The word ‘syndication’ in the media world is a loaded term. If you’re in traditional broadcasting, you understand syndication to be the licensing of programming for broadcast in your market. If you’re in the newspaper business, you might refer to syndication in a similar way – as in a syndicated columnist (where the full body of content is reprinted as part of a licensing deal exclusively to newspapers around the world).

On the web, you’ve got to embrace the fact that syndicating content (using these traditional models) isn’t a great idea. That’s why even Wikipedia distinguishes between broadcast, print, and web syndication. They are entirely different.

Let’s be clear– syndication online doesn’t work

Look, traditional syndication of content online doesn’t work. There are lots of content producers, ranging from custom publishers and traditional content creators (magazines and newspapers) to search engine marketers, that will offer to license you content they’ve licensed before. One of the best examples of this concept gone awry is published by EBSCO. EBSCO offers all sorts of high-quality content. It’s great content, well-written, from experts in the industry. What’s the problem then? Well, they syndicate the EXACT SAME content all over the world, literally. Thousands of hospitals and medical organizations license and syndicate their medical content alone.

Now, I don’t know much about EBSCO, but I can tell you that if your organization is syndicating content like this (see the iFrame?) you’re adding literally NO value to your audience.

It’s not just about SEO #FAIL, it’s about adding value

In the online world, duplicating content (syndicating it in the traditional sense) devalues the content completely. There are plenty of articles from SEO experts about how Google deals with duplicate content. The short story is that the more often Google finds the exact same content on multiple domains, the harder it hits your score and the lower your content ranks.

But I don’t think this is the only reason traditional content syndication does not work. We believe that if you can’t offer anything unique from a content perspective, you’re not adding value to your audience. Better yet, you’re not adding value to your brand. As a consumer, I can find reliable, credible, and informative information from a series of trusted content sources on the web. Your syndication of trusted content doesn’t build your brand, it borrows another brand’s power. Why bother? You’re not differentiating your products or services; you’re just delivering the exact same content I could get from the source.

So, if you’re syndicating content (or offering to syndicate content) you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Three ways to ‘syndicate’ AND add value

In our world there are ways to syndicate your content and actually add tremendous value to you and your syndication partners. But you have to work hard to redefine the connotations the word syndication drums up. You can’t just duplicate content; you have to have a real content syndication strategy designed to add value in the right ways.

1. Real Simple Syndication
AllTop HR Category

AllTop HR Category

There’s a reason that RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. It’s really simple. Syndicating content (not duplicating it’s distribution on multiple domains) using an RSS feed and giving your partners in niche markets the ability (or even paying for the ability) to display an RSS feed on a relevant domain, adds credibility and value to both websites. RSS is specifically designed to format your content correctly, give credit where credit is due, and ensure that the ACTUAL content resides only on one domain: yours. That’s really simple syndication that adds value to your customer base and your partner’s brand.

EXAMPLE: AllTop is a great place to find content that’s curated from specific users or around niche topics. This kind of content syndication is becoming more and more commonplace. We believe paid access to specific syndicators who provide human edited content will become more and more relevant and reliable as the information overload continues.

2. Re-Contextualized Content Syndication

Even more effective, intimate, and valuable in our world is the generation and distribution of content designed to be embedded and re-contextualized by your distribution partners. Using content distribution and creation platforms, like YouTube or Vimeo for video, Flickr or Picassa for images, or Scribd for documents (as just a few examples) you can create valuable content and build a content syndication network that invites your partners to re-contextualize and re-distribute your content to achieve overwhelming success.

A quick example: Let’s say you’re a B2B company selling products through a series of channel partners. You create a video that delivers your message to your channel’s customers for a new product release. You distribute the video on YouTube and create a series of ideas for your channel partners to re-distribute that content on their own platforms and invite them to embed the video in an e-mail blast to their customers. That approach gets your content syndicated to your end audience while you add value.

EXAMPLE: Here’s a great example from the gang at Espresso. Marta Kagan, created a wonderful presentation that helps educate potential clients and partners about the virtues of social media. She distributed her presentation via SlideShare and to date it’s been re-contextualized and viewed more than 62,000 times. That’s powerful content syndication that’s measurable.

3. Curated Content Syndication
Food Finds on Foodthinkers

Food Finds on Foodthinkers

As the amount of content generated increases, our ability to consume that content  does not increase at the same rate. What does that mean? Well, it means that one of the most effective ways to syndicate valuable content is to set your brand up as a valuable syndicator of relevant content in an organized way. This means you can build a distribution network of content partners that value your ability to focus on a niche, sift through a sea of content, and find the gems.

There are tons of content curation engines out there: Reddit, Digg, Stumbleupon, and Delicious to name a few. All of these sites allow you to curate content you find valuable and invite your distribution partners to syndicate your feed on their site. This is valuable content curation that allows you to appropriately give credit to the content creator while it strengthens your brand and enhances your reach.

EXAMPLE: Okay, so I’m using a Tippingpoint client as an example of this, only because I don’t see enough people doing this well. We have started curating a set of ‘Food Finds’ for Breville’s FoodThinkers. This is a perfect example of curated content syndication that adds value to the Foodthinkers platform and has been successfully positioning Breville’s brand as a high-quality source in social spheres like Twitter.

The bottom line: redefine syndication

At the end of the day content syndication is changing. The print media and their online outlets, the unions, and even talent agents are struggling to understand how to syndicate content and manage it’s usage online. But if you’re going to really be successful offering content syndication to your clients, partners, or affiliated brands start by redefining content syndication.