Jan. 26, 2011 | by Tamsin Hemingray
We’re putting together an event for Social Media Week 2011, which we’re calling What next for content?
It’s on 10 February in London, and we’ll be chewing over the future for content, in the context of digital marketing specifically and online communication in general.
There’s a lot we could talk about, but I want to focus on the key trends. So, I’m going to use Connect as a public notebook to jot down my thoughts – and see if I can get the conversation started ahead of time. Here goes…
Content strategy as a discipline will be recognised for the critical part it plays in effective digital communication
Let’s start with an easy one! In case you haven’t heard, Content Strategy is the new Social Media (or something) which means that in 2011 just about everyone and their dog is going to be wanting a piece.
It’s already an established discipline with recognised processes and outputs in the US and this year we’re going to see more hard examples of how organisations and brands have put it to use to improve traffic, deepen engagement on-site (lighter bounce rates, more page views per visit and increased time on-site) and get the right content at the right time in the right shape to the right people.
My fellow content strategists Charlie Peverett, Trisha Brandon and I saw an example of this at the Content Strategy Applied conference a couple of weeks ago, when eBay’s Nikki Tiedtke shared the impressive results her team have achieved by using content strategy methods to improve the satisfaction of their critically important European Business Seller users.
Just as you can’t imagine building a website without considering UX or SEO now (right?), soon you won’t go near a major web project without a content strategist on the team.
Web users will start to get their heads around paying for the best (advertising-free) content
When I opened my TV licence annual statement this week I noticed that I now effectively pay a “subscription” of £12 per month for access to the BBC’s content online, on the radio and on TV. I think this is fantastic value for money – I’d pay it for BBC4 and 6Music on their own.
Murdoch’s brave/crazy/arrogant/misinformed (delete as appropriate) move to put The Times and The Sun behind a paywall in 2010 has paved the way for a major shift in user attitudes to paying for quality content online in 2011 and beyond. (Rumours have already started circulating that The Telegraph will be the next quality UK newspaper to go this way – though they’ve denied it.)
And it really struck me what a huge shift in culture and editorial mentality the paywall must have caused at News International when I heard Jon Hill talk about designing The Times for the iPad last year. He described how exciting it was that the focus was back on pleasing the reader rather than the advertiser. (And though they’re starting at square one in terms of subscriber numbers, the graphs are at least going up for the first time in a while.)
It reminded me of the phrase that rippled through Twitter last year: “If you’re not paying for the content then you are the product”. Not long after that Yahoo! announced that it was selling the superb bookmarking website Delicious – and I watched, amused, as most of the people I know who would fight to the death for the “free” web signed up to a fee-based alternative.
In 2011 and beyond we’re all going to start asking ourselves how much of our attention and personal information we’re happy to give up to advertisers in return for “free” content. And we’re also going to start wondering whether it might be worth a pound or two each month to filter out the spam that clogs much of our search results – to get to the good stuff without promotional messages at every turn.
Content without context will win less attention
While Google struggles to keep pace with the tactics of black-hat SEO and content farms, Facebook’s “like” button has transported digital content into a whole new era.
It’s nearly a year since they announced the roll out of plug-ins for other sites, effectively allowing Facebook users to “take their friends with them” as they travel the web. Love or hate it, Facebook’s ubiquitous nature means that for a huge group of web users an increasing amount of the content they find, share and talk about comes qualified by the perceptions of their friends and family.
Content that comes to the attention of people without this seal of approval is going to have an increasingly hard time holding that attention.
Only outstandingly relevant or original content will be able to break in to these semi-permeable walled gardens, via those in the group who take pride in being the first to share a great new find (but who must to invest the discovery time accordingly).
For all these reasons and more, SEO will inform – but no longer lead – the delivery of content
Up until now, a lot of websites have been a bit like a really knackered old mini cab. One that takes a while to warm up -where you need to know about its “special little ways” to get it to work properly, and it costs a fortune to run.
When a bit of it breaks no one can be bothered to fix it because, well, it’s an old banger isn’t it? So a customer gets in and finds it smells and the handle to wind down the window is broken and the driver keeps getting lost – and when they finally get to the destination it costs twice as much as expected.
For this type of website, SEO has often been used like a rocket booster welded onto the back of the knackered old mini cab. It means that the old banger can get to the customer who needs a ride quicker than anyone else. But what a miserable journey it is for any customer who gets in.
So, if I can extend this already over-stretched metaphor to breaking point . . . If SEO has been the rocket boosters, then content has been treated like the fuel.
And the thing about these particular boosters is that all they need is something that will burn. It doesn’t matter if it’s bits of old cardboard box or rubber tyres – it just needs to burn. Does it make the car belch out smoke that chokes or blinds other people on the roads? Doesn’t matter. Just stuff those keywords in and let the algorithm do its thing.
But hopefully not any more. Nobody (or rather, nobody you trust) is going to ‘like’ or pay a subscription for a random, keyword-stuffed piece of “linkbait”. So I look forward to the time, soon at hand, when content is the equal partner of SEO in the marketing mix. I think we’re going to be able to do great things together.
We will finally get our analytics tools fixed
I am regularly shocked at how regularly I have conversations with web people about the way that their analytics tool is ignored, broken, not able to tell you what you need, misunderstood or seen as the “scary” part of a content producer’s job.
When I was the editor and community manager at Dobedo (yes, it was a real social network in the late ’90s, honestly) everything I did was judged against how succesfully it attracted new users and got existing users doing and saying more. The analytics dashboard was the first and last thing I looked at each day. It told me all about how successful my content was – what I needed to do more of, what had fallen flat and where we needed to go next in terms of the development of new functionality and content formats.
We all need this data to do better and more relevant things with our content. 2011 has to be the year when all those gremlins and glitches in our analytics packages get ironed out. Or perhaps we just bin them and get ourselves signed up to the free and amazingly user-friendly Google Analytics?
If your brand is becoming a publisher then all these things will start to matter to you too
You may be wondering what any of these things have to do with the success or failure of your brand online. If you aren’t in the business of publishing newspapers does it really matter whether people pay for them or access them for free?
Well I’d argue that yes, it does if you have any aspiration at all to communicate with your customers online. If web users are thinking harder about where they focus their attention, whether they want to pass things on to their friends, and whether or not they want marketing messages mixed in with content that is primarily there to inform or entertain them, then you need to be thinking about it too.
We all need to be working out what users want, how they want it and where they want it. And that’s what content strategy is for.
Has your organisation got the people with the skills and experience that a digital publisher needs? If 2011 is the year of the content strategist, then I think that the second age of the web editor must be just around the corner too. And it’s about time.
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