A company that publishes over 460 websites, 200 mobile sites and apps, and 200 print titles knows something about media and content. Last week, I had the pleasure of discussing trends with executives from IDC's parent company International Data Group (IDG), the world's leading technology media company.
Here's what I learned about the changing state of communication and content.
The currency of information is shifting:
The primary indicator of engagement is the "quality" time spent with content as well as the meaningfulness of the action that time drives. Someone who is truly engaged in a conversation is more likely to download content. Some content is Core while other content is Candy. Core content gets fewer pageviews but drives more meaningful action while Candy content attracts attention (such as page views or clicks) but doesn't drive much action. Be careful about using easy metrics like page views or clicks as a sole metric as they are easy to manipulate by upping the ratio of Candy content. Clicks are also increasingly useless as a metric as 85% of clicks come from about 10% of people.
New ways to think about social:
Expect social media as a separate category to eventually go away. ALL media is now social with participation ranging from simple comments and sharing to citizen reporting. An emerging model for content is to create high-quality conversations with two or more experts/leaders/celebrities engaging in public dialog about a story then to create an echo chamber around the story by attracting a larger community to listen in and comment. Note that both IDC CMO Advisory service and the IDG media and editorial team find that marketers are still pretty lost when it comes to how to work with the social aspects of communication.
The way we consume content is changing:
My favorite new term is "snackable" content. Audiences prefer consuming in smaller bites. Increasingly, these bites are visual, with mini-videos especially popular. Video is also getting more casual and less edited. Think of a recorded Skype conversation (see the above comment on social). The move to snackable is changing content delivery. The "content event" (spending four months coming up with a big launch of a big story) is declining and is shifting to dripping out small amounts of content on the subject over time.
"Native" media is hot:
A big new trend is native media which is content in an online publication that is labeled as sponsored content (typically thought leadership) that really reads like part of the user experience. This is NOT an advertorial driven by a sponsor. Advertorials are too product-oriented and transactional. Instead, real journalists create the content on behalf of the sponsor. The real journalists are much more reader-focused and in-tune with the editorial voice and policies of the publication. Think of this as joint-venture communication.
Trends in ad-buying:
Real-time bidding for advertising inventory (versus monthly contracts) is the most revolutionary trend in the media industry since publications went online. Fast growing ad categories: selling ads based on audience behavioral context, search ads, newsfeed ads, mini-ads (like Facebook uses).
What we are learning about mobile:
Smart money isn't thinking about whether it's mobile first or not. The key is user first. Publications are using "responsive design" design it once and render differently for different screens – a trend made possible with HTML5. Across all kinds of advertising (not IDG specific) mobile ad revenue is still tiny – only 1% of all ad spending. However, mobile screen time is about 10.1% of all screen time. Will this change? Maybe not. Mobile is driving a different use model. Rather than being primarily an advertising screen, mobile is being used as an authentication point to offer other services. Audiences have different expectations for mobile. They don't consider it to be as open and free as the web. They are more willing to pay for content and services. What is working for mobile monetization: promoted tweets, newsfeed ads; metered content (example, New York Times).