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The Future of Content episode 40: Marketing academia — Building communities and blockchain in education with Brian Piper

33 Min. ReadDigital strategy

The Future of Content episode 40 with Brian Piper

Key ideas

  • Every piece of content should align with a strategic goal in mind.
  • Digital identity, using NFTs, is the future of proving ownership, as it is verifiable on the blockchain.
  • The key to turning content into content marketing comes down to three things: It has to be valuable and useful; it has to have a specific audience; and it has to try to get that audience to eventually take action that will help you reach your strategic goals.

Our guest

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. That’s why community is the future of brands, institutions, and businesses, according to marketing strategist Brian Piper. As our world becomes more saturated with AI-created content, people are looking for someone who they can trust

Brian has been aiming to create these communities using content marketing for years. As the Director of Content Strategy and Assessment at the University of Rochester, Brian uses student-created content to advertise the university. The students create reels, YouTube and TikTok clips, and the University of Rochester promotes them. Students are creating content that other students want to see, while also gaining experience by working with professionals who truly understand how the platforms work.

Content marketing is one of the best ways to build trust, and to establish that relationship. To be able to bring them into your community of creators, of students, of faculty, of researchers. I think growing those communities through content and then figuring out ways to connect those people in those communities is the way that we all should be moving.

AI is useful in answering the FAQs or to solve quick and easy problems. But humans want connection. Connection happens when you find a person who has gone through something similar to you — how they felt, how they dealt with the problem, etc. We want to hear their story, which is something you won’t get from AI — at least not for a while

In this episode, Brian joins Todd to talk about leveraging student insight to aid universities’ marketing strategies, including using emerging innovations to create communities within higher education, AI-generated content, Blockchain technologies, and the value of using NFTs in the academic space.

Episode transcript

Todd Nienkerk: Welcome to The Future of Content. Howdy, everyone, I’m your host, Todd Nienkerk. On today’s episode, I am joined by Brian Piper, the Director of Content Strategy and Assessment at the University of Rochester. He’s also the co-author of Epic Content Marketing and the contributor and editor of The Most Amazing Marketing Book Ever. That’s the title of the book, not just a descriptor. As you can tell, we talked a lot about content marketing. But we focused heavily on higher education, what content marketing means in higher education, some of the techniques and tools and things that are used in that industry in particular. But we also talked about how communities are the future of brands — how content marketing should be focused on building communities in order to enroll more students or sell more products, or whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. We of course got into AI-generated content for a bit, and towards the end, we got into a really interesting conversation about blockchain technology and NFTs, and how all of that can be used within the education space and within content creation as well. So if any or all of that interests you, I think that you will really enjoy our conversation

Todd Nienkerk: So, in higher ed today, when it comes to content marketing, what exactly does that mean for a higher ed institution? What are higher ed institutions looking to get out of content marketing?

Brian Piper: Yeah, so every higher ed institution puts out a lot of content. And that was one of the first things I noticed when I took this job six years ago. That was one of the first statements that I made during my interview, was you put out a lot of content. And the key to really turn content into content marketing comes down to three things. It has to be valuable and useful. And it has to have a specific audience. And then it has to be trying to get that audience to eventually take some action that’s gonna help you reach your strategic goals. So when you really start thinking about how to turn your content into content marketing, you really need to focus on what are you trying to achieve — what goals are you trying to reach — and then who are you talking to specifically, and how can you get information to them that is gonna be the most helpful, the most useful. solve their problems and answer their questions

Todd Nienkerk: The audiences you’re trying to reach in higher ed, I imagine, are — I mean, they’re quite a few, right? You’re trying to enroll new students. You, you’re trying to attract top talent, whether that’s researchers or educators. You’re trying to raise the prestige of the university in, probably pretty niche areas around like grants. But also more publicly, and you’re trying to get the news about a program out there and all of that. Have you found that there are specific techniques or methodologies that work for each of these slices of audiences or each of these personas that you’re trying to reach, or are there broad techniques that can be applied across the board?

