Brand Conversations and Going Native – the State of Content at SXSWi

Posted on March 23, 2016 18:24 PM


The calendar of interesting events was overwhelming at this year's conference. As Federated Media helps facilitate relationships between brands and content creators, I decided to follow a content track when choosing sessions.

Highlights included the Contently Cookout with a panel discussion and keynote by Shane Snow; Anthony Bourdain and his perspective as a content creator; Dries Buytaert on the demise of the open web; a panel on brand storytelling at the German Haus; a session on distributed content with panelists from CNN and ESPN; and an interview with Ira Glass.

Below are some key takeaways around the state of content at this year's SXSW Interactive. 

Brands Must Go Where Their Audience Is

If there was one recurring topic during SXSWi 2016, it was how and where brands can most effectively reach audiences with their content marketing efforts.

Browser-based, destination content consumption is on the wane in favor of aggregators, curators, and social networks. This shift in behavior is largely driven by the rise of mobile content consumption.  

An oft-repeated theme at the conference: identify where your target audience is, and go there. But finding the right forum is not enough. Brands must also understand the essence of each platform and use the appropriate voice. Instagram users are generally not there for hard-hitting images from conflict zones. Users turn to Twitter for breaking news and sources of information. Vine is for comedy. The glaring exception: everyone is on Facebook for everything.

Takeaway: Conversations about brands take place whether the brands choose to participate or not. Brands must go where the audience is to initiate interaction and provide responses.   

The Power of User Engagement

Impressions are not a useful KPI for brands when it comes to content. Brands need users to engage. A few dozen shares or comments can be a more valuable ROI metric than oodles of impressions. Weighted attribution of engagement can help brands understand with more precision what moves consumers.

Takeaway: Brands must identify which engagement metrics matter to their business and align marketing efforts to drive them.

Distributed Content: Walled Gardens

The introduction of Facebook Instant Articles and the Apple News app, along with other aggregators and portals, is shaking up old models of content consumption. Mobile device users can't be bothered with browser-based searching. They primarily consume curated content. Particularly when the context is micro-moment consumption, users want to be fed content that is relevant to their interests – and they want it now.

Facebook Instant Articles was launched for selected publishers in May 2015. The feature will open to all publishers on April 12, 2016. Facebook has teamed up with Automattic, parent company of VIP, to develop a WordPress plugin for publishing Instant Articles directly from blogs. This could be a game-changer for how and where users consume content – especially when they're on mobile devices.  

Takeaways: Walled gardens are winning because they are easy to use. Users are platform-agnostic about where they consume content.

The Solution: Going Native

Storytelling remains an unmatched force for persuasion and engendering empathy, as it has throughout human history. People value authenticity. They want familiarity and relatability. Novelty and originality will always pique user interest. Brands must employ suspense and emotion to gain consumer interest and curiosity. Adblockers, walled content gardens, or type of device will never change this reality.

Notable Quotes from SXSWi 2016 Sessions:

  • Dries Buytaert, Drupal founder: "Most disruption is still ahead of us."
  • Doug Busk, Coca-Cola: "Content should fill the gap between product and brand."
  • Ingo Rübe, Burda Magazine: "No one shares a display ad."
  • David Peck, PayPal: "Impressions don't count."
  • Shane Snow, Contently: "Stories make us care."
  • Michael Bodansky, Freud Communications: "For many people, Facebook is the Internet."
  • Ira Glass: "Don't make anything you wouldn't consume yourself."

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