Spotlight Series: Lauren Sudworth of Hootsuite

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In this installment of our “Spotlight” series, we’re featuring the industry perspective of Lauren Sudworth, Hootsuite’s Senior Content Strategy Manager. Hootsuite is the gold standard of social media management tools, and is widely used by brands and agencies alike to consolidate social media marketing efforts - from posting to media management to reporting - all in one place.

Hootsuite has been at the forefront of social media content management and technology for nearly a decade, and we are thrilled that Lauren was willing to share her views of the social media landscape and the emerging trends that we, as content creators and media strategists, should consider in the coming year.

And now for the Q&A:

Q - From your perspective, what is the most important thing brands should consider when allocating time and budget resources to building their content marketing plans and social media approach?

A - I think the number one question content marketers need to start asking more often is 'Why will they care?'. Over the past few years, there's been a huge push in the content industry to create more and distribute further. Sometimes it's worthwhile to invest in fewer, higher impact content initiatives, and this gut check has always helped me to take off the marketing hat and step into our customer's shoes to make sure what we're doing is worthwhile.

Q - What are the top 3 trends you’re seeing in content marketing right now, and are there any trends you see emerging that will be big in 2017?

A - The ROI of content

One trend we're talking a lot about right now, both with our customers and internally is the ROI of content. We're moving from measuring engagement metrics in-channel, to attributing some of the content we create back to sales qualified leads and revenue figures. Of course engagement and brand awareness metrics are an incredibly important indicator of the success of our content, and I don't think that will ever change, but falling in line with business KPIs has helped our division be taken more seriously by the rest of the business.

Content governance

This isn't the sexiest content marketing trend, but a study has shown that businesses waste almost $1 billion a year in ineffective content marketing spend. As we move from creating content as a 'one size fits all' to content personalized by personas, verticals, and buying behaviour, this problem is only going to get bigger.

For us, content governance means tightening up the processes around content creation - through better relationships with our marketing operations team, for example. It also means investing in the tools and technology that help us understand how our content is being used, what is available to the business, and how we can extend the half life of content - through repurposing content in other channels, or making scheduled updates.

Video

I know this topic has been on trends lists for some years now, but video - especially social video - can no longer be ignored. Our social, publishing and video teams are seeing amazing results from taking content that has performed well in other channels and adapting it for video. It also plays into personalization, because as video becomes the default expression of the web, we need to start better understanding the format that will work best for a given audience, and for younger viewers who have grown up with social, that will often be video. The challenge is for brands to effectively develop the skillset that allows them to create film at a high output, without sacrificing production quality. Another challenge is figuring out where to invest time and energy when resources are limited: a documented video content strategy can really help with this.

Q - Have you seen any trends within the advertising agency realm here in the US? Do you see a shift in roles between in-house marketers and agency partners, especially as it relates to social media?

A - Although I'm originally from the UK, I've always looked to the US for emerging content trends, as the industry there tends to be 3-5 years ahead of the rest of the world. What I've seen over the past year is a wave of content marketers moving from agencies to in-house. This is very similar to the shift of social marketing from agencies to working in-house 3 or 4 years ago. I think agencies are great at innovating, and filling in skills gaps that brands take longer to fill. However, as content ecosystems have grown, and content strategy has shifted from creative outlier, to business as usual, to business critical, I think the control and governance needed to develop content effectively has driven the shift in the industry. Over the next 5 years I'd also expect to see more content strategy hires at consultancies like McKinsey and Accenture, as content becomes more of a headache for global brands, and challenges get escalated to a board level.

Q- What do you think brands’ roles should be in the world of activism and politics?

A - Associating yourself with politics or activism is risky. It's easy to come across as tone deaf, or jumping on the bandwagon. I'd say 'show don't tell' is the most important rule to follow: brands must earn their stripes. As we've seen from some recent attempts in the media, there's no way to short-cut activism through advertising. Even a hint of disingenuousness could see a backlash. One brand who I think does do it well is outdoor clothing brand, Patagonia. Their mission statement is to "build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." Last year they donated all $10 million of their Black Friday profits to protecting the environment. If that's not putting your money where your mouth is, I don't know what is!

Q - How do you see the world of programmatic media expanding in the next 3 years? Do Hootsuite, and your competitors, have an eye on digital media outside of social platforms?

A - Programmatic is getting a bit of a bashing at the moment, after a Times investigation revealed that ads were appearing alongside extremist content. I think this is a case of implementing automation without understanding all of the implications. Hootsuite's brand purpose is to champion the power of human connection, so hopefully the next 3 years will see advertising teams renew their focus on reaching real people, and brands continuing to take a stand against questionable programmatic practices.

Q - What are your observations on how Gen Z is consuming and interacting with digital and social media, vs. Millennials and Gen X? We know they are trending towards more private platforms (starting with Snapchat and leaning into “finsta” accounts) - how should brands reach them in authentic ways?

A - At Hootsuite we've spent a lot of time thinking about Generation C: a cross-section of consumers whose connected digital behaviours transcend age and demographic. I'd say these are really the early adopters of new social and digital technologies. As for reaching Generation Z, I think the main challenge for brands will be to understand the value and impact of dark social in their marketing efforts. I think the trend comes from people (not just Gen Z) starting to take control of their 'private' and 'public' social personas. Brands should tread carefully as the expectations of engaging with a customer in their news feed versus the more intimate setting of a messenger app will be quite different.

Q - What is your single favorite advertising campaign of all time?

A - The most effective advertising campaign, if not my favourite, was VCCP's Compare the Meerkat campaign for comparethemarket.com back in 2010. Most of Compare the Market's traffic came from paid search, and the insurance comparison space is incredibly competitive - and expensive - to be in. They realized that a similar search term 'Compare the Meerkat' was far cheaper, and so built an advertising campaign around that concept. It sounds ludicrous, but everyone in the UK went crazy for meerkat comparison, and they built out a content ecosystem that extended to a fake memoir that topped the best sellers chart, plush toys, film partnerships, and coined the phrase 'Simples' (which my Dad still uses to this day).

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