Brian Piper: Yeah. I mean, it really comes down to specifically looking at which audience is the most likely to help you based on a particular piece of content. So when I first started here, the content creators would come to the editorial team with an idea for a new story, some research that was just done, or some big new findings that just came out. And we would look at it and say, “Yes, this is absolutely a story that needs to be written. Who is the audience for this?” And they would say, Everyone. Everyone needs to read this story.” We say, “Well, everyone is not an audience.” So we made them think about Which audience can take the biggest can have the biggest impact on helping us reach our goals By taking some action based on the content and then that is who you need to think about when you’re writing this content Now obviously, you know our web pages are gonna have content for multiple different audiences But you still want to hit your primary audience first and put that call to action for them first on that page and then address your secondary audiences after that. So, you know, on our undergraduate admission pages, potential undergraduate students are the primary audience, but you also have to look at the parents. You have to look at their support teams. You have to look at, you know, the counselors. All of those are different audiences for that content, but you want to focus on the primary audience first

Todd Nienkerk: Undergrad — potential undergrad applicants — students, are especially interesting to me because of the it feels like to me, at least there is a bigger gulf in understanding or approach when it comes to that audience in particular. And maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s just age, I don’t know. But there seems to be such a strong focus on authenticity. And what authenticity seems to mean, when I’ve talked with people in this industry, is avoiding things that seem overproduced or feel like they have an overt message or kind of a calculated reason for wanting to talk to you. Basically, like, don’t come across as hungry, I guess is maybe a really simple way to put it. Are you seeing that is in fact the case, or — So, for example, when, I remember when I was thinking about what school I wanted to go to, and everything I saw was pretty flashy, you know, glossy brochures. And this is back in, you know, the late ’90s. Those things were impressive. Like they, I wanted to be impressed by the quality of these kinds of materials. But it seems like now, you know, a handheld TikTok video exploring the campus seems to have more impact than something like, you know, an expensive video where a camera’s attached to a helicopter and they’re doing a flyover of the campus and all of this stuff, right? I mean, is that something you’re seeing as well?

Brian Piper: Absolutely. And, you know, really having that authentic voice and speaking in a voice that your target audience understands using language they understand is super critical. You know, we actually have our student interns running our TikTok channel and helping us with Instagram reels and letting them do a lot of the content generation because they understand the audience. They know what kind of stories they’re looking for. And then we’re also trying to promote a lot of our student-generated content. So students will create their own content for their own reels and we will reshare that and post that. So it’s really trying to pay attention to, you know, what channels your audiences that you’re trying to connect to are active on and figure out how you can create authentic, real content that is also in your brand voice on those channels

Todd Nienkerk: And these student interns that you’re working with — is the reason for their internship that they are specifically interested in content marketing or content production? Or is this just something that they enjoy doing, but they’re actually pursuing different professional interests? Or is it kind of both?

Brian Piper: It’s a mix of both. Yeah, so sometimes you’ll have students who just want to, you know, they’re just looking for an opportunity to work within the communications and marketing department. But some of them want to be creators, and we know from surveys and studies that have been done that a lot of college-aged, high school-aged people want to get into YouTube and TikTok, and they want to be creators. They want to figure that out So it’s a good opportunity for them to work with professionals, social media managers, and directors who have been doing this for years to understand the platforms a little better. But then they also have that connection and that deep understanding of the platforms and the content that goes on them

Todd Nienkerk: Is this is this new? Like is this the idea of having students producing the content that prospective students see? Is this a new concept? Or does it just feel new? Because there’s such a direct connection between those two

Brian Piper: Yeah. I mean, I think we’ve been leveraging student information for years. So we talk to our students. We’re trying to pull information out of them. But I think using the students directly to create the content is, you know, it’s a little more hands-on for them. But, you know, there are schools out there. UWE Bristol has a whole program where they are teaching students — it’s a student creator program. And the whole program is about how to become creators, how to become successful YouTubers, how to work with the algorithms. And at the same time, they’re leveraging that content for the university. And there are other schools out there doing similar things, partnering up with their business school marketing programs, some of the things that we’re talking about here

Todd Nienkerk: What are some of the messages that you find resonate with, this doesn’t have to be necessarily undergrad admissions, but anybody at a university. Are people interested in hearing about the culture at a school? Are they interested in knowing about individual programs or even classes or professors or researchers within that program? Are they interested in the prestige? What are the things that seem, are there any centers of gravity around these kinds of things that people are more interested in now, or is it still really, every individual has their own reasons for looking at schools?

