It appears the era of ‘content’ as the darling of digital marcom is drawing to a close. As Samuel Scott writes in “The Drum” this blanket and non-specific term has dominated marcom for a decade, yet trying to pin down what it means, and its contribution outside of traditional marcom activities like PR, has been highly questionable.
For nigh on a decade, practically everything in digital marketing has been geared towards ‘creating compelling content’ and pumping it out onto the web, in the hope of capturing interest and improving SEO and social engagement. “Infographics” piles high on top of “video content” all vying for the attention of people too busy, or not interested enough, to engage.
As more and more (and yet more) self-penned ‘content’ pours onto the internet, like plastic into the ocean, any hope of engagement is proving increasingly vain, and instead of attracting the public’s interest, the vast majority of ‘content’ is now just passed over with complete indifference. No links, no likes outside your immediate circle, no shares. Indeed, a recently published 2018 survey (by BuzzSumo, conducted with Backlinko) found that a staggering 94% of all blog posts published in 2018 attracted zero (that is, none at all) external links, while just 1.3% of articles generate 75% of all social shares. In parallel, engagement with social media has also been plummeting like a stone, down by a staggering 50% since 2015.
Bucking this downturn? News. Traditional and focused marcom activities like media relations continue to deliver – and social media posts referencing news stories are among the very few categories still attracting strong social engagement. LinkedIn’s 2018 survey conducted with BackLinko found that “news and trends-related pieces are most likely to appear among the most shared posts, and their impact is likely to be increased when they are able to reference credible sources of research.” And examining the posts generating the highest number of backlinks found a very similar mix of subject matter, but with more focus on authoritative news articles.
Meanwhile, C-level tech purchase decision makers still rate media coverage highly as having an influence on their buying decisions, right up there with word of mouth from their peers. And even the top 10 most visited blogs still derive from recognisable media titles like Huffington Post, Mashable, Business Insider, TMZ and The Daily Beast.
So it turns out that discerning purchasers really can tell the difference between self-published ‘articles’ of ‘brand journalism’ masquerading as news, and real actual news written by real actual industry journalists for real, actual publications. And they can also tell the difference between an advertisement dressed up to look like a ‘whitepaper’ and an actual whitepaper, written by an engineer.
And this is what PR delivers, and what ‘content’ and ‘brand journalism’ never can. While working with robotics firm Eiratech, I had numerous occasion to deal with the editor of leading industry publication “Logistics Management”, a man called Malory Davies, who regularly invited comment from Eiratech’s estimable CEO Alexey Tabolkin on developments in robotics technology in the warehouse sector.
These were tough assignments but we were always delighted to devote resources to them. Why? Credibility, that’s why. Malory Davies is widely recognised as an expert and leading commentator in the UK warehouse sector, so even to be invited to engage reflected very well on Eiratech. And the questions posed by Malory were designed to inform his readership rather than sell a message – no wonder people are engaged with real journalism. The end result? A prominent position in an informative article in a well-regarded industry title, sometimes with an accompanying picture. No amount of glossy ‘brand journalism’ content can ever replicate this, or bestow the same credibility. Likewise DecaWave with Julien Happisch at EETimes and so on.
And how did these small Irish tech firms come onto these international tech editors’ radars in the first place? Old fashioned footslogging PR, that’s how. No mystery, no shortcut.