A view from Bian Salins

Content marketing has an identity crisis

TSB's head of social explains why companies must recognise that content creation and production is now part of everyone's job.

It was late on a Friday afternoon when I found myself sat in a comfortably large kitchen/office with a bunch of extremely smart, fresh-faced Oxford graduates deliberating the power of programmatic done differently. Our discussion had somehow found its way to the school of thought that advocates measurement as a driving force for strategy, making me uncomfortably twitchy.

I remember leaving that office contemplating what that meant for the world of social and content. Or, indeed, the most reliable source of marketing – word of mouth. After all, how do you measure trust? 

In 2015, 66% of marketers expected their organisation’s content marketing budget to increase in the next 12 months.

Rewind nine years or so when I first made my foray into the world of social, and I swear that I had a similar conversation with a bunch of corporate bods who were challenging me on why we should do social at all.

After all, it was a fad and would soon face the disillusionment of the dotcom bubble. Besides, it couldn’t be measured! The journalist in me had a different point of view. I believed that, ultimately, success would come down to the power of the message. My instinct, as it turned out, was right. 

According to research by the Content Marketing Institute in 2015, 66% of marketers expected their organisation’s content marketing budget to increase in the next 12 months. Social has not only evolved (nine years ago, there was no Vine, Instagram, Snapchat or Pinterest), it has now become synonymous with the world of content marketing. 

But while there seems to be a mutual reliance between the two, content marketing suffers the same identity crisis as social – making it an important but equally challenging beast for most organisations.

Content and social live and breathe in everything we do and so they have a natural tendency to cross silos. Organisations often struggle with defining how social sits within the corporate set-up simply because it doesn’t neatly slot into a single functional silo.

Indeed, content creation and production is now a part of everyone’s job, from web editors to media teams cleverly crafting a strong corporate narrative to, of course, the social media teams who brave the opportunity of real-time marketing.

The result is often a slightly schizophrenic approach of the use of social and content to drive what is essentially a collective business strategy. 

Another challenge social and content both face is being on the receiving end of a rapidly evolving industry. Spend time with any social practitioner and your ears will bleed from hearing about the pain we endure as a result of being at the mercy of ever-changing algorithms.

It’s no secret that organic reach is dying a slow death and currently hovers around the 0%-2% mark.

The ad-blocking problem

Forbes recently published an article titled: "Has Facebook’s latest algorithm change finally doomed publishers and marketers for good?"

Its simple definition of Facebook’s most recent changes was that it’s designed to send less traffic to content-based websites. And so you have heads of social collectively scrambling to uncover more budget and more innovative ways of amplifying their efforts.

But even as social marketers console each other in the wake of the latest algorithmic change, content marketers are faced with that pressing problem of ad-blocking.

PageFair recently reported that the number of monthly users of ad-blockers globally has increased from 21 million in 2010 to 144 million in 2014. And, with more of us skipping ads during our favourite TV programmes, the future of driving awareness and non-customer consideration suddenly looks pretty bleak to the marketer.

With every dark cloud, there is a silver lining –and the same is true when it comes to content and, indeed, social. For one, it’s making all of us better marketers.

Corporate silos that once thrived on the size of their territory are now forced to think about the collective strategy and KPIs rather than individual objectives – making cross-functional collaboration a necessity for success. 

Back to its roots

Facebook may be the dark lord of the social platforms but the latest changes indicate that it is going back to its roots of connecting people and being more user-centric – so I’m hopeful. And as we find new ways of amplifying our content, turning to strategies such as programmatic, we will uncover new ways of measuring success and making the return more tangible.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for lovers of content, conversation and collaboration is that it forces us to challenge the opinions we have and the story we want to tell. Pushing us to ask that often unasked and all-too-important question: what’s your why?

Bian Salins is head of social and digital at TSB.