Look online, ask anyone, or be a living person from the year 2016, and you'll know this year has been unusual, to say the least. On that, if absolutely nothing else, most of us can agree.
Our assumptions have been turned upside down, our ideas challenged, and our practices reevaluated. But that doesn't mean every part of 2016 was a total disaster (even if it feels that way) or that we're slinking into the new year without an agenda for change and improvement.
I'm talking, of course, about digital content. (Sorry, did you think I was talking about this election year? I only share my political ideas openly with most people who ask or happen to catch me after a particularly good episode of "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.")
In this industry, we're constantly learning new things about what works, what doesn't, and what's coming up next. So in an effort to help you make next year better than this one, here are five things we learned about content this year and what they mean for marketers in 2017:
There may have been a time when dabbling in content marketing had some positive effects on your company, but that time has long passed (if it ever truly existed). The top-performing B2B marketers — 91 percent of them, to be exact — told Content Marketing Institute that their organizations are extremely committed to content marketing.
Does that mean your company has to live and breathe all things content if it wants to be successful? Not necessarily.
To go "all in" means your content marketing team has a comprehensive strategy to guide it, a process for content creation, the right promotion and distribution tools, and a plan to enable sales, recruiting, and other areas of business with the content it's produced.
In other words, content has to become a priority for teams in 2017. It won't be enough to publish content when you have time, distribute it when you remember, or engage with your audience when it's convenient. It's time for you to enter into a committed relationship with content marketing. As Joe Pulizzi says, "Be all in, or get all out."
In the age of video and visual everything, you might feel tempted to neglect your company blog in favor of more exciting, trendy tactics and platforms.
That's why it's so interesting that 52 percent of marketers indicated blogs as the tactic they use that will be most critical to content marketing success in 2017. In fact, blogs beat out other tactics like social media content (40 percent), webinars (32 percent), preproduced video (30 percent), infographics (15 percent), and live video (4 percent) for the top spot.
This is definitely not to say that your blog should act independently of your other (particularly visual) tactics. Integrating visual content into your blog strategy can help you maximize the value of each tactic.
For example, we consistently publish written articles on our blog, The Knowledge Bank, but that's not all we use it for. Our blog works together with our other content projects, from video projects and interactive infographics to quizzes, whitepapers, webinars, and more.
And we're actually able to use the content we publish on our blog to fuel those projects (videos, interactive content, etc.) and ensure those tactics are used in a way that's consistent with our messaging. Our blog simultaneously acts as a foundation for our efforts and the glue that brings them all together.
However you use yours, blogs still play a big role in how effectively you execute your content marketing strategy in 2017.
When marketers were asked about their companies' top marketing priorities next year, 74 percent indicated that converting leads into customers was their goal, while only 32 percent said sales enablement.How can you convert leads into customers without also enabling sales?
And it's not just marketers with this slight misalignment. Seventy percent of salespeople cited closing more deals as their top sales priority, but only 31 percent prioritized reducing the length of the sales cycle.
Improved efficiency and reduced sales cycles could help sales teams close more deals, and it all relates back to the handshake between marketing and sales.
The marketing and sales handshake is an elaborate two-parter, but it's not impossible to master:
Don't wait until the end of the year to look back at what could have been better had only your content answered this question or your salespeople pitched this idea for content that would've helped them close more deals. Get in the same room, and start practicing your handshake.
Seventy percent of marketers are preparing to produce more content next year than they did in 2016 — and it looks like members of their C-suites might be up for the challenge themselves, especially among smaller teams.
Behind staff members (who 71 percent of marketers say are responsible for content creation), executives are writing the most content.
As we've seen in our own efforts and in our work with clients, involving your company's key leaders and employees in the content creation process is tremendously helpful to your content. These contributors offer different insights, ideas, and experiences that can differentiate your content and engage your audiences in new ways.
Before you request your executives' help with content, let's be clear: This doesn't mean CEOs are the only leaders you should loop into your strategy, staff writers don't offer their own unique value, or these two groups should work independently.
Regardless of who you select as your company's thought leader or content contributor, he or she probably won't have the time or ability to craft expertly polished content the same way your dedicated team does. Work with your executives to prioritize content marketing and put a process in place to streamline your content creation.
Interest in influencer marketing skyrocketed this year, which means that as we try to figure out what works, we're going to encounter some challenges. In partnership with Altimeter, TapInfluence found that 68 percent of marketers reported finding relevant influencers as their biggest challenge with influencer marketing.
This probably isn't for a lack of relevant influencers; it more than likely stems from a misunderstanding of what constitutes an influencer.
Influencers aren't just those Twitter users with more than 500,000 followers. True influence isn't measured by the number of followers you have on social. There are plenty of everyday microinfluencers with smaller followings and higher engagement rates than the megainfluencers who distract marketers from the real goal: to influence and engage audiences.
Even smaller than your niche influencers are your natural brand advocates. Who is already on your side and spreading your message to their audiences? Find them, and collaborate on content.
In 2017, we'll begin clearing up some of the misconceptions about influencer marketing and, as a result, see marketers partner with more relevant influencers.
This year has been a bit of a roller coaster, and we've learned a lot along the ride. Prepare for these five trends in your 2017 content marketing strategy, and you'll stay ahead of the curve.
I love cloudy days, office supplies, and rewatching the same sitcoms I've already seen a dozen times. When I'm not looking for ways to elevate content, I'm looking for opportunities to tell stories about my dog.