For the People, By the People: The Commodification of Content & What It Means for Brands

Started from the beginning…

You've probably heard the phrase "content is king." It's been in the lexicon of digital marketers for years, but did you know that the phrase is almost as old as I am? It turns 27 this year and was coined when I—and the internet—was an infant. Bill Gates wrote an essay called "Content is King" in 1996 and published it on the Microsoft website before blogs were even a thing. In this essay, Gates likens the world of the internet to that of broadcasting, a place where companies (big and small) can publish content to inform and entertain. Gates specifies that content will be the breadwinner of the internet.

…Now we're here.

What's most incredible is that Gates' phrase, "content is king" held up. Success on the internet was based on content production, and, until recently, that was largely done at the hands of companies. What Gates may not have predicted was the way content has been democratized across the internet landscape. Users vote with their views, and creators get paid based on visibility, whether directly (e.g., TikTok creator fund) or indirectly (e.g., product promotion).

When social media entered the chat, the closest thing to the democratization of content was Wikipedia—and while it was (and still is!) fun to browse, we probably all remember our teachers telling us not to use it as source material. There was an inherent mistrust of content coming from the general public. Even after social media's entrance, it took a decade before influencers started becoming popular and people began following based on content rather than actually knowing a person IRL (in real life!).

Content is still—and always will be—powerful. But the ownership and trust of content have now shifted to the people. Through the rise of TikTok, internet reviews and "fake news" from media outlets, consumers are turning to each other's content as a credible source. The content monarchy has fallen. The digital playing field is a whole lot bigger. Anyone can create content and gain traction on it.

Where Brands Fit In

Content democratization means that brands aren't just competing for a share of voice among other brands, but everyone. Here's what brands can do to stand out from the crowd:

1. Listen First: Before spending resources to develop content, spend time planning. What is your audience interested in seeing? What do they need to see to move forward in their journey with your brand? Utilize audience and keyword research to get a good mix of qualitative and quantitative data about what your audience says they want and what the data shows they want.

2. Get the Lay of the Land: Content is abundant and at our fingertips. Gone are the days when the internet had limited information, when you had to get to page four of Google before finding a relevant source. Now, most people don't make it past the first few listings, let alone page one. Search queries have evolved into long-tailed text strings allowing for specificity. In fact, 92% of all keywords that people type into search engines are long tails. Paid ads have pushed down organic results. Brands should develop an understanding of where they're most likely to stand out from the crowd, fill gaps and have an opportunity to rank for results based on current algorithms.

3. User-Generated Content & Influencer Campaigns: Don't fight the system—work with it. The best part of the democratization of content is that anyone can do it, reducing the cost and level of effort of content creation. Meet your audience where they already are, even if that means via other creators.

4. Capitalize on Credibility: In many cases (especially in the health and science fields), brands do intensive research, giving them the opportunity to be either primary resources in new data or vetted anthologists of claims. The regulatory environment of these fields simply will not allow for spreading false or inflated information. As such, this content should be inherently more trusted among consumers and search engine algorithms. And the latter is important as it impacts your search results, based on Google’s E-E-A-T philosophy. Because of their potential impacts, Google is extra stringent when dealing with health queries, so it’s even more important to have information about who wrote the content, cited source materials and publication date where applicable.

Everyone & Their Dog Have a Voice

Demand for digital content may be rising, but with a low cost of entry, supply is still outpacing wants and needs. True innovation and opportunity in the content space involve where you show up for your audience and how you bring your content to life. Content isn't just king—it's everything.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Tessa Lieber, Associate Director, Content Strategy. 

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