State of Content Marketing in 2017

Happy New Year, y’all!

Welcome to the dawn of a new year. If 2016 was your best year yet, let’s figure out how to keep that momentum going. And if it wasn’t as good as you’d hoped, well, the good news is it’s time to make a fresh start.

Ever heard of the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times?” As content marketers, we eat “interesting times” for breakfast every single day. Between changes in SEO, shifts in the social media landscape, new technologies, and morphing consumer preferences, “change” is the content marketer’s “normal.” (Tweet this) The year that just passed was no exception in terms of the changes it brought to our landscape, so before we get too far into this 2017 thing, let’s look at where we are today and how developments over the last 12 months have shaped — and re-shaped — the content marketer’s world.

1. Live Rules

In 2016, we took another step back from edited, polished, committee-approved, Photoshopped messaging and one step closer to the anything-goes world of shared live moments. Hard to believe it was nearly two years ago that Meerkat (remember them?) first whetted our collective appetite for live video. Then came Periscope (still kicking), Blab (may it rest in peace), and finally the 800-pound gorilla, Facebook Live.

How big is Facebook Live? Well …

  • 78 percent of online audiences watch video on Facebook Live (source)
  • Between January and September 2016, companies’ use of Facebook Live increased by 47 percent (source)
  • Users spend three times more time watching Facebook Live videos than watching recorded Facebook videos (source)

The State of Content Marketing in 2017

(Source: Socialbakers)

And then there’s the rise of Snapchat, the ultimate in-the-moment social platform. For must of us Average Joe Snapchatters, there is no “upload” button — we snap and share in the moment or we don’t share at all. We can pretty our snaps up with lenses, filters, and stickers, but the image itself remains. For many brands, this can be a scary proposition. No straightening photos, no color-correcting video, no watermarking every visual with your logo. And no getting next week’s snaps pre-approved by the Powers That Be.

For brands who consider themselves, to borrow a term from a TV ad, “control enthusiasts” when it comes to their marketing, this brave new world of live experiences demands a new approach. We have to loosen up. We have to be authentic. We have to throw away the script, the storyboard, the shot list and show our audiences who we really are — live and in person.

Our Challenge for 2017: Get really, really good at “the live thing.” Learn to thrive in a world where there’s no post-production. Create a set of standards around live video, Snapchat, and other live-experience platforms, get your team on board, and then let them create. The results may surprise you.

2. “Good Enough” Is the New Crap

Recently I was perusing some projects on LinkedIn ProFinder when one in particular caught my attention. It was posted by a law firm looking for a writer to create in-depth, engaging, insightful content for their blog on an ongoing basis.

And they’re willing to pay a whopping $25 per post.

I’m sure they’ll find someone to produce … well, something at that rate. But in-depth, engaging, and insightful content? Doubtful.

You know, I first rebranded my company as Resonance Content Marketing in 2012 … and nobody knew what the hell I was talking about. (“Content management? You mean, like SharePoint — so you’re in IT?”) Fast-forward to 2017 and content marketing has become an integral part of the mainstream marketing landscape. The good news is that people now know what we’re talking about. The bad news is that, as more brands jump on the bandwagon, we’re seeing a huge and growing sea of medium- to low-quality content that’s of no real use to anyone, including the brands who publish it.

Folks, if we’re going to rise above the riffraff in the year that stands before us, we have to up our quality game in 2017. Two years ago, I started the year with a post called “Crap Content Is Dead. Long Live Quality,” and it’s even more relevant today than it was back then. I’m still waiting for the day when the crap-content producers throw up their hands and huff “this stuff [i.e. content marketing] doesn’t work!” Apparently they’ll have to limp along a bit longer before that day comes.

So here’s our paradox: We need to create higher-quality content in an environment where it’s more challenging than ever to get attention. Where it takes longer to build a loyal audience. Where consumers are suffering from shiny-object overload.

