Are you looking for ways to provide customers or employees with content recommendations? Then this post is for you. We’ll show you how to combine a series of free tools into a really robust solution. . 

First, why would you want to recommend content to other people? There are multiple reasons.

Quality content raises the profile of people who write it, comment on it, and share it. At my company, content recommendations are shared with staff members and customers as a way to help them stay on top of industry trends, and more importantly, be of value to our audience  (i.e, customers and prospects) by sharing our perspectives on those trends.

A content recommendation service can a great time-saver for people who are busy doing their ‘real’ jobs as opposed to  looking for content to read and share.

What follows here is a recipe for rolling-your-own content recommendation engine using cutting-edge, free services. Here is an example of the outcome (this is an archive of newsletters that were generated via the process outlined below).

Even some of our enterprise clients have adopted this DIY tool-stack and process, saving themselves a significant amount of money compared to commercial alternatives. While this guide may seem long, creating your content recommendations once you’re set up, will be quick and painless.

Ingredients of a content recommendation solution

  • RSS reader: feedly.com
  • Content recommender: getprismatic.com
  • Content search engines: buzzsumo.com, topsy.com
  • Newsletter generator: goodbits.io

For extra credit:

  • Twitter automation: Tweetjukebox, Buffer or Hootsuite.

In the following post I will show you how to:

  1. Organize your content sources
  2. Set up a newsletter distribution mechanism for distributing content recommendations
  3. Create a routine for selecting and publishing relevant content to your team
  4. Optimize social distribution of your content

 

Step 1: Curate your content sources

Before you start, create yourself a new email address for managing the various services that you will be using. It will make it easier to delegate tasks to any collaborators later on. I recommend creating a new Gmail address for this purpose.  Return here when you’re done.

Next, set up an RSS reader.

(An RSS reader is an app that allows you to subscribe to post/article updates from blogs and news site in one central location).

Throughout this post, you’ll see that I recommend using web-based tools exclusively. This makes it easier for future collaborators to participate as all they need is a web browser. By far, the best web-based RSS reader is Feedly.com. Go there and set up an account with your new gmail address.

Next, you need to add content sources to your RSS reader. These are sources you suspect will contain content your staff or customers may find interesting, spanning blogs, newspapers, journals, etc. (Ask a group of subject matter experts at your company what they think are the key publications for your industry, if you’re at a loss.)

Adding a new source is as easy as just clicking “Add Content” and entering a URL. You may also organize each source into “Collections” of sources that you may name as you please. This will make it easier to locate specific content later.

The result is a magazine-like page that pulls in the latest stories from all your sources. Pretty cool, huh?

content recommendation site

Algorithmic Content Recommendation & Discovery

Next, we want to leverage the power of Big Data and Machine Learning by signing up for Prismatic, a personalized content discovery tool/recommender. Prismatic alerts you of popular content within certain topics of interest. Additionally it looks at the kind of content that engages you and your social graph and use this information to develop recommendations for similar content.

The result may look similar to what you see in Feedly, but whereas Feedly displays every post from your sources, content recommendation services pull in relevant content from any source. This is a great way to discover content you may otherwise have missed.

How to use Prismatic

Go here to sign up for Prismatic. Sign in with your new Gmail address. Follow any wizards and setup guides, including adding other relevant corporate social accounts.

content recommendation api

Prismatic gets smarter over time, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see hyper-relevant content in the first weeks.

2 –  Set up a newsletter for distributing content recommendations

Next we’re going to sign up for Goodbits as a way to curate and publish relevant stories to your team. Goodbits is a newsletter generator that makes it quick and simple curate a newsletter from relevant stories come across using the content discovery services described here.

Go to goodbits.io and sign up with your new Gmail address. Follow the tutorial/wizard on how to create your newsletter. Then install the Chrome Extension or Bookmarklet. You will use this to collect content for your newsletter.

You may connect Goodbits to your MailChimp account (premium feature) for publishing your content recommendations using MailChimp templates. If not, Goodbits will send emails to a list of subscribers of your choosing (such as your employees/colleagues).

