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Published October 31st 2017

10 Things We Learned About Marketing This Year

Steve Rayson, Director at BuzzSumo, shares ten things the team learned about marketing in 2017 - there's a takeaway for everyone.

The weather is turning colder here in London as we enter November. Walking through the fallen leaves in the park this weekend, I was reflecting on what I have learnt about marketing over the past 12 months.

We have reviewed data from over 20 research reports published this year, each of which contains important insights for marketers. The reports include those by Social Media Examiner, CMI and Marketing Profs, Orbit Media and our own BuzzSumo content research. Following our acquisition by Brandwatch, I have also been reviewing their extensive research and data.

Based on this reading and our experience, here is a summary of the ten things we have learnt about marketing this year. I hope these lessons will be useful to all marketers as we move into 2018.

1. Content Shock is real

As any topic becomes popular, marketers jump on the bandwagon and pump out enormous volumes of content.

A few years ago both Doug Kessler and Mark Schaefer warned us  we would start drowning in content. They were right. The chart below shows for example, how the number of articles about influencer marketing has grown in recent years.

However, as the number of articles published increases we can see the number of average shares and engagements actually declines.

We see the same pattern for articles about content marketing:

There are some obvious implications for marketers.

  • Spot trends early, so you can build your content reputation and authority while there is less competition.
  • If you enter at a later, and more competitive stage, your content needs to be exceptional to break through. This can mean longer form, comprehensive content.
  • Find a specific niche or niches where you can demonstrate your expertise.
  • Content needs to be promoted or amplified to break through in a world of content shock, the job is only half done when you hit publish.

2. Less is more, or is it?

The annual Orbit Media blogging study contains some interesting findings.

Overall bloggers are spending more time on content production and producing less content, which makes absolute sense in a world of content shock. They are also writing more long form posts as we can see below.

For B2B publishers I personally think adopting a ‘less is more’ content strategy works well.

This is because in a world of content shock you need higher quality content and you need to invest more time in promoting and amplifying your content.

For most businesses this is easier to do if you publish one post a week rather than five posts a day. Here is a great example of how Backlinko drives high levels of engagement with a less is more content strategy.

For publishers with large audiences and resources, increasing content cadence and catering for more long tail niche audiences can also be an effective strategy.

We are seeing many publishers adopt this strategy, frequently using algorithms to increase output cost-effectively and create niche content for the long tail. The Orbit Media study found that “quantity correlates with better results right down the line. Bloggers who publish more often are far more likely to get results.”

However, I personally think increasing the frequency of publishing only really works as a strategy where you have an established and large audience.

3. Average Facebook engagement is declining

Major publishers are seeing a decline in average Facebook engagement, as we can see from the chart below.

In many ways I think this is related to the issue of content shock and competition for attention. As more and more content is published on Facebook, the average engagement per post is falling.

This means it is more important than ever to really understand the content that engages on Facebook. Using our Facebook Analyser we have been exploring the content that engages audiences and found big variations from topic to topic. In some industries we have seen great engagement through asking questions and provoking discussion.

In other areas we have seen companies do exceptionally well with quizzes. However, as a general rule video has become the most engaging content on the platform (see below).

Competition in the Facebook newsfeed means it is increasingly important to use paid promotion to get your content in front of your audience. It is no surprise that over 90% of new advertising spend went to just Facebook and Google last year.

4. Video is dominating Facebook engagement

The average video post in April 2017 reached 12.05% of the total page audience, just ahead of photos at 11.63%, links at 7.81%, and status updates at only 4.56%. Videos also had the highest levels of engagement as we can see below.

The most popular video topics were as follows.

5. Headlines are all about the promise

We did a major BuzzSumo study looking at 100m headlines this year. The top performing trigrams or three word phrases on Facebook surprised us. The top headline phrases were as follows:

As we can see the top performing phrase on facebook, by some margin, was “will make you”. This is a linking phrase which connects the content directly to the impact on the reader and in doing so it makes a clear promise.

