In the last decade, the spread of the Internet democratized the media. For marketers, content marketing was an effective and efficient way to directly communicate with customers and clients. But everyone using the same marketing communications strategy led to a proliferation of self-published content saturating our emails and social media feeds.
In his 1996 essay, ‘Content is King,’ Bill Gates delivered an ominous portent: “In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.”
That material is at a saturation point. This “Blog Smog” means that simply producing content is no longer enough to have an impact on your audience. We need to revise how we think about creating and disseminating content.
Here are 10 best practices for content marketing in the new digital reality.
& Start with a good story
The greatest challenge is finding something new to say, or a new way to say it. A good topic is often one where you can add a new insight or deeper knowledge for your audience. Staying on top of the news will also give you an idea of what is controversial, and where you can add to the debate. But sometimes the best content comes from stories within the organization – and it can take an outside perspective to see what is truly different.
& Have an opinion
Whether content is everlasting or tied to a timely topic, you need to have an opinion. You should eliminate hedging phrases like “On the one hand” as much as possible. The old adage “Too many cooks spoil the broth” is particularly relevant for this to be successful. Too many editors will place a stranglehold on the tone, resulting in staid pieces that have little weight in a competitive content arena. Limit your editorial team to one or two people who are briefed on your marketing communications strategy.
& Tell the truth
Truth has become commoditized. And like any commodity, its value rises when it’s in low supply. Public trust in the media and experts is eroded. It is therefore important to ensure that all content is factually accurate to help build trust in your brand. Audiences are increasingly sensitive to marketing hyperbole, so avoid the clichés and be direct. Great content gives the good, the bad and the ugly.
& Don’t bury the lede
Academics and industry professionals often write reports in an academic style. The author makes a well-worded and detailed argument outlining their case which culminates in a conclusion. In writing for a digital audience, you want to make it clear what your core argument is from the first paragraph. That grabs their attention from the beginning and gets your point across even if they don’t read through to the end.
& Write clean copy
If you want to persuade your reader of your argument, then every word needs to count. The aim of writing is not to impress your peers with your Shakespearean prose. You want to use language to persuade others of the merit of your ideas. The median book on the New York Times’ best-seller list has a grade level of 6, which goes to show that people value content that is easy to read.
Sentences that are a paragraph long and paragraphs that take up a whole page are a chore to read. Short paragraphs and simple sentence structures enables your reader focus on what you’re saying. You should also “trim the fat,” as editors like to say, by getting rid of digressions that don’t add any substance to your argument.
& Add color
At its foundation, content must be clear, concise and grammatically correct. But that doesn’t mean it has to be bland. The most engaging content weaves in stories, anecdotes, data and light humor to add depth. As one op-ed editor for the Financial Times put it to us, “exposition that is as fresh and as clear and as bracing as glacial meltwater”.
& Avoid jargon
To appeal to a wider audience, industry-speak should be curtailed. You should assume that your reader might not know, for instance, what the “Phillips Curve” is. Take the time to explain what you mean without relying on the crutch of jargon. So to spell it out, “when increasing inflation leads to more employment, also known as the Phillips Curve”.
& Stay on message
Content is the core component to any marketing communications strategy.
Content created in isolation can miss the mark on your messaging. It then fails to feed into the social media and media relations activities. In order for the overall communications strategy to be successful, content needs to be led by those with a deep understanding of how communications activities fit into the evolving digital technology landscape.
& Use SEO
It’s important to make sure the keywords in your article are relevant terms searched for in Google. We recommend Moz.com as a tool for researching which keywords could have the most impact on your posts. The article needs a headline and meta description. It needs at least one image that can be used for social media posts.
& Time it well
Posting a steady stream of content for your audience raises your brand awareness. But it also needs to be timed well. Short content, such as blog posts, will gain more views and engagement if it hinges off the news cycle. For long-form content, such as white papers, you might only publish a few pieces of long-form content per year. It might be a new piece of research or a white paper on your company’s vision for the industry.
We are still in the early years of the Internet. The last time such a seismic technological shift in the written word occurred was the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Its invention spread the Bible to the masses for the first time. That was a culminating factor in the Reformation in 16th century Europe.
If we consider today’s parallel – where anyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection can publish anything online – the powerhouses of the media face a daunting challenge to their supremacy, much as the Roman Catholic church did over five centuries ago. We are seeing a similar polarization of viewpoints and widespread social change take place today.
Over the next decade, we will continue to see the rise of new technologies that will further upend the media universe. The rise of AI will bring about changes in how we create, distribute, pay for and consume content, making it even more personalized.
There is no telling what the consequences of these changes will be. But as communicators, we must constantly be looking for new opportunities to engage with our audiences through adaptive content marketing best practices.