2016 content marketing

A Year of Content Marketing in Review (2016): The Hottest Types of Content & 5 Key Takeaways

2016 has been quite a year, and we aren’t just talking about the world of politics or sports. When the new year began, it would have been hard to believe that the Chicago Cubs would (finally!) win the World Series, “challenges” would be so popular (how many flips will it take to upright that water bottle? And can you do it while posing like a mannequin?), and adults would be THAT wrapped up in Pokémon Go.

Over here at my agency, we started the year with some tips on how to run a successful blog, and through the last twelve months we have continued to deliver on a ton of content for our audience. From publishing my book, to launching my podcast, publishing our intense #howtowriteseries, and launching our weekly #ContentWritingChat back in January, all the way to email marketing and event attendance, infographics, and much more, content marketing continues to prove our #1 form of marketing here at Express Writers. 2016 proved to be our biggest year for that.

But what we did this year in content marketing is for our Content Creation Report, coming up on Thursday. For today, we’re taking a retrospective look back at the industry of content marketing as a whole and what 2016 looked like.

Content marketing has had its own interesting turns in 2016, and we’re here to break it down. Grab a cup of something warm and join me, will you?

2016 content marketing in review

Best in Content Marketing Circa 2016: 7 Key Factors of Good Content this Year

There was much to talk about this year by way of good content, viral content, shared content, and engaging content. Whether it was liked, retweeted, pinned, or snapped, quality material was not in short supply.

What became clear is that readers have a desire to interact with what they’re taking in, that influential content marketing leaders still know where it’s at, and fake news is not going to rule the landscape.

Here are some highlights of what went down:

1. The rise of interactive content

(Forbes): As companies have moved away from “plain vanilla content”, they have moved toward content that is appealing to the audience by way of interactive material. This may take the form of quizzes, polls, and a variety of two-way content.

2. Influential leaders

(Marketing Profs): From Sujan Patel to Jeff Bullas, influential content marketers showed us what worked and what didn’t.

3. Viral content

(Buzz Sumo): Anytime a video, blog, or social media post goes crazy, we call it viral. From open letters directed at Trump supporters to sexy bald men, viral content was a highlight of the year. No surprise here, since we live in a time of instant shares, Facebook trolling, and retweets that number in the millions.

4. Long and complex blogs

(Track Maven): When companies blog for business, they are producing more content but with less impact. Per brand, the number of posts have increased while the social shares have gone down. The length of blog posts grew from an average of 639 words per post in 2015 to just over 700 in 2016.

3. Consistent delivery

(Content Marketing Institute): Of the top content marketing performers, 85% deliver content consistently. This does not always translate to daily or even weekly content, but rather impactful and relevant content on a consistent basis, including repurposed material.

4. Fake news and Facebook

(The Guardian): Mark Zuckerberg may have started the year with a message of hope, but no one could have predicted what the next 12 months would hold for the social media giant. Photo censorship and fake news seemed to loom even as the site’s users inched toward a total of 2 billion worldwide.

5. Infographics

(Buzz Sumo): Not everyone is a fan, but infographics are widely shared, even if they fail to gain very many links. Back in 2012, Jeff Bullas gave us 9 awesome reasons to use them, and by the end of 2016, 58% of marketers are still on board with the picture-and-data mashups.

Infographics actually made up one of our top-shared content types for the year (3/10 of our top-shared content pieces for the year were infographics)!

Did Content Marketing in 2016 Surprise You?

If any of these come as a surprise, it might help to go waaay back to the end of 2015, when predictions were being tossed around about the future of content marketing. Can’t remember that long ago?

Here are some predictions given in late 2015 from influencers, about 2016, to refresh your memory:

  • (CMI) Native advertising would help big companies find their footing, while others would be decimated and may never fully recover.
  • (Mashable) Static content would start to be replaced by more interactive experiences.
  • (Neil Patel via Forbes) Personal authority will be important to the audience.
  • (Jordan Teicher via Contently) The smartest brands would publish less and put more emphasis on larger editorial projects.
  • (Jeff Deutsch via EW) Content marketers would be challenged to cut through the “noise” of too much content.

Some of these predictions were spot-on, while others may have been good guesses but didn’t quite hit the content marketing nail on the head. Our predictions post last year had some pretty accurate statements made.

5 Takeaway Lessons from Content Marketing in 2016

Either way, there are some takeaway lessons we can learn as we move forward to 2017.

1. You Wouldn’t Use a Dial-Up Phone—Don’t Use Boring Content

You may or may not remember the days of writing letters, reading the newspaper as a sole source of information, and dialing the phone (at home) when you wanted to call someone. Some might say that those were the days, and they might be right.

But just like it would not be conducive to start using a rotary phone, content marketers can’t afford to ignore the right now. Staying stuck in the past, where content creation went steady with keyword stuffing and boring information, won’t work going forward.