Brian Piper: Yeah, so my wife and I have six kids between the two of us, ranging from 16 to 23. So we’ve gone through the college exploration journey several times. And every kid is very different as far as what motivates them, what drives them. As they’re even going through the process, they change. There’s different things that they’re interested in finding. So it’s really just trying to put out a breadth of content that addresses all of those questions and answers — you know, the individual problems. My one son almost chose a school because they had a mini golf course and a bowling alley at the school. I’m like, that’s not the reason to choose a college. But, you know, it’s good. It’s good to know that that’s a plus, in the plus column for that institution. But a lot of it is just, you know, really thinking about at each step in the user journey as the student is going through the decision-making process, what is it that affects their decision criteria? And we talked to a lot of our students. We just went through this with a bunch of our graduate research students, where we asked them, why did you choose us? What was it about the research that you did into University of Rochester that made you decide to come here? And then as much as we can, we try to reach out to students who didn’t matriculate with us and ask them why. Why they chose a different university. What it was about, maybe something in the content that turned them on, information that we could have provided that would have been more useful, different support, different guidance. So, it’s really — it all comes down to talking to your audience and really understanding what their decision-making criteria are

Todd Nienkerk: So speaking of that, your title at the University of Rochester is Director of Content Strategy and Assessment. I’d love to hear more about that assessment part, because I don’t usually see that word combined with this kind of role. But it seems so obvious that it should. But what does that mean for you in your day-to-day work?

Brian Piper: And it’s all about looking at the data. So when I was first hired, I was told that my job would be to look at the communications that we put out and look at the data around them to figure out what’s working, what’s not working, and how we can improve our content performance. So, just going into Google Analytics and social analytics and looking at content performance, within the first couple of months, I was able to see that Like our organic traffic was only 40% of the traffic to our news center, which was our primary kind of feature area for organic traffic. So I knew right away there was an opportunity for SEO. Went in, did some optimization, really looked at the stories that were strategically important, and made sure that those were really well optimized for search within the first year. We doubled our organic traffic. After that, they said, “Oh, this really worked well. We should do this across the entire institution.” So now I’m working with our medical center, our business school — all the different units within the institution — to make sure that they all understand how to do keyword research and how to think about SEO. And now we’re really looking at, you know, creating conversions and goals within the analytics tools so that we can make sure that our content is actually doing what we want it to be doing. And the idea is that every piece of content that is created should be aligned with a strategic goal, and should be focused on a particular audience, and it should be measured to see if it’s having the desired impact, if it’s having the right effect. And if it is, we do more of that type of content, and if it’s not, we do less of that

Todd Nienkerk: And in terms of these goals that you’ve identified, are they — I mean, the obvious ones would be, if you’re writing content to attract an undergrad or a graduate student. Is it them clicking the “enroll” button? Is it them actually filling out the form? Is it them, is it actually yield at the end of the day, and they’re sitting in a seat in class? How far do you take that? And where do you call that success?

Brian Piper: Yeah, and it depends from, you know, each piece of content is different. So yes, absolutely on the admissions site, that content should be driving towards a goal of, you know, either requesting more information or setting up a tour or applying. But some of the content, like on our new center site, it may just be, did they click through to another story? Did we give them the right, you know, related stories that they could see that they would want to consume more content? Is there a way, maybe, to just add a button within the content to say, “Come check out our history department to see, to learn more about the faculty”, or “Look at this research that we’re doing”? So each piece of content is gonna have different calls-to -action depending on who the user is, who the target audience is for that piece of content. And being able to track those calls to action and see which ones are working and which ones aren’t is very important

Todd Nienkerk: Something that you’ve talked about a lot in talks that I’ve seen you give, and other podcasts that you’ve been on, is the role of content in building community. What does that mean to you and why do you feel that community is so important?