3 – Curating and publishing relevant content to your team

Now the fun starts! You are now ready to curate relevant content for your content recommendation newsletter.

Step 1: Visit feedly.com and check out new stories in your feeds. Check out/read as many as you need to find three really good stories. Open each post in a new tab or window, and click the Goodbits browser extension or bookmarklet. This will generate a pop-up where you may edit the post’s title and description before you save it to your Goodbits queue.

Once you’re done, return to Goodbits and you’ll find the left sidebar populated with the 3 posts you chose. You may now drag them over to your newsletter editor, if you want. But, hold off for now. Let’s find some more content first.

Step 2: Visit Prismatic and find 3 stories from each of those sources. Like before, open the stories up in a new tab and then “collect” them with using the Goodbits browser extension/bookmarklet.

Step 3: Perform some ad-hoc searches for popular content

Visit buzzsumo.com and enter a search term (in quotation marks). Be as specific as you can. (E.g. here is the result I get when searching on “Data Science”). Note that the free version only allows 3 searches per day, so be “smart” when you use this service. Check out the results and pick another 3 stories (or less, if relevance is low) from this feed and add them to your Goodbits queue like before.

Then visit topsy.com and perform the same search as you did on BuzzSumo. I bet you’ll get a bunch of different results. Find  another 3 (or less) really great stories to add to you GoodBits queue.

Both BuzzSumo and Topsy are biased toward widely shared content. Finding good, niche content may therefore not always work. It’s worth a try, though, as stories that rise to the top have already proven themselves to attract attention.

Other sources of relevant content

These are just some ways to find content that you can add to your newsletter. The good thing about this approach is that you can add any source to your queue by simply clicking the Goodbits browser extension/bookmarklet. Personally I find many great stories in my LinkedIn feed. I’ve also created Twitter lists of people I often find share great content, and monitor that for stories worth paying attention to.

Finally, you may want to include content produced by your company, if it makes sense. However, I recommend not sharing too much internal content as you don’t want colleagues who share your recommendations to come off as corporate mouthpieces. They’re more credible when commenting on, and sharing, 3rd party content. (This will, by association, make your company more credible too).

Create your content recommendation newsletter

Now, return to GoodBits and you’ll see all your selected stories in the sidebar, ready for you to drag and drop into your newsletter. You don’t want to not overload your recipients with too much information. Five or six stories per newsletter may be just enough content. Here is an example of a newsletter I’m pulling together as I write this.

content recommendation publisher

 

Once you’ve created your final selection, add an an intro and click send!

 

Employee Advocacy on the cheap: Is it worth the effort?

Does this seem like a lot of work? Well, the initial setup aside, consider this: No matter what service you use (from free to super-premium), you would still have to (or you should) hand-pick which stories to share with your team. Automation is not your friend, as you don’t want to waste your team’s time by sending them irrelevant content. As soon as your newsletter features more noise than signal, they’ll stop opening your emails. In other words, you need to do the grunt-work and quality control.

For extra credit

If the goal of your content recommendation efforts is to get colleagues to read, comment and share relevant posts to their social networks (either directly or via a employee advocacy platform like Meddle.it), it makes sense to amplify these activities. One way to do so is to re-tweet posts from your employees to your corporate account at regular intervals. You can do this via Buffer or Hootsuite, among others. However, as of late, my favorite tool for this task has become TweetJukebox. Check it out.

I hope this was helpful. Feel free to share your own tools tips as well!

About Vidar Brekke

Vidar, a serial entrepreneur, is the CEO and Co-founder of Meddle.it.

He is passionate about entrepreneurship with a penchant for building social technologies that promote knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Previously he also held positions such as Chief Product Officer for social media agency Converseon, VP of Marketing for JPMorgan, and Brand Strategist at Ogilvy. He also served as an officer in the Norwegian Navy.

Originally from Norway, he now lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter.


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