The game of content marketing is changing, and you're about to see a ton of trends lists published soon. Big surprise, right? This industry has done anything but sit still. That's what gives it staying power and gives content marketers fuel for basic trends articles -- but this isn't your typical trends article.
To be an industry all-star, you've got to know how to spot these changes and act accordingly. I've noticed a lot of little pivots that mean big changes are to come and wanted to dive deeper than a lot of your standard surface-level trends pieces to help you actually prepare for what's around the corner.
I've outlined a few trends below, and to help as much as possible, I've gotten pretty specific on what they mean for us next year. Take a look at the first installment of my content trends series, and start putting together your strategy for 2017:
1. More departments will apply content marketing strategies.
Content marketing has changed a lot over the past few years, and many companies have seen great success with it. Within those companies, other departments have caught wind of those successes and are doing all they can to apply similar content strategies to accomplish their own goals instead of simply accomplishing marketing goals.
And it makes perfect sense: The backbone of content marketing is engaging an audience consistently so its members are naturally attracted to your brand. That idea can benefit more than your marketing team, and companies are realizing that content isn't limited to one department anymore.
By using a variety of tools to track ROI, including an analytics template to measure content's performance, marketing teams will know what's working and what's not -- and they can share the secrets with other departments.
For those companies with marketing teams that have figured out content and easily demonstrated its ROI, the first department to copy that strategy will be recruiting. Hiring solid talent is just as important as generating leads, and similar content tactics can be used to attract and nurture both.
The next area will be that which focuses on external communication with investors or shareholders. Because it can be applied across your whole company, it's important to invest in content marketing and make sure you set it up to scale the right way.
2. Humanizing your content marketing campaigns will be vital.
Traditionally, personal branding and thought leadership might have existed in the PR realm. But because companies are realizing how valuable these practices are to generating leads, creating opportunity, and communicating with various target audiences, they're beginning to fall under marketing's jurisdiction.
We're seeing more teams add these personal, humanized elements to their content campaigns to differentiate themselves and help audiences feel more connected to their brands. We're also seeing this practice scaled beyond just one or two thought leaders to include three or four employees involved in thought leadership. This will only continue to grow, allowing companies to scale their content and humanize their brand so people feel more deeply connected to it.
3. Rely on the community you've built to act as brand amplifiers.
Part of being a content marketing leader is building and nurturing your own community of followers. My team at Influence & Co. focused on building a quality list about a year or two ago, and after a pretty big investment in our own content, we now have more than 30,000 engaged participants. And the value of having so many little content amplifiers is priceless. Not only are you able to stay top of mind more easily through regular content, but that community then helps you share that message with others who aren't in your network yet.
I've seen this happen in a variety of ways across different types of companies, from Inc.'s impressive Inc. 500 community to Forbes Councils. But I really noticed this big trend trigger when I was involved with this year's EY Entrepreneur of the Year program.
EY wants to support the entrepreneurs and business leaders who would potentially hire them -- or who would have influence in their companies' decisions to hire them. It's only natural they'd want to form a community around its participants and winners, similar to what Inc. has done with the Inc. 500.
EY's awards program has been around for a long time, but recently, it has really stepped on the gas to build a solid community. Content marketing will be at the core of these communities, and brands like EY will realize that keeping this community engaged throughout the year will require consistent content that keeps them engaged. I see many other brands forming similar communities -- or at least sponsoring similar programs to develop a stronger partnership with them.
4. Influencer marketing will bridge the gap between PR and content marketing.
Joe Pulizzi really hit the nail on the head when he wrote in his recent trends list that "influencer marketing has always been a 'thing,' but in the last six months ... wow ... this topic has vaulted into the top five" trends to pay attention to.
Part of the reason it has become such a hot topic is that companies are beginning to realize that influencer marketing is the bridge between their traditional PR efforts and content marketing.
Now that influencers are writers and contributors to major industry publications, we're seeing a PR trend that's highlighting the evolution from PR outreach to influencer outreach -- with a pitch or full article rather than a standard press release. And this is where it crosses into marketing. This trend is urging PR and content marketing teams to work more closely together, and as a result, companies can be more effective in both areas.
5. Native advertising won't be completely trusted by readers just yet, but it will start to pass the sniff test.
Quite a few studies have found that readers don't trust sponsored or native content, and honestly, I don't blame them. Over the past few years when I've seen "sponsored" or some sort of "brand voice" content, I just scroll past. But brands are still investing in these channels, and many of them are producing content that's actually good.
My prediction is that brands will continue to invest here and improve the quality of their content as a way to increase engagement and close that trust gap. My point about communities plays into this, too: High-quality native ad content on various channels will help form communities and build credibility at the same time.
The more people who start accepting and trusting sponsored content, the stronger that brand's community will become and the greater the chance that brand will have of tapping into some of that audience to amplify its message. Publications and social networks are still figuring out this area, and editorial teams are getting better at incorporating native into their content streams. As brands continue testing native content, we'll begin to see more easily what it will take for readers to trust it.
6. Quite a few companies will give up on content marketing for all the wrong reasons.
I predict that quite a few companies will drop out of investing in content marketing -- and it will be because they spent too much time and money trying to do "the new cool thing" instead of staying focused on the fundamentals of content. I've seen too many content marketing teams jump on board with their cool new Snapchat campaigns without even having a company blog or good content on their own site.
It's easy to feel like your team needs to start using Snapchat or video marketing or any other new tactic right away, but those stats that pressure you into feeling like you're the only one not using them are misleading. Companies like Coke or American Express have been in the content marketing game for years; they've crawled, walked, and jogged already, so you bet they're running now to integrate a variety of new tactics and strategies.
Before you run to new tactics (and waste your budget doing so), you have to execute on the fundamentals of content marketing -- consistently creating valuable content that engages your audience. I'm not trying to say that a solid Snapchat campaign won't do that, but you have to nail down the fundamentals before trying out every flashy new tactic. Before giving up on content, just focus on one goal: consistently getting your audience content that they find valuable and engaging.
The second part of my series on content marketing trends is now live. You can stay up-to-date with my latest trends articles by signing up for notifications when my next piece goes live or by following me on Twitter.