the Keelung river in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.

But even since then there has been a further shift. And this shift is that our daily dose of news revelation, heralded on front pages on newsstands all over the country, has been replaced by the stream.

The stream is the new homepage.

Consider this dynamic through the lens of consumer media platforms. TV remains the master of exposition and storytelling, radio at companionship, magazines at celebration and newspapers at revelation. But where the web excels is in distilling the stream, to curate and understand our multi-faceted lives and to point us to whatever may interest in the moment. And so it should be no surprise that Buzzfeed or Twitter or something in between has become the de facto online front page. And this front page is not the size of a desktop or even a laptop, most frequently it is the size of a mobile device.

The stream at work

The stream gathers all of our news, personal and professional information, sports, politics and anything else into the real-time barometer of our lives. So social platforms on mobile devices become the means by which the stream becomes immersive, joining up the online and offline worlds.

Incidentally, this smörgåsbord of influences and our resultant parallel consumption means that very rarely does a single brand have our sole undivided attention.

The two masters of stream-focused social sharing are Buzzfeed and Upworthy, and it’s hard not to be impressed by their obsession with the user in their design and content decision-making processes. Buzzfeed, in particular, has defined its two primary personas beautifully as ‘Bored at Work’ and ‘Bored in Line’, citing behavioural motivations as ‘alleviate boredom’ and ‘connect with current frustrations’. Good manners forbid me from suggesting the addition of ‘bored on the toilet’ but you get the picture.

Simply by defining context of use and understanding user motivation, they have earned their way into millions and millions of streams.

For those pursuing the marketing tactic of ‘getting our customers to do our marketing for us’, the approach of these organisations which dominate the stream should be studied carefully; Buzzfeed has been the most shared site on social since 2013, with up to 20m monthly interactions, according to NewsWhip. 

The impact of these changing dynamics on online marketing more generally is the relevance imperative. Relevance is the currency that gets brands into users’ streams at an affordable cost. Crudely, the more relevant your product, price, promotion and place, the more cost effectively you can join the stream.

You can stand outside and shout in from banner ads and above-the-line advertising. You can lure the user from their stream to your website and that is entirely appropriate but very difficult on the first encounter. However, by far the most effective means to get into your target’s stream is to gain their permission to enter.

And to do that you need to provide content which is relevant, shareable and valuable.

Gareth Dunlop

 Gareth Dunlop Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Invest NI, Permanent TSB, Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, and Independent News and Media. Visit Fathom online.

Buzzfeed image via Shutterstock

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.