Experts’ Take: The State of Content

The world of content is always evolving—new formats, new delivery channels, new trends. But some things never change. People will always love a good story. Quality will always beat quantity. And change itself is constant.

Last week, Manish Mehta, our Chief Product Officer, sat down with some of the brightest minds in content to discuss where we are and where we’re going. Here are three big trends that emerged.

There’s a renaissance in long-form content.

Even as we continue to create shorter, more condensed content forms—newspapers to blogs, Facebook posts to content with a halflife like Snapchat—people still have an appetite for longform. Just think about binge watching shows in the age of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. As David Berkowitz, Chief Marketing Officer at agency MRY, points out, “People actually want to watch 13 hours of video in a single weekend when there is something really exciting or culturally relevant happening.”

And that desire for longform holds true across media—take the continued  blossoming of podcasting. With Serial’s success, the decade-old medium now carries a certain cachet, it’s hip again. Sarah Weir Iooss, Viacom’s Senior Vice President, Partnerships & Client Strategy, Ad Sales, was quick to point out, “It’s a classic paradigm for entertainment, one hit can change everything.”  And she isn’t immune to the allure either, “These things are happening, I was trying to find reasons to escape my responsibilities to listen to Serial.”

But, quantity without quality won’t cut it. “The trick is,” according to Berkowitz, “to do anything great. For a brand to hold people’s attention in any meaningful way for more than 30 seconds is tough as’s so hard.”

Competition has created premium content.

Which begs the question, I\in the struggle to capture audience attention, are we moving back to highly professional, highly produced content or does UGC still have a place? According to Leslie Bradshaw, Managing Partner of Made by Many,  “The marketplace can sustain all content...but with so many ways and places to consume content—you have be true to the medium in order to have impact.” She recounted receiving sponsored content from a retailer on Instagram that was so over produced, it looked strange in her feed, “It’s so important to think about which environment it’s living in.  On one hand, you’ve got some crazy UGC animated GIF that performs really well in one environment, but then on the other hand you want a podcast that’s really crisp.  It’s interesting to see there’s a tension and the market can hold both.”

Chris Kerns, Spredfast’s Director of Analytics & Research, agreed, “People love to say that attention spans are gone. I don’t know if that’s correct, but to Leslie’s point, it’s less about people jumping around and more about competition. There’s so much good quality content, the bar is much higher.”

Disruption is everywhere.

What lies ahead in content? According to Berkowitz, “Competing trends are taking place simultaneously. Look at Snapchat and Instagram, they’ve both done phenomenally well but have totally different approaches to the permanence of content, the effort to create it. And brands have to grapple with both.” But he thinks that the rise of private social messaging is the most exciting challenge for brands and content creators right now. “You have an audience trying to be unreachable… It’s going to get weird and far more complicated before there is a simple ad product you can buy to reach everyone.”

Bradshaw’s advice to brands? Take queues from startups that are driving trends and creating new consumer behaviors and then use your unique internal assets to take advantage of those trends. “We call it ‘marketing, but better,’ it has the same effect of marketing, but you’re creating a longer lasting experience with the brand.” Giving SNL and Sesame Street as two examples, she pointed out that long-standing media brands have one big competitive edge—stockpiles of content that they can innovate upon to reach new audiences.

Iooss pointed to the pilot process as a current epicenter of disruption to keep pace with content creation today. “Ultimately, within ad sales we’ve done a pretty good job of understanding what our assets are and packaging them up in an interesting way for clients to buy or get involved in. The idea of Echo Social Graph is about creating content with and for an advertiser. It’s exciting to see ad sales and our brands innovating together.”

Want more innovative ideas and smart social insights? Download the Smart Social Report, Volume One—packed with data about the state of social across every leading network.

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As Director of Global PR, Courtney Lowell tells the story of us. Her days are spent developing relationships with media and influential thought leaders, while her evenings are reserved for exploring Austin's food scene and spending quality time with her bearded husband and two dogs.