Are you ready for 2016?  Consider these content predictions over a glass of glüewhein (my new favorite holiday drink).

1. Content Vision Will Differentiate the Successful

In our research with 111 content teams and leaders, we discovered the top success factor was not creativity or technical skills. The top success factor was content vision. And I predict vision will become even more important in 2016. A couple of reasons why:

Companies and organizations will need to scale their content approach.
I don’t necessarily mean increase volume. I mean content will be doing more jobs to support the entire customer journey across all business functions and channels (see prediction 4).

With content doing more jobs, more contributors and stakeholders will become involved.
More people can be good or bad for scaling. The trick to ensuring it’s good? Having a content vision that focuses and motivates everyone involved.

What This Means for You

If you are leading a content team or effort, establish a content vision with these characteristics. You can even involve your team and stakeholders. We often facilitate creating a content vision in our workshops. Investing time now in crafting the vision will save you loads of time and stress later.

If you are a team member or project contributor, ask about the content vision and give these reasons why you’re asking. If there is no vision, suggest establishing one. If there is strong resistance to putting a “stake in the ground” and defining content vision, unfortunately you might be on a sinking ship. Consider taking a new opportunity on a team or at a company that understands the value of content vision.

Here are resources to help:

2. Personalized Discovery Will Intensify the Battle Between Social + Search

This month marks the 5-year anniversary of Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content (I can’t believe it’s been 5 years!), where I explained that search and social are in a battle to be your main gateway to the Interwebs. Portals like Yahoo also were in the battle, but they lost, as I predicted. Well, that battle has started to intensify, especially between Google and Facebook, thanks to personalization. Both Google and Facebook have immense amounts of data to drive a personalized discovery experience—but the type of data they have is different. That makes the type of content discovery they drive different.

Google is becoming great at offering content related more to topics I’ve searched for (and others with similar interests have searched for), websites I’ve visited, and my basic location (city in this case). Here’s what happens when I search for Star Wars.

image of Google results for Star Wars
A search for Star Wars results in showings near me, the latest news, and similar topics.

 

Now, when I scroll my notifications in Facebook, I see an aggregation of local weather, nearby friends, nearby restaurants appropriate for the time of day, local news, and more. I don’t have to conduct repeated searches for this content; Facebook offers this by knowing my location and network.

Facebook1
Local news and restaurants appear in my Facebook notifications.

 

While it’s possible personalization can go too far and risk causing a filter bubble, the benefits of personalization both to business and users tend to outweigh the drawbacks, so personalization will not go away.

What This Means for You

This intensifying trend has a variety of interesting content consequences. We could probably spend days discussing the implications, but let’s focus on two top considerations in 2016.

Make your content discoverable on search and social with the right metadata.
If you don’t architect (or structure) your content with the right attributes such as topic, location, format, and more, you make content discovery difficult. If you’re new to metadata, I’ll help make sense of metadata this March at Intelligent Content Conference.

Improve your mobile content experiences with local data and content.
One benefit of this battle is the contenders are offering much of their local data and content to you (or your developers) at no cost. That means in your own mobile applications and touchpoints, you can bring together this data and your content to create a highly personalized mobile experience.

Two resources to help:

3. Content Intelligence Will Emerge As a Strategic Practice

Is your content working? Is it effective? If you don’t have data-informed answers to these questions, you are taking a gamble with your investment of time, creativity, technology, and other resources in content. We find that the most successful content teams evaluate their content’s effectiveness with data. Lance Yoder of Cerner Corporation notes in our report that such teams are “really strong in analytics– they’re able to measure and define variables and recognize different data patterns and how they translate to content.”

Now, I don’t know many people who would disagree data is useful for content decisions. But I know many people who are frustrated that they don’t have the time and resources to put a data-informed approach to content into practice. I predict this frustration will finally turn into action in 2016 with the growing pressure for content to perform at scale.

Specifically, I predict a practice I’m calling content intelligence will arise. This practice will lie at the intersection of content analysis / evaluation and business intelligence.

Putting content intelligence into practice isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s getting easier. Watch as American Cancer Society shares lessons learned in establishing content intelligence at AMA’s Analytics with Purpose conference. I also like the way one participant in our content teams study describes the practice: 

“We were able to achieve success on a particular content restructuring because we were given the time to establish proper data ahead of time, make recommendations, then measure the changes against the previously established baselines. By allowing for the process to be measured and iterative, we were able to provide a better solution.”

What This Means For You

If you want to start or expand a content intelligence program, 2016 is the year to get serious or risk getting left behind.

A few resources to help:

4. Marketing, Content, + UX Silos Will Crack Under the Pressure of the Omnichannel Customer Journey

I’ve mentioned my concern about discipline silos before. I also have talked about tensions between content strategy and content marketing and expressed desire for content and technology to work together through content engineering. And, while I don’t believe user experience design subsumes content practice, they certainly have to work together.

These disciplines will need to work together even more closely in 2016. Why? Because they have to support

  • An entire customer journey, from early research and discovery all the way through conversion and beyond.
  • Users who tap into multiple channels or touchpoints during one journey.

Trends such as digital transformation, content and commerce, and even native advertising are variations on this same theme of creating a seamless customer experience, driven largely by content.