Brian Piper: I think community is really the future of brands, of institutions, of businesses. I think especially with all the AI-generated content, people are looking for someone they can trust. They’re looking for somewhere they can belong. They’re looking to join a group. They wanna be part of something bigger than them. And I think content is one of the great ways to do that. If people keep coming to you to get content from you, to help them solve a problem or answer a question that they have, they are eventually going to trust you. They’re going to know that they can come back to you. They can rely on you. You’re not going to try to trick them or sell them something every time they come and read a piece of your content. So I think content marketing is one of the best ways to build that trust, to establish that relationship, and eventually be able to bring them into your community of creators, of students, of faculty, of researchers. I think growing those communities through content and then figuring out ways to connect those people in those communities is the way that we all should be moving

Todd Nienkerk: You mentioned at the beginning there that communities are the future of brands, especially with all the AI-generated content. What I’m reading into that is, AI-generated content. (Please tell me if I’m wrong.) AI-generated content is low quality or maybe manipulative in some way. Whereas community-generated content or content that is specific to a community or within a community is authentic. Is that what you mean by that?

Brian Piper: Yeah, you know, we’re looking for that human connection. I mean, I have no problem with AI-generated content to answer frequently asked questions or to solve problems that are very quick and easy to solve. But a lot of times, I wanna know from an actual human how they, what problem they faced that was similar to what I’m facing and how they dealt with it. I want the story. I want to understand what they went through and the process they went through. And I think a lot of times that’s what we’re looking for, is that human engagement. We’re looking for those stories, we’re looking to connect with someone else who was in a similar situation than us. And I don’t think you’re gonna get that with AI. At least not for a while

Todd Nienkerk: And do you think that the — what’s the word I’m looking for? I guess, this is maybe too scientific an idea, but like the nucleation point of community, like the point at which it really catches on and something happens. What is that exactly? Is it that they have something in common? Is it having the fact that we all go to the same school in common, or is it that we’re interested in the same field of study or a certain kind of the social aspect of the school or whatever, like what are some of those points that actually create that moment where community forms?

Brian Piper: Yeah, and I think that is very different in different communities. So I’m in several different communities with other creators, other higher ed people. And sometimes you’re just looking for a place where you can go and find an expert. Sometimes you’re looking for a place where you can go and talk with people who are in the same situation as you experience in the same problems. So it could be interests. It could be a figure in that community that’s leading the community, or that’s involved with that community that you want to connect with, that you want to learn from. So I think the thing the community really presents are opportunities. It’s opportunities to find people like you, to find people who are facing the similar problems in the similar situations or have been in those situations and can give you guidance. It’s an opportunity to look for mentors, and then to turn around and be a mentor to somebody else

Todd Nienkerk: Communities as opportunities. That’s an interesting idea. My wife works in content marketing, and a big focus of her job has been building communities around a product. And one of the ways that she’s been able to do that successfully in the past is to not necessarily focus on the product itself and saying, “Hey, we all use this product. Let’s all get in this room (the virtual metaphorical room) and talk about this product.” Instead, it’s finding the community of the users of that product. So if this product is built to assist designers, well, then the community that should be built is a community of designers, not designers who use this tool, right? And so the… I suppose the opportunity that’s created in that case would be the opportunity to learn from one another, but in this way that’s sort of facilitated and framed by, oh, we were all brought together because of this brand or this tool or this thing, but they’re not really getting involved in what’s happening here. They may be providing the space and to, I guess, extend the metaphor, they kind of like give you the room and the tables and the chairs and the snacks, but they’re not trying to sell you anything. They’re not gonna necessarily give you a talk in this room. Do you find that that kind of community building and those kinds of opportunities are what exist in the higher ed space, or is there something slightly different for those audiences?

Brian Piper: Yeah, I think that’s exactly what the audiences are looking for, even if they don’t really know that going in. One of the things we mention in Epic Content Marketing, we keep going back to this, is your customers, your users, they don’t care about your products or your services. They only care about how your products or services are going to help them solve their problems. And one of the things when I got into higher ed — I go to a lot of conferences, a lot of content conferences. I was in a military defense contracting company before I got into higher ed, a lot of conferences there. No one shared any information about what they were working on or what they were doing. And I went to my first higher ed conference, and I sat down at lunch, and within three minutes, this table of strangers was all talking about what tools they were using, what problems they were having, and everybody was just sharing. And I immediately knew this is a community I want be part of. Everyone is just willing, just trying to help each other out, trying to make each other be better. And I think that’s really at the heart of what higher education is — education in general. It’s trying to teach somebody else something to make their life easier, to make them better at what they’re doing, and to improve their overall situation

