By Peter Springett | @PeterSpringett
Predictions are always risky. But I’ve noticed three emerging trends that will steer content production and content marketing in 2018. They differ in many ways, but there’s one overriding theme: content teams and their leaders need a rich blend of communication and technology skills.
At DLA we call this the soft skills-software balance. Get it right and you’ll be able to publish a regular schedule of original, stand-out content that will drive awareness, engagement and genuine sales leads.
Coalescence: digital skills gravitating to content
One of the biggest content trends in 2017 is the one that will influence strategies in 2018. I’ve called it the theory of content coalescence – or the degree to which wider digital marketing roles are coming into the orbit of content.
These skills include social media, SEO, PPC, email marketing, and data analytics. Although they’ve been part of the digital marketer’s toolbox, it’s increasingly obvious that all of them are bound up closely with the content strategist’s role.
I’m keen to add here that I don’t think they’re subservient to a content manager in a traditional hierarchy. Rather that for any of these activities to flourish, the collaboration of a content specialist is essential.
Here are a few examples of what I mean:
PPC – can you create clear call to action headlines and descriptions that maximise not just clicks, but landing page conversions?
SEO – are you creating enough quality, original content to boost search rankings? Does content understand SEO well enough to craft headlines, headings and body copy that adds momentum to your SEO efforts?
Social media – can you create posts, hashtags and other meta-copy that drives engagement? What about snappy headlines? I’m seeing more and more content teams being asked to provide social posts as part of the content production process.
Email – this is the tricky one. As open rates plummet, what techniques can you use to get people to read and act on your messages? Can you create a seamless audience journey to conversions with the minimum number of clicks?
Analytics – Content needs to own its own data. Access to Google analytics is essential and a good understanding of social media and listening tools, such as Brandwatch, is also important.
Again, content doesn’t own the analytics function, but it must be able to analyse, plan and execute based on data that drives decision making.
Collaboration: Working the business to squeeze value out of content
The second major trend is the importance of soft skills to the content manager role. In the scenarios described above, collaboration and communication are essential. Getting on with people is more important than ever, especially those who view the prism of digital marketing from a different angle.
Being able to manage up as well as down also matters. With demand growing for high quality content at scale, it becomes more important than ever to build content teams that include ‘virtual’ team members from other parts of marketing and beyond.
Managing down, managing up
I increasingly see heads of content managing up as well as down. They take responsibility for their teams, of course, but they also work to help heads of marketing set goals and expectations with the c-suite.
Another important skill is coaching. In the past, content was the preserve of old school editorial teams. Now, when nearly everyone has a social account and many blog in their spare time, content creation permeates the business. Heads of content need to be present at inductions to set the ‘editorial tone’ of the business and communicate social media guidelines from the outset.
Coaching up also matters. Can your head of content hold his or her own with the c-suite? Can they help the CEO improve his or her social presence and search engine rankings? These things matter. Content and social are no longer hobbies, they’re fundamental to the success of the business.
Creation: The rise and rise of the content studio
The third trend that will dominate content in 2018 is the content studio. As I’ve argued before, the rise of artificial intelligence and automation will drive high volume, mass-messaging based on financial, sports and customer data.
To stand out from the crowd, businesses, especially those that sell mid-to-high value products and services will invest in high-quality, creative content, especially video.
YouTube is currently awash with b2b talking heads. The content studio will raise the creative bar significantly, bringing together experts in the field of video, audio, scriptwriting and animation .
Substance that matches style
At first glance this might look expensive, but as Jeff Bullas argues, the basic equipment for creating broadcast quality video can cost less than $1,000. In addition, the head of content will be tasked with squeezing the maximum value out of source materials. A single video script becomes the basis of a long-form article or several blogs. Animation should be commissioned with a view to creating a series of infographics, and so on.
That said, there’s no point in producing smart looking articles and video if the substance doesn’t match the style. Heads of content need to network the business. They must unearth the experts and persuade them to participate in the content schedule.
The most ambitious of these experts will author their own content. But others will be reluctant to spare the time. A 15 minute ‘studio’ interview-braindump may be all you will get for the first article.
With these time-poor experts, the trick is to push their first article hard on social media and syndicate where possible. I’ve yet to meet a sceptical executive who isn’t won over by a spreadsheet of impressive audience data.
As the above paragraph shows, the three trends frequently overlap. Without broad digital expertise, people skills and creativity, you’ll miss out on the value that content must bring to the business. 2018 is just around the corner, make sure you don’t miss out.
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