A few years ago in 2012, plenty of content marketers were engaged in a lively discussion about where the future of content was headed – and the general consensus was that it looked something like a newsroom. Specifically, a social-creative newsroom that had a community management arm, an editorial arm, and a production arm. The community managers would sift through social platforms to identify what consumers cared about, the editorial staff would follow through with timely, “on-demand” content, and the producers would churn out images and videos to support the overarching branded experience. This was the content marketing vision.
Fast-forward two years to the end of January 2014, and we have yet to see this happen. Very few brands have their own newsrooms, and the ones that do aren’t exactly using them in the ways content marketers imagined. “Fun” companies with multi-million dollar budgets like Coke, Hersheys, and Samsung probably have entire departments churning out images and short-form video through platforms like Vine and Instagram 24/7, but we have yet to see the social-creative newsroom emerge in any recognizable form. Interesting, or unsurprising?
Near the end of 2013, the Guardian put out a thought-provoking piece titled “The myth of the brand newsroom” in which it reexamined the assumptions that backed the push for branded, newsworthy content in the first place. One of the most basic assumptions was that putting enough content in front of enough customers was a high-ROI marketing strategy that would ultimately lead to increased conversion and an enviable position as an industry thought leader. And this does happen – but perhaps not in the ways in which companies anticipated for it to happen. In the past two years social platforms have been flooded with content, and getting noticed is becoming increasingly harder. Budgets are drained putting content in front of consumers, and more companies are starting to realize that anything resembling a brand newsroom is not really financially feasible.
What to do with all that content?
It’s safe to say that no one has really figured out the answer to content marketing yet – it’s a new field that is continuing to evolve at a rapid rate – but undeniable trends and findings are emerging. Here are some of the most relevant (especially for brands on a budget), along with some takeaway tips for how to move forward into 2014.
1. Newsworthy content doesn’t have to be timely
When Miley Cyrus twerked her way to VMA fame, literally every brand with a Twitter feed was trying, in some way or another, to capitalize on her shock-value performance. The end result? All our feeds were flooded with links, re-links, and retweets that all basically said the same thing, while nothing of real value was offered. Sure, a few brands actually wrote thoughtful pieces on the topic with some actionable insight, but most didn’t because they didn’t give themselves enough time to do so.
More importantly, many brands fail to realize that competing with the news for news is not a smart move – nor a necessary one. When Gmail went down a few days ago, articles on the topic popped up literally within seconds on the sites of major publications. Instead of trying to race against the rabbit, adopting the philosophy of the turtle might be more productive.
Takeaway Tip: Newsworthy content doesn’t matter unless it can offer something of value.
2. Shorter videos have a larger spread
Another interesting development has been the unprecedented popularity of short-form video created through easy-to-use platforms like Vine and Instagram. Pyrrhic victories are still being won and lost on TV as multimillion dollar commercials jostle for position during events like the Super Bowl, yet short, branded videos have enjoyed enormous popularity with viewers and are being shared for free.
Based on the results of branded forays into Vine and Instagram, many industry observers may have noticed something peculiar. These low production, high-ROI videos are being shared like wildfire by target viewers, and they weren’t manufactured in any newsrooms. In other words, small teams of creatives (some perhaps only one videographer large) are totally capable of putting out massively, compulsively shareable content that matters.
Takeaway Tip: Viewers find content through their friends, not necessarily through newsrooms.
3. Increased quantity leads to decreased quality
There is a fine line between staying relevant and being interesting. Big companies with the money to spend will try to squeeze in 5-10 Tweets a day and two videos per week, but how exactly is that helpful? There are only so many hours during which consumers are paying attention to their feeds, and as of August 2013 worldwide content was doubling every 12 months. Competing with this kind of output is literally impossible – that is, if you’re competing to stay in front of consumers.
You shouldn’t be. Every mom and pop shop with a website and a pulse is competing for the same thing. Instead, genuinely taking the time to plan for, anticipate, and then provide relevant, resourceful content for your target audience is the answer. It’s not like this is anything new, either – old-school marketers know this in their bones – but somehow a lot of marketing wisdom has been largely forgotten or selectively ignored over the past few years in favor of churning out content from the mill.
Takeaway Tip: Quality content is built, not ordered en masse. Even if you’re outsourcing, you still have to own your own content strategy.