Todd Nienkerk: I’ve noticed that, too, about the higher ed community, and I come from a world of open-source software development. All the tools that we use are open source. And so anytime we go to a meetup, or a camp, or a conference, or whatever, it’s all about sharing information because we’re all using and contributing back to this tool. And as long as this tool, or whatever it is, is getting better, we all benefit. It’s very “rising tide lifts all boats” kind of stuff. I noticed that same attitude among our higher ed clients going to their conferences and nonprofits as well. And to a certain extent, journalism, too. There are some holdouts there, but there is still this spirit of, “Well, what’s working for everybody?” And it seems to me — I’m kind of making up this theory on the fly here — it seems to me that the things that make a community act like that, that make a community want to be open and to share and to really believe that if I give you information, it doesn’t have to be transactional. I’m simply going to benefit by sharing my experience with you. There’s something to be said, I guess, about like, the best way to learn is to teach, right? Is to explain how you do something, you wind up learning something about how you do that thing. And so the things that seem to spark this are everybody having a shared interest in the outcome. So that might be kind of a, maybe leans more towards the open-source software side of things. But then also coming from an industry that is about learning or about giving. So, nonprofits, about volunteering. It’s all about doing these things that are intended to make the world a better place. But also a sense of struggle — like a shared struggle. So in journalism, the business models are being completely turned on their heads. Everybody is struggling. How do we all figure out something that works? But then there’s also this sense of abundance. So it’s, I don’t know if this is like a Zen concept or what. But there’s the idea of like a kind of an abundance mindset and a scarcity mindset. And in a lot of the corporate sectors, it’s all scarcity mindset, right? There are a limited number of contracts or a limited number of dollars, limited number of this, so don’t share anything. But in these other spaces, knowledge is abundant. It’s about how you can bring people into a space, you know, donation dollars are actually quite abundant. They seem finite, but they’re not. Do you find that to be true? And how have you maybe leveraged some of those concepts in your community building?

Brian Piper: Yeah, I absolutely believe that. It seems, you know, in the higher ed space, I think one of the reasons people are willing to share is because they want everyone to succeed. They want everyone to do better. And, you know, if one of our peer institutions is doing something and they share it with us, and now we start doing it as well, and, you know, we don’t think about it as, “Well, now I’m gonna steal the students that would have gone to them.” We’re just trying to figure out the best way to connect and bring in the students that fit us. I mean, that’s the thing about different institutions, they have a very different feel to them. They have a very different atmosphere, depending on where you’re going, where the school is. But basically, at the end of it, we’re just trying to teach the next generation and trying to provide them with the tools that they need to go out in the world and be successful. So, in-fighting and trying to hide things from each other is not going to benefit the students in the end. It’s not going to benefit the faculty or the staff or anybody. So I think that’s one of the things. I mean, when we were in defense contracting, it was very “us versus them.” There are competitors. You can’t share anything with them. And in higher ed, we’re just all trying to do whatever we can to help the next generation be as successful as they can be in whatever their, you know, final pursuits are. So I think it goes back to that, and I think the students recognize that as well. And they see that we’re not trying to compete with each other. We’re just trying to do the best we can for them

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Todd Nienkerk: Going back to the idea of AI, you mentioned AI-generated content. Obviously this is something that everybody’s thinking about right now. And it’s always sort of been in the back of our mind for years, but just, you know, 2023 rolled around, and suddenly here we go. How do you do content marketing in the age of AI? You’ve already — You’ve covered community and creating authenticity in places where people can actually share and AI won’t do that. AI can, at the moment, be a digital assistant and answer some questions and things like that. But it’s not gonna really foster community. What other aspects of AI do you see as being helpful or threatening in the content marketing space?

