Seven predictions about what will shape content marketing in 2019

After significant growth and development in 2018, what will 2019 bring for content marketing?

Content marketing has gone from strength to strength in 2018 and is now a central plank of many marketing plans. Recent research from the Content Marketing Institute found that 68 per cent of B2B marketers had used content marketing over the past year, with 96 per cent of respondents from companies that did so believing it to have boosted trust in their brand.

With content marketing in rude health, we’re looking ahead to what 2019 will bring for the sector.

1) Podcasts are an excellent way to build an audience

Podcasts have been around for more than a decade – but are surging in popularity thanks to an increasing use of Bluetooth-enabled cars, Bluetooth-enabled speakers and voice-controlled devices such as Amazon’s Echo Dot.

The Infinite Dial 2018 Study by Edison Research and Triton Digital in the US found that 25 per cent of people over the age of 12 had listened to a podcast in the last month. Arguably the most important stat was that 80 per cent of people listened most or all of the way through the recording.

This compares favourably with video, where many people tend to duck out before the halfway point.

Prediction: If you’re not podcasting yet, you will be in 2019.

2) More companies will push their CEO into the limelight

At the top of the business tree, the likes of Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Tesla founder Elon Musk and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai are not shy about publishing their thoughts on key growth areas in their industry, or what the future holds. But this is much less common among CEOs of smaller companies.

As recently as 2016, it was estimated that up to 60 per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs had no social profile. While those numbers have fallen, for many companies there is little strategy around CEO thought leadership.

This is a massive missed opportunity, because CEO thought leadership is an effective sales tool which puts the company at the forefront of industry conversations.

Greater numbers of CEOs, in our view, are set to become the flag-bearers for their brands in 2019.

Prediction: Expect more companies to follow the big guns and boost their CEO’s profile.

3) Social sharing is less of the answer

Publishing great content is not enough to ensure it gets read. For many, the idea of a distribution strategy is to publish a great post, put it out on Twitter and hope it goes viral. Maybe even use Buffer to stack up a few tweets.

There’s nothing wrong with this – utilising your own social media platforms and audience is an important part of any distribution strategy. But a decline in social sharing by audiences is hitting even the biggest sites and shows no signs of slowing.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest there is no longer any such thing as virality for brands.

Looking at BuzzFeed, social sharing of its content by readers (across the main platforms) collapsed from a height of 60,000,000 shares to 15,000,000 between January 2015 and January 2018.

And it’s not just consumer-facing content. BuzzSumo looked at customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing and sales software provider HubSpot and found that between 2014-16, each piece of its content enjoyed an average of 753 shares. In 2017, that had fallen to 590. Chillingly (but not entirely unpredictably), the vast majority of published content receives no shares at all.

Prediction: Content marketers will spend less time promoting on social media

4) Online ads will play an increasingly important role in content marketing

This ties in to the entry above. Consolidation has increasingly put our online interactions in the hands of a few key sites such as Facebook, Google and Amazon. Getting in touch with friends? Log in to Facebook. Looking for information? Google it. Want to buy a product? Well, Amazon, of course.

How does this affect content marketing? Organic reach has been in decline for some time, as these platforms increasingly made businesses pay to access an audience. Unless you own a site with lots of traffic, paid-for advertising is the solution to bringing your content to the audience you want to attract.

HubSpot – one of the early trailblazers in tech and marketing content marketing – announced that it is now using advertising to distribute its content. And it is getting good results.  Unless you are highly specialised, fighting an ever-growing amount of content out there is increasingly going to mean putting money behind distribution.

Prediction: The big players increase their online stranglehold and make you buy their ads.

5) Quality is more important than ever

While social sharing is generally in freefall, there is one sector that has seen an increase. The same BuzzSumo research found sharing over the 2015-17 period had actually increased on high-quality sites like the Economist and Harvard Business Review, which publish quality in-depth and well-researched articles with original and considered perspectives. Both of the Economist’s most-shared articles were from 2017.

In a world of content overload, quality is a surefire way of reducing the odds of getting your reader’s attention. This is also true for branded content.

