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Should Digital Content Publishers Be Pioneers, Or Be Patient?

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At SMWNYC, a panel presented by the UK Department of International Trade talked about the challenges they face in keeping up with what audiences expect, while figuring out what’s next in digital content.

If you’re in the business of creating digital content, you know how difficult it can be to grab the internet’s attention and keep it on you. Nowadays, your content has to be more than good — it has been presented in a compelling format, relevant (no small feat in considering the breakneck speed of social media), and high-quality.

That’s a big ask for even the biggest publishers. How do they do it?

During a recent Social Media Week New York panel presented by the UK Department of International Trade, a large cross-section of people paid to figure out the answer to that question talked to the crowd about the challenges they face and the directions they’re headed.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the conversation, which touched on how highly they prize video, what formats they’re exploring for future content, and how they’re encouraging increased investment.

Video is paramount, but it’s not the end-all

One of the biggest questions facing digital content creators is just how much of their content should be video content. Thanks to social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook (and to a lesser extent now, Snapchat), video is all the rage, and publishers are scrambling to take advantage of that shift.

“Everything is video,” said Johanna Salazar Co-Founder and Executive Producer at Two Goats. “It’s an ADD world, it’s a selfie world. If you’re opening an article and it has a lot of text, people will skip that and go straight to the video.”

“We put a lot of emphasis on video,” said Elizabeth Carter, VP of Marketing at Culture Trip. “We’re playing around with different formats, illustrations and graphics. We have a group of local creators all around the world, and through their own voice they tell the stories of places people can go.”

But not everyone felt that they could lean as heavily on video.

“To play devil’s advocate, it’s not the be all and end all,” Serena Guen, founder of Suitcase Group, said about the use of video. “People have seen reductions in traffic when they pivot to video… We are definitely trying out different formats, but we’re not rushing to it, because it hasn’t worked for a lot of publishers.”

Additionally, some of the appeal for users is that video, like TV content of old, is passive. That’s not exactly a mode publishers want to encourage in their visitors.

“We want to get people engaged. Video on its own is powerful, but you want to engage a larger amount of your target audience,” said Matthew Friedman, Vice President at Adludio.

Pioneering vs. patience

In addressing the fact that Google and Facebook are benefitting from other people’s content, moderator and Social Media Week founder Toby Daniels noted that in a lot of ways, content creators are at the mercy of those platforms and their algorithms. Are there ways to pioneer new forms of content in order to get ahead of those platforms? Is sticking your neck out like that worth it?

“It’s important to try to stay a step ahead, but from a monetization standpoint you can be too early, such as with augmented reality and virtual reality,” said Friedman. “I think it’s important to engage users. When people are doing something new like AR, it stays with people.”

“The more immersive we can get, the better. We’ve done some AR and VR work, some point-of-view videos. As long as it’s useful and it’s telling a story, we’ll try that,” said Carter.

Others said that they weren’t as concerned with the format or platform of what they were creating, as long as the stories they were telling were compelling.

“I don’t care if it’s on Facebook or Snapchat. Authenticity [is most important]. That’s the thing people remember. And if they relate to it.” said Dan Garraway, co-founder at Wirewax.

Using data and technology

Like any other industry, digital content creators are able to leverage new technology to see where they’re being inefficient. They’re also trying out new models to increase revenue.

“We look at our data to see where people are traveling to, to see if we have a simple amount of content on those destinations,” said Guen. “But if you’re trying to create something new, data may not be able to help you there.”

“What’s the best way of getting revenue for content? Advertising is looking particularly dodgy now. We’re experimenting with a smaller group of members, but seeing higher ROI. We give them something higher value in return,” said Jonny Kaldor, Founder and CEO at Pugpig.

The most important thing content creators should take from this is while the space is changing, it’s changing because audiences want it to. Don’t do something because others are doing it — do it because it makes sense for your audience.

“The worst thing a brand can do is adopt technology just to adopt it. The best thing is to speak the language of their audience. Adopting new technologies should only be done to best speak to audiences,” concluded Salazar.

UK Department of International Trade secures UK and global prosperity by promoting and financing international trade and investment, and championing free trade.

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