Brian Piper: Yeah, I see AI as incredibly helpful. I think using AI properly can make you much more effective, can help you create better content, can help your content be much more successful. But I think it’s all about using it the right way. The people that generate their content and copy it, paste it right into their website or their newsletter or whatever — I think that’s not going to be a sustainable solution. I think using AI for ideation, for task optimization, for figuring out places in your workflow where you can replace repetitive work with some automated process, I think it’s going to help make us more productive. It’s going to make us think more strategically. It’s going to make us think more about telling a story and really being authentic and being human. So I think AI brings a lot to the table. I think it’s important to not try to force AI into your workflow if it doesn’t actually help improve your workflow. But I think everyone is going to be affected. I think all the tools that we use are gonna be augmented and it’s gonna really help us be much more effective at what we do and not have to do all the stuff we don’t want to do anyway

Todd Nienkerk: One aspect of AI that we’ve been exploring with some of our higher ed clients is imagery. So, one of the biggest complaints we’ve heard from our higher ed clients is how difficult it is for them to find enough photography to use and not become repetitive. There’s only so many photos you can take of somebody sitting at a desk, or somebody standing at a whiteboard, or whatever, right?

Brian Piper: Three students in a tree, right

Todd Nienkerk: Why are they in the tree? Who knows? You have to have imagery; you have to see people; you have to see the thing that you’re talking about. You have to show and not necessarily tell. So it is an absolutely core part of the full content package. But the thing that we’re trying to explore right now, and I’m curious if you’ve experimented with any of this at all, is trying to merge the idea of AI-generated imagery with libraries or guidelines or things like that to not necessarily create photography, because that, boy, can that really go sideways and be strange. But illustration. There seems to be much more emphasis on illustration and collage and art, art techniques, as opposed to photojournalism techniques, to create accompanying imagery that bolster other content. Are you experimenting with any of that kind of stuff? How are you handling imagery in the content that you produce?

Brian Piper: Yeah, so a lot of that goes back to the regulations, copyright issues. We don’t create AI-generated images and use those as they are in our content. But what we do is we play around with those images to get ideas

Todd Nienkerk: Mm

Brian Piper: We use those to generate concepts based on what we think we want. And then we can put it in AI and look at it and be like, “Well, that’s not exactly what we want. But here, what if we did this? We can change it this way.” And then some of the things that Photoshop has done with their generative AI editing, where you can just tell it how to change the picture and take people out or add people in, or adjust the color and the contrast without having to go in and mess with all the tools and figure out where all the settings are. It makes, you know, it cuts down on the overall time that it takes to do that work. But I think, yeah, from an ideation standpoint, it’s incredibly helpful. And then, you know, also even with Adobe’s Firefly, their images come from a photo bank that they have the rights to. So now you could actually have ownership, copyright ownership of those images. So that’s something that we’re starting to look at, whether or not we should start using those within our content

Todd Nienkerk: I’m so glad you mentioned ownership because that, I mean, obviously there’s terms of use that say, well, if you’re using fill-in-the-blank AI tool. They own it, right? Or they kind of stake a claim to it. However, let’s just wait until that’s tested in court, because there’s the story, of course, of the monkey selfie where a monkey grabbed the photographer’s camera, took a selfie, and the photographer wanted to claim ownership, but nope. That monkey owns the copyright, or maybe they said nobody. I forget what the ruling was. Point is, it wasn’t the photographer. And so someday this whole “does the AI own the copyright” will be tested in court, and we’ll just see. But the point is, it’s not going to be you. No matter what, no matter what the outcome, it’s not going to be the person who sits there and types the prompt and interacts with the AI. In a previous talk that you gave, you talked about how, especially with the overwhelming amount of AI-generated content that is being produced and certainly will be produced in the near future, that there is much more concern about obviously the need to own that content — meaning creating it yourself and having control of it — but then it being stolen or modified to the point where it isn’t really modified enough. So you get dinged by Google, and all of the problems that happen when somebody copies and pastes and only edits a few words, or an AI goes out there because all an AI is doing is reading your stuff and then using that to try to say something smart back at you again. You mentioned how, obviously, that’s a problem. But you could start to use Web3 technologies like the blockchain to try to mitigate that in some way. And I’d love to hear you explain for listeners how that would work