The top phrase, measured by LinkedIn shares, was another form of promise, namely “how to”. People want to do their jobs better and “how to” was by far the top performing phrase, as we can see below.

6. Shares are not enough, you need links

Shares are great and create initial visibility but ideally we want our content to gain links as well as shares. Links stay around longer and provide an indication to Google that our content is valuable. Generally people share and link to content for different reasons.

Some content such as viral quizzes may get many thousands of shares but few links.

Our BuzzSumo research identified five content formats that have potential to achieve both links and shares:

  1. Authoritative content that answers popular questions, such as “what is?”
  2. Strong opinion posts and political posts
  3. Content that provides original research and insights
  4. Content that leverages a trending topic but also provides practical insights
  5. Authoritative news content on new products or developments

7. Reddit as a content promotion platform

Experimenting with new ways to promote your content alongside tried and tested methods is always a good idea. Reddit is one of those platforms where your content can gain initial traction quickly.

I was really interested to see that a number Brandwatch React’s articles have gone viral on Reddit this year, leading to traffic spikes of up to nearly a quarter of a million views for a single blog post in a weekend.

Reddit is a tricky platform.

Being overtly promotional of your own content will see your account swiftly shadowbanned (meaning Reddit will allow you to keep posting content but no one else will see it) and posting without an understanding of the subreddit you’re sharing content on will get you nowhere. Answering questions with helpful content can be a useful approach.

BuzzSumo’s new Question Analyser allows you to see what questions are being asked for any topic or in any Subreddit.

Also unlike Twitter or Facebook, on Reddit you don’t have a following or a reputation (although you are awarded points for upvotes on your posts). All you have is a headline and a tiny thumbnail to capture the reader’s attention, so writing a good one becomes an art in itself.

If you’re interested in experimenting with Reddit, check out Five things marketers need to know about Reddit and How to get on the front page of Reddit.

Facebook groups can also be an effective place to encourage discussion around your content. The key is to develop real engagement, not simply publish content and forget.


8. Timing matters

Content may be widely shared but typically it only trends for just a few short days or even hours. Thus timing is critical.

We consistently find that content published earlier in the week gains more shares. This may simply be because new content can take a few days to gain traction. Thus content published on a Thursday or Friday, particularly business content, only has a limited time to gain traction before the weekend.

I was interested to see the same pattern when looking at Brandwatch’s data on sponsored Instagram posts. Most sponsored posts happen early in the week.

This general rule can create opportunities if you are prepared to zig while everyone else zags. Generally there is less content published on the weekend, so it may be possible to get a head start on the week by publishing on a Sunday when there is less competition for attention. Our research has found that Facebook posts published on a Sunday have some of the highest levels of engagement – so experiment and test different approaches to content publications.

9. A picture paints a thousand words

Orbit Media found that bloggers who use images report better results from their content. Similarly research from Stone Temple Consulting, who reviewed 4 million tweets, concluded that tweets with images gain significantly more retweets and favorites.

Thus we are seeing a greater use of images across all forms of content.

As a consequence monitoring text is no longer enough. My new colleagues at Brandwatch have been researching the importance of logo and image recognition. According to their research, 80% of the images online containing a brand’s logo don’t reference the brand name in the accompanying text.

With over 3 billion images shared online every day, the development of image recognition technology such as Image Insights will enable marketers is to look beyond text and embrace the value of image detection.

And finally…

10. Social listening is more important than ever before

When companies fail you can be sure that consumers will be there to record and share their negative experience with the world, via social media. Brands now have to be on watch 24/7.

My colleagues at Brandwatch tracked United Airline’s biggest PR crises this year, #LeggingsGate (135k mentions) and the viral incident involving a passenger being removed from a plane (1.5 million mentions), which brought them lots of negative publicity and a big reputation hit.

Having real-time alerts and constantly monitoring brand mentions has become essential. Negative news can spread faster than wildfires. Spotting negative mentions at an early stage allows you to respond and solve issues before they develop into PR crises.

Over to you…

What did you learn this year? I would love to hear the key insights that you have gained over the last 12 months.

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