In some ways, content always stays the same; users will seek information and entertainment from authoritative sources, and the most successful sources will be rewarded with more visibility (and probably more revenue). This hallmark will ensure that content marketing continues to be a worthwhile and sought-after strategy for businesses well into the next decade.
But the applications and vehicles through which this content is developed, syndicated, and consumed are always changing, and as a result, users today have different demands than the users of, say, 2012. In the span of a year, the emergence of new technologies and obsolescence of old ones can completely change the average user’s expectations for a given institution.
In order to maintain relevance in the content world, brands will have to anticipate these changes in user expectations. While it’s impossible to predict any technological or cultural shifts with complete accuracy, I do believe there are at least a handful of changes that will inevitably take hold by 2016.
More, Better, Faster
This might go without saying, since it applies to all products and services in all industries, but consumers are always after things that are bigger, better, and faster. Content is no exception. By 2016, user appetites for content will be more discerning, and users will demand information that is provided to them in more concise, accessible, high-quality ways. That means general listicle-style articles and clickbait articles will start to disappear entirely—you can already see this trend starting to manifest with Upworthy’s recent decision to move away from clickbait and toward higher quality material.
Publishers aren’t the only ones supporting this shift toward better content. Social media platforms and search engines, too, are getting better at identifying low-quality content, and are doing a better job at filtering that content out. Soon, in order to survive in the already saturated world of content marketing, you’ll need to constantly write and syndicate some of the best material on the web.
Following this demand, users will require more instant updates when it comes to news and current events. Gone are the days where you’d first hear about a news event several hours after it first occurred. Thanks to social media, users can instantly inform other users of what’s happening, rendering any “official” report as delayed information. This demand will only increase as social platforms introduce more ways to connect users instantaneously to unfolding events—for example, take Twitter’s upcoming Project Lightning (or Moments), which will gather information from millions of users to create a cloud-like newsfeed that captures a news event as it develops from user images, videos, and tweets.
In 2016, if you want to report on new or emerging information, you’ll have to do so instantaneously. Use short snippets of social updates, live feeds like Periscope, or similar tech developments to connect your users instantly to real-time events.
Every time our technology gets a little better, users get a little lazier. Individual apps are favored over browser-based apps because they require only one click to access instead of three or four. But there’s often still a problem when users attempt to access content that’s hosted outside of the app—they’re forced to leave, and possibly enter a separate app. By 2016, users will have lost all tolerance for this, and social media apps will have paved the way for a much more integrated experience. Users will be able to read content exclusively within their social apps of choice, and may even be able to search the web and perform other functions without ever leaving.
Take, for example, Facebook’s new Instant Articles, which allows publishers to release work on Facebook (rather than their external sites), and Facebook’s recently developed in-app search engine. This is only the beginning, so expect more changes in the coming year.
We live in a highly customizable world already, but the next year is going to amp it up to the next level. Social media apps and publishers alike are going to great lengths to ensure that users have full control over the types of content they see every day, from granting them advanced newsfeed filters to developing algorithms that can learn from repeated user behaviors. By 2016, users will become so accustomed to this individualized treatment, they’ll seldom venture outside their designated domes of personal experience, and content marketers will have to cater to them directly by learning user behavior patterns.
Last but not least, the mediums people use to consume content are changing. By 2011, people were so used to images being associated with content that image-less content received almost no clicks by comparison. Today, users are accustomed to seeing embedded short videos, live video feeds, and multiple forms of the same content piece (i.e., article, infographic, video, etc.). By 2016, the average user will demand more diverse and more flexible media experiences from every angle, requiring multiple formats before clicking or even excluding some mediums entirely.
Plan for these user experience changes to become the new norm by the middle of next year, and of course, always keep your eyes and ears open for emerging technologies and other disruptors that could change the course of content development. The further ahead you plan, and the more flexibly you adapt to changing circumstances, the better you’ll fare—at least compared to your competitors, and that’s what really counts, right?