Brian Piper: Yeah, so at NFT NYC this year, Jules Dudko gave a fantastic presentation on exactly that, on using blockchain for basically copywriting your material. So a creator, a YouTuber, a graphic designer would flag or tag their digital images with their digital identity. So it would be connected to them, so that if someone was looking at a piece of art and they weren’t sure if it was authentically that person’s, they would be able to look at the blockchain designation, at the digital identity, and see, “Oh yes, this actually does belong to them. This is verifiable on the blockchain.” Very difficult to counterfeit that. And so then if an AI scraped that image and used that image in generating a new image, it could actually credit all of the different sources based on the digital identity that was attached to all the images that it used to create this new montage. So, you know, the idea of using blockchain to create that digital identity that ties your content to you, I think is, you know, a great way to mitigate this AI thievery. You know, AI’s going in and it’s scraping all your data. It’s looking at all your images. But if it gives you the attribution, if it cites you when it creates new work, I don’t have a problem with that

Todd Nienkerk: I don’t think a lot of people really realize that the blockchain is not about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. It’s about proof of ownership. That’s fundamentally what blockchain is. And I’m curious, we’re getting a little, since you’ve been thinking about this a lot, I’d love to get your take on this, but we are going a little further afield from content marketing here for a moment. Why is it that — There have existed databases of information forever, right? Like writing something down in a book and saying this person owns that, right? Or having a receipt or something like that. These notions of proof of ownership or provenance have existed, I mean, since forever. Why is it that blockchain seems special in that regard? Why is it somehow better or different than just the way we’ve been doing things in the past?

Brian Piper: Yeah, the key there is that it’s verifiable. And it’s very difficult to fake that. It’s very difficult to change that once it’s been written. So the blockchain is, public-facing blockchains, are available for anybody to go look at. So for instance, on LinkedIn. I saw a statistic that 80% of the people on LinkedIn who say they went to Harvard did not

Todd Nienkerk: Mm

Brian Piper: So, if Harvard had their digital identity on the blockchain, and everyone who graduated and got a diploma from Harvard or attended Harvard would have that added to their digital identity, that would be a provable, verifiable way to say, “Yes, I did go to Harvard. Here’s the NFT that I have that indicates that, that’s in my digital wallet or on my digital resume, or tied to my LinkedIn account, so that I can’t post and say that I went to Harvard unless I actually have this.” So it’s, like you said, it really is about ownership. It’s about being able to prove that you actually accomplished this, did this. This is the first time we’ve ever been able to prove that we own digital property. So when you start talking about metaverse and VR experiences and even augmented reality experiences, you’re going to be able to wear your glasses and look at somebody and look at the information — the data that they want to share with you. And you’ll be able to lea
hings about them. So imagine if you were giving a presentation to a room full of people. You could look out and see how many people had similar interests, what the level of knowledge for those people were about, you know, blockchain or other new technologies; how many people were, you know, AI experts versus how many people were just starting out and just, so you could change your presentation to fit your audience in real time. And, you know, that’s something that is going to become more and more a part of our everyday lives as technology continues to grow. Estonia is a great use case for the blockchain. They’ve had their entire country running on the blockchain since 2008. Takes people 15 minutes to do their taxes. If you want to switch healthcare providers, you just turn off access to your healthcare data to one provider and turn it on to another provider. You don’t have to call your doctor or ask them to switch your records or anything like that. So, it’s a matter of time before our house titles, our car titles, all of that is going to be, you know, a blockchain asset that’s gonna be an NFT, basically

Todd Nienkerk: So the difference really is ease of use. It’s convenience. It’s having that at your fingertips in a way that’s just that much easier to look at because somebody putting on their LinkedIn profile, “I went to Harvard.” You can validate that by calling Harvard and saying, “Did this person graduate? Does this person actually have a degree?” But that requires looking up the phone number, having somebody pick up. They look in the database, it’s extremely time consuming. So it’s not that it’s suddenly, I guess the core benefit is not that it’s suddenly able to say, well, we didn’t know that was true before, and now we know it’s true. It’s that just, it’s that much faster and easier and it can be automated to a large extent. So when you look out in the audience in your example and you wanna know, well, how many people here know about this or that concept? And how, like, do I need to introduce this idea? Or can I just kind of launch into it? I mean, we’ve all been to sessions at conferences where somebody has like, literally asked, “How many people here know about this thing? Okay, I should probably explain it first, right?” But theoretically, if all of that information is available in some weird AR way, and you look at over the audience and you can see little bar charts explaining people’s, you know, competencies and all of that. It just makes it easier, is really the key to this

