What is stock and flow content?
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.
The stock and flow model is also mentioned in our Implementing Content Strategy best practice guide, written by Dr Mike Baxter.
When talking to Mike, he used the metaphor of fireworks and bonfires.
The bonfire is the main show, the useful evergreen content which retains value over time, while the fireworks are the more disposable pieces (news, tweets etc) that grab attention for a short time.
The purpose of the fireworks is to draw attention to the bonfire which will still be burning once the fireworks have finished.
Striking the right balance between stock and flow content
According to the content strategy guide:
Stock content should underpin your organisation’s core proposition. These stock items are what gets your customer interested in your service or gets your supporter interested in your cause.
This is the content they find in search engines when they seek help or expertise. And when they click through from that search result, the content either answers their questions or leads them directly to those answers.
As you can see, this stock content helps us to rank for many search terms which relate to our paid reports and other services:
Flow content for acquisition and amplification
As Mike Baxter points out, while Robin Sloan’s definition sees flow content’s purpose as reminding people that you exist, it can also be used for acquisition.
As much flow content can be social and shareable, it can be a powerful way to increase audience reach.
It also exists to amplify to impact of stock content. For example, our Twitter reach allows us to promote our posts in front of a much wider audience.
While we don’t really do news, we do use some news and developments such as new products, changes to Facebook and Google etc to draw attention to the rest of our content.
Examples of stock and flow
This is how brands are using stock and flow in practice.
Lowe’s is a home improvement (DIY) retailer, and the products lend themselves to some useful stock content.
So it has a section full of home improvement ideas, buyers’ guides, and instructions for various tasks, like sealing concrete.
There is some very comprehensive and long form content, including plenty of video guides, which is very useful for customers.
It also helps Lowes to rank in the search engines for these terms, so that users searching for home improvement tips (Lowe’s target market in other words) are discovering the site when they search.
This kind of stock content will take longer and cost more to produce, but this effort should be rewarded, as its life cycle will be much longer.
And here’s an example of flow content from Lowes. It’s Vines provide six second tips and often refer back to the longer guides (the stock).
In this case, users can watch the quick guide on Vine, then tap through for more detail.
M&S has a news feed which it features prominently on its homepage, showing latest trends, new products and other fashion news.
Its instagram page also produces lots of flow content, in this case images of its clothing, food and other products updated frequently.
Meanwhile, the retailer has some longer stock content on site, which is featured prominently where users are looking for products; in drop down menus, search results pages, and product pages.
These guides to buying suits are a great example of reusable stock content:
When used well, the kinds of stock content used by Lowe’s and M&S perform a number of roles:
- Help customers to find the product that is right for them, thus moving them further down the purchase funnel.
- SEO. If sites get the basics right, quality stock content should rank well over time.
- Customer acquisition. To take Lowe’s as an example, customers searching for home improvement tips can find this content in their results, thus leading them to discover the site and its products.
The role of flow content is to amplify and highlight the stock content in a number of ways, through shareable content like images and video, through news hooks and so on.
Our new Implementing Content Strategy: Digital Best Practice report, written by experienced consultant Dr Mike Baxter, provides a framework for evaluating your current content strategy and content planning processes, helping you make the most of your content in the future.