We need to be a nourishing, well-balanced meal in a Pop-Rock world. (Tweet this)

Our Challenge for 2017: So, what can we do to raise the bar for our own content? We can be more discerning in our choice of topics, opting for issues that will resonate with our specific audiences over those that will simply generate more traffic. We can dive deeper into those topics and conduct more thorough research. And we can wrap it all up in superbly written, journalistic-quality content that keeps visitors enthralled from beginning to end.

3. The Return of Owned Channels

Take a moment and listen closely. Can you hear it? Listen again. Can you hear it now?

It’s the worldwide grinding of teeth as marketers look at the results — or lack thereof — from their organic content on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and other social platforms. My own modest Facebook page has a few hundred followers, and seeing single digits in those “people reached” lines has become routine. YouTube superstar PewDiePie, who boasts an audience of millions, has floated the idea of deleting his channel when he claimed a change in the network’s algorithm had savaged his organic traffic.

Recently I was reading Joe Pulizzi’s post on “Five Content Marketing Trends to Watch in 2017” when the following statement stopped me in my tracks:

“As I travel the globe talking to enterprises about this issue, frustration is at the highest level I’ve seen. In 2017, I believe two things will happen — there will be more advertising on social media platforms and less organic publishing. The case can be made that a brand does not need to publish organic content on any social platform and instead can opt for an owned platform (website) plus paid promotion to create and grow an audience. Of course, social media sharing can happen, but the brand doesn’t need to be present on that platform for sharing to happen.”

This is huge, folks. We just can’t rely on social networks for engagement with our followers anymore. It’s rented property, and the landlord has changed the terms on us. While many brands are keeping their leases, they won’t be spending quite as much time there.

Where will all this content go? To the property we own: our websites. In 2017, I believe we’re going to see a renaissance of website marketing that incorporates the interactivity and fun we used to see from social media.

Our Challenge for 2017: Look at your website and start brainstorming ways to make it more interactive, more engaging, more fun — and not just on your blog page. Find innovative new ways to incorporate video, interactive experiences like quizzes and polls, and opportunities for conversation.

4. Retro Is the New New

As frustration with the overcrowded ocean that is online and social content, I’m seeing renewed interest in two old, familiar friends: email and, believe it or not, print.

Remember the early days of social media when all the gurus were saying “email is dead?” Nothing could be further from the truth. Given the choice between the two, would you prefer to spend time and effort on (a) a Facebook post that might be seen by 1 percent of your audience, or (b) an email that will show up in the inbox of everyone on your list?

I’ve been saying it from the beginning, and I’ll say it again: your email list is one of your greatest assets. Those folks have given you permission to, in a virtual sense, to come into their homes and share your ideas with them. Email accomplishes what no social platform can, and as organic social reach craters, it’s our surest method of engagement.

And then there’s print. Pulizzi predicts that in 2017, more brands will follow Airbnb’s lead and publish print magazines, which they will integrate with complementary online experiences. Just before the holidays, I kicked off a content repurposing project with a client that includes a strong print component. As consumers are inundated with thousands of online messages every day, there’s something about a beautiful print piece that can’t help but grab attention, and smart brands are catching on.

Our Challenge for 2017: Look for new and innovative ways to leverage email and print marketing. Think small scale (quick tips, trade show handouts) as well as large scale (newsletters, magazines), and see how you can leverage the content you’ve already created into beautiful email and print assets.

How I’m Raising the Bar

So, what will you do to adapt to this brave new world in 2017? For myself, I’m going to devote more attention to all three of these areas, with a special focus on #2.

I feel the need to raise my own bar for the content on this blog, which means more in-depth, well-researched content that offers unique insights into the issues my audience cares about. Now, sticking to that promise with our current editorial schedule would be near impossible … so I’m going to publish less often.

For the first quarter of 2017, I’ll be publishing longer, meatier posts, but only twice a month. I know this will mean breaking a rule I’ve preached over the years — “publish once a week or don’t bother” — but that was then, this is now. Brave new worlds require bold moves, and we’ll see how this one works out.

Okay, your turn. What will you do differently in 2017 to keep up with the current trends in our industry?