Brian Piper: Right, yeah, absolutely, and that transparency. So using blockchain for supply chain, it’s very easy to see, in an accurate way, specifically where a product came from and how all the parts and pieces came together in a way that’s very difficult to forge or fake. So yeah, it’s the transparency and the ease of use, exactly

Todd Nienkerk: I want to touch on one last thing about blockchains. You’ve mentioned NFTs a few times. Most people, I think it’s fair to say, most people, when they hear “NFT,” they think some celebrity selling cheesy little pictures and people losing a lot of money

Brian Piper: Exactly

Todd Nienkerk: Right? Now that’s kind of the, you know, that’s the gambling art world kind of NFT. But there are practical and very legitimate uses for the concepts of NFT, simply being, I suppose, a thing on the blockchain, right? That’s just really what that means. And it could take the form of anything. It could be a picture. It could be a digital certification, which is probably just like a few sentences in text that says, “Yes, this person went to this school and graduated on this date,” and that’s it, right? You’ve talked a lot about using NFTs to not just prove that you have a degree, but to talk about like areas of competency and things like that. I’m reminded of a project that the Mozilla Foundation put together — this is probably 10 years ago at this point. I think they called it Badges or something like that. But it was essentially this idea that you attend a class, you get this badge, and the Mozilla Foundation has the central authority to validate that, yes, you in fact did this and somebody can double check it. But now with the blockchain, this is coming along and sort of replacing in this specific example, the Mozilla Foundation. How do you see that extending across the United States or even the world? Should there be a central authority around these things, or is this assembled by each entity that is granting the certification? So, in other words, is it Harvard and Stanford have their own systems that somebody can point to and say, “Look, I really did get a degree here,” or is there a central authority that’s gathering things up from Harvard and Stanford and saying, “This person went to both of these schools or one of these schools?”

Brian Piper: Yeah, so one of the strengths of Web3 that everyone is always touting is this decentralized concept where no one actually owns it. It’s kind of a consortium of all the people who are using that blockchain. So like the Ethereum blockchain, there’s a council of people and companies that kind of help guide the future of the blockchain and they make decisions about it. But there’s no one owner. The data isn’t stored in any one central, you know, location, group of servers, or anything. So no one has the ability to lock down the data or to, you know, kick people off of the platform, or to remove data from the platform. And I think that’s really where we should be looking at going as opposed to, you know, creating some central authority that’s going to manage all the data and the flow. If we can spread that out and decentralize it so that nobody owns it, so that all the users, all the people who are, you know, owners, collaborators, contributors on that blockchain are all equal owners in it. And, you know, there’s different ways to talk about how you can get access to, you know, vote on decisions about that group, whether that spread equally among all the members who are making decisions together, or does someone who has more NFTs or more data stored on the blockchain get more voting rights? So lots of different ways that different blockchains do it. And it’s the same with the DAOs, the Decentralized Autonomous Organizations. It’s a way to get a large group of people together who are all focused on a specific goal, and helping them all figure out how to collaborate and how to co-own this space and make decisions about this space that are all aligned with the greater goal for the individuals that are using it

Todd Nienkerk: That sounds like building communities

Brian Piper: That’s exactly what it is

Todd Nienkerk: Well, let’s leave it there. Thank you very much, Brian, for your time. I really appreciate it. You have a couple of books. You are the co-author of Epic Content Marketing and a collaborator and editor of The Most Amazing Marketing Book Ever. That’s the title of the book

Brian Piper: That is, yes

Todd Nienkerk: That’s the title of the book, period. Where can somebody get a hold of you or learn more about what you’re doing if they’re interested?

Brian Piper: You can get me at, and I am brianwpiper on almost every social channel

Todd Nienkerk: Fantastic. Well, thank you very much for joining us on The Future of Content. We appreciate it very much

Brian Piper: Thank you, Todd. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. And I love the content that you’re creating, and the conversations that you’re having. This is great.