Prediction: The demand for high-end content will increase as publishers realise its worth

6) Our jobs will not be taken over by robots

Stephen Hawking once said AI was the biggest threat to mankind. But what does that mean for content marketing?

Well, unless we are already in the matrix, it is not a threat. At least not yet anyway.

AI-produced ‘journalism’ has been around for some time. The Associated Press has been using ‘robot journalists’ to write sports reports since 2016, while Bloomberg automatically generates reports on corporate earnings releases. Reuters is using a system called Lynx Insight that can analyse large data sets and identify patterns that could be converted into news stories.

These sorts of applications take mundane tasks away from journalists and marketers and allow them more time to create quality content. In this way, it helps rather than replaces content roles.

Prediction: AI and machine learning will be seen as content marketing enablers rather than threats.

7) The rise of chatbots

Chatbots allow customers to converse with brands via social media. And, done properly, they can be a major growth driver.

But is chatbot conversation actually content? It sure is. In its simplest form, it is structured and rules-based, guiding the consumer through a series of options to some sort of conclusion.

Research has shown that consumers are generally happy to converse with them. CRM platform Salesforce found 69 per cent of consumers preferred a chatbot over using an app for quick communication with a brand.

But building an effective chatbot, one that is structured in an efficient way and swiftly directs the customer towards the appropriate action, is not easy. For that reason, those who do them well will be in demand.

Prediction: Chatbot content will be a new area of content marketing.

Another strong year in prospect

Overall, 2019 is set to be another year where effective content marketing proves its worth.

But the challenges and opportunities will be driven by changes in technology, the market and how people access content.

There will still be a strong need for quality long-form content, infographics and video, and one thing won’t change – whatever route you take, quality remains key and the best way to stand out from the crowd.

How did we do with our 2018 predictions?

ROI will be better defined and shift away from shares and traffic

Here we predicted there would be a backlash against vanity metrics and more of a focus on how content marketing drives bottom line.

In B2B, we have seen signs of clients working to account-based marketing and targeting smaller more valuable audiences. But shares and traffic remain important, although a decline in the former, as discussed above, is likely to force brands to focus elsewhere.

Content marketing strategy will be better defined

We have seen direct correlation between a structured content-strategy plan and successful campaigns.

Content marketing has now become firmly integrated into most marketing plans and the companies effectively carrying it out at scale are generally organising the process with news calendars or features lists. At least if they have any sense.

Companies will increase resources for managing websites

This one was based on HubSpot research that found 26 per cent of companies struggled to manage their websites.

This is a difficult one to evaluate, but there are a large number of applications that have stepped in (such as Livefyre’s Content Hub) to help marketers approve and publish content remotely.

Content will stop growing because of Google

One reason why the average page one-ranked post has a high word count is that Google made it a core part of the algorithm.

As a result, there was a trend for SEOs to cheat the Google results by ‘building’ long articles with lots of padding. So our bet in late 2017 was that Google would change its algorithm.

Right? Well, there is no sign of Google penalising 7,000-word articles yet and well-written long-form content remains key to many marketing strategies.

The most important platforms will not be your own

It is harder than ever to get organic traction, be it traffic or shares. HubSpot’s announcement that it has started using ads to promote its content says it all.

Facebook and Google effectively have a monopoly on large swathes of the internet. If you were able to build your email list and get a high ranking for your site two years ago, pat yourself on the back.

Video will rise and rise

Some 300 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute and almost 5bn videos are watched every day. And then there’s Facebook, which is increasingly pivoting to video, while LinkedIn is attempting to cover off B2B.

So video is more crucial than ever, despite fledgling technology such as augmented reality and voice-activated applications like Amazon Echo offering potential new opportunities for content.

Content marketing will be recognised as the saviour of publishing

Hmm… did we really write this one? We must have had too much mulled wine. Yes, most publishers have some sort of content marketing capacity for brands as well as a platform to publish on.

However, while content marketing will help plug the decline in ad spend, many publishers (especially in B2B) have focused on integrating magazines with events and other areas, finding new ways to make them pay above subs and ads. We see content marketing continuing to prove a useful sidearm in boosting revenue for them, as well as reaching new audiences and helping drive industry conversations on a company level.

So helpful yes. Saviour no.