The Hot New Weapon in the Social Platform Wars: Content

In the Anchorman-style battle royale between the world’s leading social media platforms, the hot new weapon isn’t a piece of technology. In this battle, it’s all about content.

You see how important content is it in the launch of Snapchat Discover, in LinkedIn’s quest to become the definitive professional publishing platform, in Facebook luring the world’s biggest media companies inside its walls.

There’s a fundamental shift underway. Social media used to be about technology platforms that connected you with friends and got out of the way. But now, the world’s biggest platforms are increasingly trying to keep your attention with extra content. After all, that content might be better than what your friends are offering. It’s not that your friend’s seventh blurry Snapchat message from the bar isn’t interesting, it’s just that National Geographic snapped you and—my god—that bear is amazing.

LinkedIn doesn’t have bears, but it does have Richard Branson and a legion of other high-profile writers who gained massive followings when LinkedIn launched its Influencer platform and exclusive blogging program in the fall of 2012. The program was a hit, so LinkedIn opened its publishing platform to everyone else 14 months ago. The company also doubled down on content by creating impressive internal pubs like the wonderfully dorky LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog. With the recent purchase of and its suite of high-production job training video courses and online education experts, LinkedIn is closer to its goal of being the provider of all of your professional content needs—from job training to all of the mystical benefits of thought leadership.

And then there’s Facebook, perhaps the most ambitious fighter in this battle, which is trying to convince the media world to publish inside the platform and is reportedly close to a big win. The New York Times, the publishing world’s student body president, may be the first to come on in. Earlier this year, I wrote about how much power Facebook had since it drives one-quarter of all Internet referral traffic, but it seems the social giant is wondering what would happen if those people never left at all.

Every social media platform is locked in a turf war for people’s time, and many platforms are realizing good stories—better stories, longer stories, more polished stories—will make an audience want to stick around. Even chat apps like Kik are courting publishers to bulk up on content. It’s a safe bet Instagram and Pinterest will follow suit and aggressively upgrade their unique content offerings in the next few months.

This storytelling arms race is leading to a very interesting time in the content world. Even social media platforms—once digital publishers’ best friends—are turning into competition. And every publisher, from legacy media to digital upstarts to brands to social media platforms, is getting better at telling stories. The competition is heating up, coming at you from all sides, and sometimes you don’t even know what it looks like. For example, earlier this year, nearly 650,000 people read my boss Shane Snow’s LinkedIn post examining whether height affects career success… but was that time they could have spent reading The Content Strategist instead?

As the editor overseeing two online magazines here at Contently, contemplating all that competition can be sort of terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating. The only way to stay afloat is to improve rapidly, so you might as well get started.

It’s 2015 and everyone’s a publisher, so you better be a damn good one.

Image by Deb Wenof

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