Is Content Leaving the Dot-com Era?

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Image source: PhotoDune

At the moment, we are going through content marketing turmoil of unprecedented proportions. Brands tend to rely more and more on external platforms for their content and distribution. It's an exciting time to be in this business, but uncertainty has reached record levels. Is this reliance a good or a bad thing? Regardless of how it plays out in the end, the only certainty is that the things we take for granted regarding content strategy, are going to change drastically.

3 trends that are changing the shape of content marketing

Think about the most recent trends that alter the way we think about content marketing:

Trend 1: Brands use social media first to signify their online presence, leaving their website second.

Clique Media Group (publisher of ByrdieWho What Wear and My Domaine) used a landing page that contained links to their social media sites, to launch Obsessee. No conventional website was involved. They used third-party social media to showcase their own, exclusively created content for their brand.

Trend 2: Your content's ROI will be harder to estimate if you are going for a first-mover advantage.

The days when you managed your website's engagement data using Google Analytics are over, for the time being at least. Nowadays, the medium is more important than the metrics. Think about how Instagram and Snapchat consume the final bits of our limited time. It's now impossible to ignore Snapchat, marketing-wise.

Still, what has left content and brand marketers in awe about Snapchat, is its austere interface and even more basic analytics. According to insurance marketer Frank Kasimov, "Measurements are so flimsy that we might as well calculate engagement by counting on our fingers."

Trend 3: Mobile-optimized content.

It doesn't matter how you want to evaluate this trend, looking at the data, or trust anecdotal evidence: everybody uses their smartphone, non-stop as it seems. Every time I am on my phone and come across non-mobile friendly content, I don't bookmark or save it, but I move on to the next right away.

Your strategy should prioritize mobile by default. Some companies, like Quartz, are attempting to take it even further, by content delivery through text and chatting. Fundamentally, your strategy should consider mobile first.

The post-dot-com era

Brands and their audience have stopped caring about specific platforms and websites. Owned marketing channels are being replaced by third-party marketing channels. And Generation Z (people aged from 2 to 19, with the 11-19 segment being targeted by marketing) are at the forefront of future content utilization.

As the Co-founder and CEO at BaseCreate told me, "Gen Z are snubbing dot-coms. It's a very neglected group when it comes to good content." If you still have trouble believing me, consider that only 23 percent of Buzzfeed's traffic comes from direct website visits.

The switch to 3rd-party distribution platforms

The successful content marketing campaigns of the future will take place on 3rd party distribution platforms and not owned ones.

Reason 1: Medium's growth

Medium renders it more attractive, easier and cheaper for brands to displace their website (and relevant blog) and transfer it to the online publishing platform. A striking example of such a move is Bill Simmons' latest project, The Ringer. The Ringer is going to be Medium's "first premium content website". And I bet there will be more to follow.

A lower-profile example, Free Code Camp, and their article, "We just abandoned our blog for Medium. You probably should, too" proved that engagement was higher for their posts on Medium. But instead of just reposting them on Medium, they opted for permanent relocation to the platform.

The fact that both a rich publisher and a small startup choose to use Medium as their primary online presence should ring some bells with content marketing professionals. Medium explained the advantages of this strategy when they announced their collaboration with The Ringer.

We have talked in the past about how Medium could be the perfect environment for professional publishers and bloggers to establish and run their base of operations. We negate the need for investments in technical infrastructure, facilitate access to a rapidly developing network targeting purposeful engagement, and deliver ever-developing innovation from an elite product development team, regardless of you being an individual or a publishing corporation - with zero costs.

In his marvelous piece, "The distribution conundrum is causing a headache for brands," Shane O'Leary states, MediumQuora -- and LinkedIn Pulse, to some extent -- provide the one ingredient that is most important to successful writing, and that's readers. These platforms already have millions of people visiting them, thinking "I want to read something." With content platforms, a user is more likely to see new articles on their feed, than old ones. This means that every time you publish an article, there is an almost guaranteed minimum audience in the first hours, something that's far from reality for most blogs.

Reason 2: The democratization of mobile-first content by Facebook

Content marketing is also under pressure to change its model from owned to 3rd party distribution channels by Facebook, and its introduction of Instant Articles. This is because Facebook Instant Articles have the potential to democratize mobile-first content for the world's top social network and largest referrer of traffic to news sites. With Instant Articles, Facebook addressed two long-standing critiques regarding its services: loading of content was slow, and the content experience varied among different brands.

Clicking on articles from various companies resulted in varied reading experiences because it led to leaving Facebook and being left at the mercy of each brand's proprietary user interface. So, just like Medium, Facebook intends to offer a seamless reading experience to its users, which won't depend on the type of content or brand. But there's a catch: Everything will be happening on Facebook, not your site or blog. Which is good for the reader -but what happens with the publisher?

What does it mean for Medium and Facebook to be the owners of your distribution channel? It means they can eliminate you in a second, as in the case of The Shade Room.

The Shade Room was shut down by Facebook for violating IP regulations. It makes no difference whether The Shade Room made a mistake or not. What it matters is what Facebook thinks (even if it means to send the 4.4 million fans of The Shade Room somewhere else). This is the dark side of the moon when it comes to entrusting your publishing and distribution rights to a 3rd party.

Luckily for The Shade Room, they kept a backup of their content on their website, so they didn't lose everything, except the unmatched reach of Facebook's channel of distribution, of course.

What should marketers and publishers learn from these trends?

By examining the phrase 'content marketing', we can assume that, if content is the first half, then marketing is the other half. Distribution represents a significant sticking point for content marketers. Although content creation can be done by anyone, what's common knowledge to every Communications professional is that "the medium is the message."

It's my belief that content marketers will have no problem sacrificing owned media and proceed with the move to 3rd party channels. Provided that it offers them access to a greater audience, smart user interface, higher speed, less costly design and a more reliable reading experience; even more so when switching costs nothing.

It will be interesting to see how platforms like Medium and Facebook deal with publishers who violate their user agreements. Which will then spur even bigger debate around who is the content owner when it's censored or eliminated. For the time being, most would agree that the benefits outweigh the unknowns. But until when?