Consistent delivery may not mean you throw something out every day or even every week; what it does mean is that when it is delivered, it gives your readers an interactive, enjoyable experience that they can use.

2. A Social Audience with No Time to Waste

We live in a complex world, one in which we crave information but run the risk of getting bogged down by it. We may want more authentic relationships, but more and more of us connect via our phones rather than a face-to-face setting. At the same time, we tire of insignificant information from invalid sources.

3. Social Media Isn’t Going Anywhere

The mediums may change, but since the early days of MySpace in 2003 to the billions of social media users across many channels today, our clicks are proof that this is how we connect and engage. It may not be too long before the number of active social media users equals the amount of total internet users.

4. Americans May be Headed Towards Information Overload

According to Pew Research, the percentage right now is relatively small—only 20% of Americans feel overloaded by the constant onslaught of information—and that number changes based on the number of access pathways individuals have at their disposal.

5. Readers Want Authoritative Content, Not Fluff

Fake news won’t cut it. Breaking news is shared, but content marketers need to have an understanding of the credibility behind it. As BuzzSumo points out, it helps to create an original take on a story and create tips or how to posts that the audience can understand and relate to their own situation.

3 Most Shared Pieces of Content Marketing in 2016

Across the content marketing world, there are countless blog posts, e-books, and statistics that provide us with the valuable information we need from the experts we trust. Part of the greatness of this industry is the abundance of guidance and wisdom we can glean from those who know it best.

Of all the advice and how-to’s that dominate the content marketing industry, three stand out as the most shared pieces of 2016. Here they are, thanks to BuzzSumo software:

1. Everything the Tech World Says About Marketing is Wrong

(Tech Crunch)

The content from Tech World opens with the line, “The biggest problem in marketing in the tech world today is that too many marketers do not know the first thing about marketing”. If that doesn’t draw you in and make you stay, we don’t know what would.

The catchy title and relevant content fetched thousands of Facebook shares, even as Samuel Scott wrote that digital marketers “have fallen into an echo chamber of meaningless buzzwords”. Scott’s use of colorful graphics and advice for tech marketers was engaging and ended with a nod to marketers being “full of it”.

The comments that follow are worth the read.

2. How Much Do People Trust Your Content?

(Forbes)

Brian Sutter highlighted this opinion piece with truths related to the lack of fact-checking on internet publications, a distrust among readers, and a low credibility among journalists. He continued with some tips on how to build a loyal audience, which every content marketer and online writer can relate to.

Sutter touched on the fact that “most people dislike being sold to” and cited Nielsen research backing this fact. Building a loyal audience takes time, but it can happen with the combination of useful content and authoritative statistics.

3. These Marketers, Content Producers and Entertainers Under 40 Are Shaping the Industry

(AdWeek)

From actor Donald Glover and Content VP of SnapChat Nick Bell to Ivanka Trump and Michael Dublin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, this list was inspiring even as it covered a host of different industries.

The common factor among all of these Young Influentials is their commitment to deliver the best performance and content in their field, whether that’s in the world of social media, digital media, or in the movie industry. Imgur’s director of creative strategy Laurel Hodge says of her role, “I create creative strategies and content that aspires to be next in the most viral content on the internet”.

Content marketers would be wise to do the same.

In Content Marketing, 3 Key Things Stayed the Same

Technology will change, as will the ways by which we access it. But a few things will stand the test of time, no matter the delivery medium. In the midst of an ever-evolving world, the audience has to remain the priority—after all, without them, why write? As creative thinkers and collaborators, we can continue to:

1. Develop relevant content

If what you write is not important to the audience, they won’t stay. It is worth the time and investment to get to know your readers, their behaviors, and the patterns they follow. Watch how they engage on social media and in comment forums and what they share of your content.

2. Draw readers in and make them stay

A catchy title is a great start, but it isn’t quite enough to engage readers for a long period of time. It is a waste of time to weigh your audience down with long and boring pieces of information that are published just for the sake of a full website, blog, or social media feed.

3. Back up all content with authority

In an age of fake news, moving forward with authority and credible sources is even more important in content creation. As Brian Sutter reminds us (How Much Do People Trust Your Content?), it also pays to include both sides of an argument or perspective. This, he points out, demonstrates your expertise as a writer and adds depth of understanding for the audience.

A Year of Firsts is Coming to a Close. What Now?

Now that the year is ending and we can look back in reflection, how do we move forward with the right information?

First, continue to look to those experts in the field who continue to deliver quality content to writers.

Second, always be developing ourselves so that we can write better, communicate more effectively, and make meaningful connections.

Lastly, keep an eye on the past and the good it held while looking forward with the lessons we have learned.

Remember, not every mistake is detrimental. (As I learned this March!) Consider these words from author Neil Gaiman:

I hope that in this year, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

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