It’s going to be a big year for brand publishing. Six weeks in, that much is already obvious.
Last month, our Contently team offered 20 brand publishing predictions for 2014, forecasting everything from the death of BS metrics to the return of the Camel News Caravan. Since then, the brand publishing movement has thrust forward with the chaos of an angry Nor’Easter, and some new things have become clear:
1) Facebook’s algorithm will dominate the industry headlines.
We haven’t been shy with our belief that Facebook is doing everything they can to control social content distribution as part of their native ad master plan. This week has been filled hand-wringing and hypothesizing over their perpetual algorithm tweaks: Is Facebook punishing positivity farms like Upworthy for unoriginal content? Are they giving special preference to ad partners like BuzzFeed?
These are questions of extreme importance for brand publishers in need of platforms that can get their content seen and spread. It will effect how much exposure their sponsored stories get on sites like BuzzFeed, Forbes and Gawker, and how quickly they can drive an audience to their own site. Facebook is far from done tweaking its algorithm; as a result, this is something we’re going to be talking about all year.
2) At least one brave brand will plunge into NSFW waters.
Brands are getting much bolder in regards to the content they align themselves with. Woven Digital CCO Alex Boyce, whose company creates native content that runs on semi-NSFW sites like Guyism, BroBible and The Chive, attributes this to the rapidly-increasing raciness of cable TV. Young-adult consumers crave bold content, and edgy brands like American Apparel, Ax, or Go Daddy are destined to fully embrace their NSFW sides with big-time publishing efforts.
3) Quality, not design, will come to define what makes an ad “native.”
In an interview with The Content Strategist two weeks ago, Jay Rosen, the voice of public journalism, discussed his definition of “native” as “ads that can compete with the best material out there,” and fully meet or exceed the quality of the editorial with which they’re mixed. The transparency of sponsored posts is extremely important, but equally as important is the quality of the story it contains.
It’s about the meat just as much as the packaging, and within a few months, that’s what we’ll be discussing.
4) True corporate altruism will become brand publishers’ secret weapon.
Hamish McKenzie leaving PandoDaily for Tesla is a sign of things to come; brands that stand for something will have a much easier time recruiting top journalistic and storytelling talent. Here’s how McKenzie explained his decision on Medium: “Elon Musk, a man for whom I have enormous respect and admiration, offered me a role as a writer at Tesla Motors, to tell stories about the company, the car, and the cause: catalyzing an electric car revolution that will help wean the world off fossil fuels.”
Brands like Tesla that are fighting for a cause are going to have a serious advantage attracting top talent and becoming great brand publishers.
(This is a very personal prediction: I’m no Hamish McKenzie, but Contently’s commitment to creating a better media world and getting writers paid is the main reason I decided to come on as their EIC.)
5) Brands will fall in love with GIFs and abuse the hell out of them.
From the pages of Fast Company to Digiday, we’re witnessing the GIF-ification of digital publishing. Brands will jump on board and go all-in, from their Tumblr pages to their brand mags, without really understanding what makes them work. Anticipate a lot of headaches—both metaphorical and literal.
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