2013 – The Year We Learned How to Connect

An image of an old echidna and a baby echidna, with a banner that reads "The Year in Review"

The subtitle of the film 2010 was called "The Year We Make Contact." In many ways, 2013 was the year we learned how to connect.

From the rise of Content Strategy, to the undeniable influence of Twitter, to putting your message in the palm of your customers' hands, here are my top three trends for 2013.

The Rise of Content Strategy

I'd like to think that the Content Strategist, if it hasn't already, is well on its way to slaying the SEO Gurus, Wizards, and Electric Unicorns out there.

Of course, we have a Panda and a Penguin to thank for helping us out.

I'm admittedly old school in my belief about business writing and content creation. Personally, I come from a background of journalism, was involved in the early days of Web directories (thanks LookSmart Canada), and spent many years working in communications for large companies. I've also maintained a presence in the media, so it helps me keep things in perspective.

But the one lesson I've learned that translates across all media is this: deliver the right content to the right people, in the way that's best for them. You're not writing for machines; you're writing for people – people who have questions, challenges, wants, and needs. If your content delivers, then you'll naturally rise in the ranks.

Sadly, too many people try to rig the game. From early link farms to keyword stuffing, from buying likes to hijacking hash tags, there are always going to be black hat SEO types out there. But what Google's Panda and Penguin updates did was reward those of us who adhered to a simple philosophy: delivering quality content that meets your customers' needs.

In 2013, we went back to the future in many ways. Instead of turning business writing into a mathematical formula (stuffed keywords multiplied by incoming links equals...), we've allowed it to be the art that it is: providing compelling marketing-focused content that includes relevant information and appealing calls to action to help customers find what they need.

Then, once they're satisfied with your service (and no amount of content strategy is going to be able to overcome a crappy product), they're naturally going to become what the SEO types will refer to as Brand Advocates (or ninjas or little bunny foo foos... whatever the 'cool' term is.) Or, as those of us who embrace the older-school mentality will say, 'word-of-mouth' business.

No generation has a monopoly on the right way to do things. SEO and digital marketing can't exist in a vacuum. It has to be part and parcel of a broader corporate strategy that combines customer service, quality assurance, and a product worth selling. You need to combine multiple strategies and approaches, learning from the past and embracing the future. Your Web site doesn't exist in isolation; your Twitter feed will not solve all your problems; but a competent Content Strategy will allow you to benefit from a multifaceted approach to reaching your customers in a way that feels right to them.

And that's honest.

Why You Can't Ignore Twitter

Early in the year, we saw a perfect example of why Twitter is winning the social media war when it comes to branding, immediacy, and customer engagement.

According to an anecdotal report, 50 per cent of the national TV commercials shown during the Super Bowl – TV's most-important advertising event – featured a Twitter hash tag. Only four of the 52 commercials mentioned Facebook; one each for Instagram and YouTube, and none for Google+.

In many ways, Twitter is establishing itself as a complement to TV viewing. Many shows now feature hash tags, encouraging you to join the conversation. Now, don't go thinking this is a fun and exciting way to engage the audience – realistically, it's a great way to make TV appointment viewing again in the land of the PVR for ratings, which then translates into ad buys.

The immediacy of Twitter is undeniable. The awareness of its true potential may have hit its Zenith in 2011 with the Lotus Revolution/Arab Spring, but the application of Twitter's influence continues to rise.

Back in January we were presented with on-the-scene notes from the crash of a helicopter in London and live Tweets of Barrack Obama inauguration. In February, we saw the power of Twitter at the Super Bowl. And, in April, the world waited in breathless anticipation of news from the Boston Marathon bombings. From a Royal Baby and Sharknado Fever in July through to the death of Nelson Mandela in December, Twitter became the go-to source for news awareness.

Yes, 140 characters is not enough to go in depth on any issue, but Twitter has become the social hub for those looking to get immediate updates from those in the know.

In 2014 and beyond, there will be a natural learning curve and societal growth, as too often Twitter lends itself to Tweets being taken out of context and of false information being spread. But that's not the fault of Twitter – that's a societal need to understand the importance of being media savvy, checking sources, and verifying information. That will come.

The World in the Palm of Your Hands

We referenced the 2013 Pew Cell Internet Use Study earlier in the year in our blog post, "Why it's essential to put your business in the palm of your customers' hands," but it's important to refer to it again because mobile-friendly development is not just the future – it's very much the present.

But you don't need any fancy stats or metrics for proof – just look around you.

Whether you're in a coffee shop, hanging out with friends, or waiting in the boardroom for a meeting to start, check out what the people around you are doing – they're likely staring into the palm of their hands, browsing the Internet on their mobile device.

Over one-fifth of all cell-phone users access the Internet from their hand-held device (and that's out of a pool of 91 per cent of the American adult populace).

As we'll discuss in the upcoming 2014 preview, Web accessibility is going to be a huge factor in future development. And these standards dovetail nicely with mobile development.

From a business perspective, it only makes sense to want to promote your brand and product to the widest possible audience, in a way that's easiest for them to access. If they're going to be searching on their phones for your products and/or services, you want to deliver results. And, as we've seen, that market is only growing.

Now I open it up to you. What do you feel are the biggest trends in digital marketing? Do you agree/disagree with any of these? Feel free to share in the comments.

Questions Answered

What were the biggest online trends in 2013?

What were the biggest social media trends in 2013?



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