7 Trends Changing How Companies Connect With Audiences


John Hall

July 4, 2016

The terms “content” and “digital media” can be polarizing. They’re pretty broad and their measures confusing — the electoral college of the marketing world. But like my elastic waistband, the number of these tactics keeps expanding, and in January, I made a New Year’s resolution to keep up.

Now, more than halfway into 2016, I’ve identified a few trends that companies should keep up on. Whether you’re writing, distributing, or sharing content, account for these seven trends when crafting your marketing strategy.

1. The Evolution of the Social Network

Stop thinking of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat as “social networks” — at least in the traditional sense.

We already know that platforms like these are intersecting with publishers and content studios. We saw this trend in 2014 when LinkedIn launched Pulse, effectively moving the platform from a social network to a tool for content creation and distribution. (My team and I have actually been able to use LinkedIn for lead generation, If your team is looking to do the same, you can check out the guide we wrote on using content on LinkedIn to generate leads.)

And it makes sense, when you think about it: People visit these sites to discover and consume content — not just to share “original content” like personal statuses and pictures — so it’s actually a clear next step that they’d engage with exclusive content experiences.

Brands are jumping on board, too, looking past their own websites to start creating content unique to each platform. Facebook’s rollout of Instant Articles is a great example, and Snapchat’s rise from an app used by your sister’s kids to a useful tool for brands to create and share content is further proof. Snapchat’s evolution is happening alongside the app’s increasing focus on revenue, and as the app grows as a content platform, brands need to strategize for this form of media.

2. The Advancement of the Press Release to Reach Your Audience

I’ve written before about the death of the standard press release as a PR trend you need to know, and it generated a lot of discussion and debate.

So I’ll clarify: Press releases are not completely dead. They’re still used in some cases (like when required by the Securities and Exchange Commission or requested by specific journalists), but that doesn’t mean practices aren’t changing.

Contributors and industry influencers are growing in numbers, and they aren’t as excited about traditional press releases. However, they respect it when you create high-quality content that they can use as a source or send as an informal pitch along with a more developed piece that fits their writing style.

So, the press release of 2016 is more an extension of content strategy and therefore, like other effective content, has to educate more than it promotes.

3. Long-Form and Interactive Content Lives

Attention spans have undoubtedly shrunk. Now, content doesn’t absolutely have to shrink with it, but long-form content has to adapt in format to its audience’s ability to stay tuned.

Take ESPN’s article on Kobe Bryant’s retirement, for example. It’s definitely long-form, but it uses images, video, quote bars, and subheadings to break it into easy-to-read pieces and keep it from feeling like a chore. Not every business has access to the same resources as ESPN, but we can all reimagine the way we format and deliver our content.

Media outlets are testing out more interactive content to engage audiences. Companies like Jebbit have emerged as resources to layer interactive capabilities that Jebbit President Jonathan Lacoste says will not only further engage customers, but will also capture valuable behavioral data.

4. LinkedIn Continues to Rise

LinkedIn is becoming an integral part of content publication and distribution. Don’t believe me? Consider these stats:

LinkedIn is no longer just an option for brands building industry leadership; it’s now a must. And beyond publishing on LinkedIn, brands are realizing the power of LinkedIn Groups. Start or join one to provide focused thought leadership to your peers.

5. Donald Proves Earned Media Can Trump Paid Media

Before I go further, let’s be clear: This isn’t intended to praise Donald Trump. But his campaign can remind us a little something about the value of earned media.

In case you missed it, The New York Times’ The Upshot illustrated his advantage in earned media with some charts that really put into perspective his comparative dominance in free media. From this we can learn that influencers and natural attention can be more valuable to a brand and its goals than rushing into paid media.

I’m not against paid media — I actually think paid amplification and promotion can be extremely valuable — but problems arise when you immediately jump to throwing money at paid promotion before looking at the earned ways to build trust and influence.

It’s hard to reset expectations in a long-term relationship once you’ve put a ton of money into it. If you pay somebody $10,000 a month to be your best friend, what do you think will happen later when you say, “I still want you to be my best friend, but I can’t pay you anymore”?

You should do everything you can to set up natural, cross-marketing relationships and ways to build your influence first, and then look at paid strategies to amplify them.

6. Back to (the Social Shares of) the Future

You’ve probably heard content professionals talk about “cutting through the clutter.” It’s 2:53 p.m. and nearly 2.7 million blog posts have already been published today. So, how do marketers address this?

When I say that Thursdays are MySpace’s heaviest visitor-traffic days because users check in to find old photos to post for “Throwback Thursdays,” what do you think?

The insight that Thursdays drive the highest traffic to this social network sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many marketers don’t capitalize on data like this. Being aware of social trends, like #TBT, is key to optimizing distribution to social platforms. We have more data available to us than ever, and to give content the edge it needs, marketers have to become more data-driven about sharing and distribution.

7. Moving In With Thought Leadership

In February, Google Trends measured thought leadership at its peak, reaching an interest level of “100” on the search engine. One reason for this surge has been the entrance of unconventional companies into the space.

Penske Truck Leasing, for example, released a series of digital spots in March aimed at the B2B crowd. Why? “We are showcasing a series of scenarios where people go to who they think are experts but really aren’t,” Senior VP of Marketing Sherry Sanger said. “We are trying to position ourselves as experts in the transportation and logistics space.”

A big misconception in content marketing is that only certain companies or industry leaders can practice thought leadership and that they must direct content at the public. Penske shows us that more companies are recognizing the best way to practice thought leadership is within one’s own industry.

As trends from thought leadership to interactive content to influencer marketing demonstrate, the way companies connect with their audiences is constantly changing. What other trends have you noticed that will change how we connect with our audiences? Let me know in the comments.

John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that specializes in expertise extraction and knowledge management that is used to fuel marketing efforts. 

This article was written by John Hall from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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