Advertising and content marketing used to be nearly interchangeable. Branded content was typically developed as a by-product of a traditional ad unit, creative or original enough to stand out and shine on its own merits. Print, TV, radio or out of home—they all served a single purpose: advertising a product or service. But now that ads and marketing are so easily avoided by consumers, every piece of communication from a brand needs not only to advertise, but also to serve as creative "content," worthy of talking about and sharing.
Sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Magic was the prerogative of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. There was always a mystery as to how content was created, with only a few people understanding the technical landscape behind the illusion.
Now with the shift to digital, the world of content has expanded. From tweets and status updates to e-books and transmedia experiences, there are a number of ways for brands to tell their story. But now the implicit magic in creating content is gone. Consumers have seen behind the curtain.
What’s more, consumers also have a role in this digital age. They’re creating more content while also consuming and surfacing more content—serving as both our competitors and our collaborators—and creating opportunities for brands to be a part of this conversation. But the art of creating and joining conversations isn’t easy. Brands need to work for it, infusing a little bit of magic back into content they create, instead of only repurposing their advertising.
Needless to say content marketing is not just another buzzword to ignore. It is evident marketers want to get on board, with 90% acknowledging that content marketing will become even more important in 2013. Nevertheless, only 38% of marketers actually have a content strategy in place. This is a major problem.
And those that have in fact implemented content strategies often fail to effectively deliver on them. Many create or curate content—but don’t understand the value in developing a strategy that accounts for both. Without creation, there would be no curation.
So how should marketers go about creating and curating the best content?
While no one’s figured out how to predict viral success, using social listening to inform content creation and curation is a good place to start. Don’t limit it to your own communities. Instead, find out where your audience hangs out online and what it’s consuming. Build in cultural relevance by asking yourself, "What part of culture or consumer behavior are we tapping into?"
Don’t overlook the reporting you get from your community managers. Pay attention to content that’s over-performing and graduate those successes. If you post a status update on Facebook and see particularly high engagement, consider creating something else with the same theme, like a poll. And if that does well? Maybe an infographic or content series is next… or take it to the next level with an event or game.
A winning content strategy combines stock and flow, creation and curation. Robin Sloan, a media inventor and theorist, adapted the economic terms to refer to content within social media: "Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today."
Beyond creating content, many brands forget content curation—or worse, have been scared away by their legal teams. But curation is on the rise. Unique visits on curation platforms including Tumblr, Pinterest, BuzzFeed and even Fab are all steadily increasing.
Percolate, a publishing platform, helps brands identify relevant content and content sources. Every day, new content is delivered to the community manager. After it’s been published, Percolate tracks how well the content is received, adjusting its surfacing algorithm as it learns.
Instead of just aggregating content, curation requires adding context. Why is this content relevant or interesting to your consumers? How can you tie it back to your brand? It’s not just about tying content back through products, but about incorporating your brand voice to setup the content.
As digital continues to evolve so will the way brands need to approach content marketing. But no matter which new platforms or tools are developed, the importance of creating and curating stock and flow—content that’s both engaging and relevant—still stands.
So if we want consumers to relate to and spread our content—whether we created it ourselves or curated it from others—we’ve got to find a way to re-introduce that creativity and originality. The New York Times previously reported on a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania that illustrated how the most shared emotion was "awesome." It defined the quality as an "emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self."
Here’s to bringing back magic and finding the awesome.
Rosie Siman is Senior Strategist at 360i, a digital agency specializing in search engine marketing, social media, mobile marketing and web design and development.