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Defining Stock and Flow Content

Noah Brier has a good take on the development of the stock and flow model for content. It's a good metaphor, and one that I've used a lot over the past couple of years. Originated by technologist Robin Sloan, who first took the economic concept and applied it to content in this way:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

Noah makes the point that whilst stock and flow is still a useful way to think about how to create marketing content, the distinction between the two is becoming more blurry. I think he's right. But for me it's also always been potentially quite ill-defined beyond Robin's original explication, and I've seen it used in different contexts to describe different types of content. So exactly what is stock, and what is flow?

Building on that original interpretation, here's my definition:

  • Stock content is more likely to be orginal, durable content that retains or builds value over time and keeps people coming back. So it is often (but not always) 'destination' content in that it is housed on owned media assets. It may be entertaining, informative or just useful (like a guide, or directory). It may be one-off, or episodic content that you can follow or even subscribe to. A simple example might be an article written by a brand or a publisher that still ranks high on high volume search terms and so continues to bring in a regular stream of users to the brand or publisher site over an extended period of time. Or it might be something more complex such as content on a community hub or useful functionality on a site. The user context for stock context is more likely to be seeking information, entertainment or inspiration, exploring or engaging. Designing for stock content means creating assets whose fundamental characteristic is that their value is not restricted to a short period of time. 
  • Flow content is more likely to defined by a short spike of audience attention and a user context more identified with browsing, grazing, updating, sharing, and interacting. Flow content lives in the stream, is fast, snackable, highly spreadable and shareable, social and mobile friendly. It is often (but not always) 'distributed' content, which is out there in the fabric of the web. Designing for flow content means designing for portability and shareability.

Can a piece of content be both? A single initiative can certainly incorporate both and I think it's possible for something to start out flow and end up stock. But the real point here is of-course that a good content calendar should incorporate a balance of both types, and that they should work together to build value over time.

Photo Credit: Simon Greig (xrrr) via Compfight cc

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