While I saw promising strides in the public cross-discipline conversation, such as a conference devoted to the intersection of design and content, I also observed setbacks. Less Content Marketing, More Quality Content by Gerry McGovern disappoints me for two reasons: The condescending tone and the faulty assumption underscoring the argument. That might surprise you because I’m an advocate for quality content, so let me explain.

I’ve already talked about my distaste for a talking down to content marketing hereNow let’s turn to the faulty assumption: Marketing is not part (or not an important part) of the customer journey. In the past, marketing, especially raising awareness, was essentially ad wars through mass media.

Not long ago, but it feels far, far away, marketing was essentially blasting ads.
Not long ago, but it feels far, far away, marketing was essentially blasting ads.

 

Brands blasted ads at target customers. And this continued with early digital marketing, too.

Today, content marketing, mostly digital, is the main method by which to brand. It supports a huge proportion of the customer journey. It is getting more money from marketers than advertising. It is here to stay. We can kick and scream about this fact while clinging to an outdated top-task notion of planning all websites. Or, we can accept it and make our organization’s content marketing the best damn marketing experience possible. A few of the many up sides to consider

  • Creating a stellar content marketing experience shows your prospective customers the stellar experience they will get with your products, services, or solutions.
  • Content that you use for marketing can be reused or repurposed for other moments in the customer journey, allowing you to get more ROI from the content.
  • The most successful content marketing is usually high quality in usefulness or fun. Sometimes it educates or helps; sometimes it entertains.

What This Means for You

Start bridging the silos in your company now.
Act before you start feeling the intensified pressure. A great way to begin is to invite the teams in your discipline or channel silos to a workshop where you define or refine

  • A content vision in collaboration with other disciplines, as noted in prediction 1.
  • Customer journeys in collaboration with those disciplines.

After going through those kinds of exercises together, it’s really hard to deny the importance of each discipline and channel involved, and it’s much easier to negotiate everyone’s perspective to arrive at good decisions. (Don’t have time to coordinate something like that? You can all go to a public workshop or invite an outside firm to facilitate it.)

If your company is highly resistant to bridging the silos, consider seeking an opportunity at an organization with a more collaborative culture.

Consider whether you enable a productive tone and conversation about these disciplines.
Public diatribes attacking other disciplines wouldn’t happen if people didn’t egg them on. Donald Trump wouldn’t make it so far in the election process if people, supporters or not, didn’t give his antics attention and his appearances ratings. We get what we ask for. If you want spectacle, keep liking, requesting, sharing, or watching spectacle. If you’d like to explore and negotiate real solutions that you can actually apply to your organization, then support a respectful—and perhaps at times passionate—conversation. As Content Strategy Director Aaron Burgess noted in our What Makes Content Teams Thrive study, what we really need across these disciplines and channels are

“Curiosity, tenacity, systems thinkers, design thinkers, people who can look at a complex problem and break it down into simpler elements, can synthesize information, make sense of lots of user data and product requirements, and consistently ask ‘Why?’ and then get from ‘Why?’ to a better way of doing things.”

These resources also can help

5. Intranets Will Experience Social Content Overload

The above four predictions deal with public content. What about intranets? Social platforms and applications such as Jive and Socialcast have become popular for intranets. When implemented well and adopted successfully, these platforms produce a high volume of user generated content (UGC). As Lance Yoder of Cerner Corporation explains

“For people to meaningfully collaborate, they need to collaborate around a purpose such as an idea, a document, or a blog post. The most successful communities on our collaboration platforms may not think their activities constitute a content strategy, but they think about what their audience wants and regularly produce content to meet those needs. Without content, why collaborate?”

And just look at the volume this produced for Cerner in one year:

ucern infographic

Sharing knowledge quickly with employees and even customers through UGC is fantastic. But, what if you need to find that knowledge again later? That and many other findability frustrations will emerge and soon become an urgent problem. The exciting but not easy challenge will be blending the best of social collaboration and knowledge management into a useful intranet that helps employees do their jobs.

What This Means for You

If you deal with intranets and extranets, don’t wait for the findability frustrations to escalate before you take action. Some organizations are pioneering the way forward, and you can learn from their insights. For example, Conoco Philips has tackled this issue of merging intranet UGC and regular content to some extent. You can glean some insights from Nielsen Norman Group’s regular review of intranet usability.

Metadata and taxonomy make a difference to intranet content discoverability and mash-up-ability. Prediction 1 notes the value of metadata to making your public content easy to find, and the benefit is similar for intranet content. What’s more, using metadata and taxonomy well for your UGC and regular content enables you to mash up that content into an experience. Let’s say you have some regular content and some recent, highly viewed employee posts about the same topic, travel expenses. You could aggregate that content to display into one travel expenses page using, you guessed it, metadata and taxonomy.

And check out these resources for more help

So, I hope you find these predictions useful as you plan your content strategy and tactics for 2016. I’m writing and speaking more about most of these throughout the coming year, and I look forward to hearing your perspective, too. 

The Author

Colleen Jones is the founder and CEO of Content Science, a growing content intelligence and strategy firm based in Atlanta GA. Content Science owns Content Science Review and the content intelligence software  ContentWRX.  Colleen regularly consults with executives and practitioners to improve their strategy and processes for content. Colleen shares insights and guidance from her experience regularly on Content Science Review, at events around the world, and in these highly rated books:

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