If you haven’t been to SXSW before, the best way I can describe it is a carnival at the intersection of tech and trendy. The interactive portion of SXSW is over (the film and music venues continue through the week), and I’ll miss the flurry of brands and startups pulling every stunt imaginable to gain attention (include zombies parading down the streets), the internet memes making real life appearances (including fist pump baby and Grumpy Cat), as well as the look into the future with cutting edge tech everywhere (it’s the only place in the world outside of Google’s headquarters where seeing people walk around with Google Glass on didn’t seem strange). As weird as SXSW can be at times, it was truly an invigorating experience.

Before it ended, I attended what was my favorite SXSW session of all: The Future of Social Media (and Content Marketing) by Mark W. Schaefer (@markwschaefer). In it, Schaefer took a look at the evolution of the internet, social media and content marketing, and he predicted what the future might look like.

Schaefer first reviewed the stages the internet has gone through. 1985-1995 was presence building. Every company wanted to put a brochure online. 1995-2005 was discovery. Now that everyone had a website, they wanted to get found and they were focused on optimizing search results. From 2005 through the present, we are in a social media and mobile stage, with the focus being to get people information at their point of need. Recently, to marketers, that has meant covering the world with content.

You Get Content, And You Get Content…

Content consumption will only continue to grow.
Content consumption will only continue to grow.

We are in a world of exploding content. On average, Americans are currently spending ten hours a day consuming content of some kind. That’s up from eight hours a day ten years ago, most driven by the use of smartphones. It’s now possible to get content anywhere.

As a result, content marketing has never been hotter, but Schaefer feels content marketers are about to run into some serious challenges. He cited statistics that show there will be 600 percent more data on the internet in 2020 than there is today. As a result, it is going to be harder and harder for marketers to cut through the noise.

Marketers have lived in an era where content consumption has always gone up and up, year after year. But it’s going to top out soon. We are entering a period of “content shock” where ROI on content production may no longer exist.

When the average Facebook user loads their news feed, there are an average of 1,500 possible stories Facebook can show that user. In 2011, the reach of corporate content on Facebook was 26%. Now it’s 8%. Facebook is already in “content shock.” They have too much content coming in and not enough eyeballs to consume it all.

Shock and Awe

So how should content marketers overcome this? Schaefer says to succeed, the content doesn’t have to be the best, but it has to be the first and overwhelming. So he introduced his “Shock and Awe” strategy to content marketing:

1. Find an unsaturated content niche. A particular topic no one in your industry or geography has written much about yet.

2. Create an aggressive content strategy based on keywords. Deploy many different types of content, including videos. Throughout the content, be really helpful. Attempt to answer questions people may have.

3. Never stop. Create more and more content for the niche until you clearly dominate it.

The best content rises to the top. Credit: BusinessesGrow
The best content rises to the top. Credit: BusinessesGrow

This is not a new strategy, as I have heard other content marketers speak of similar tactics in the past (and here at 352, we institute a similar approach for some of our digital marketing clients). But Schaefar did have some other tips which I thought were timely. One is to “Atomize” your content. Because of the oversaturation of content, Schaefer suggests making content shorter. Give people quick nuggets of information (think Infographics, Vine videos and Pintrest pins) instead of long blog posts.

Another good idea Schaefar shared was to build entertainment value into all of your content. In a world of content overload, people will veer towards what entertains them. Schaefar says all content should be put through the “RITE” test – it must be Relevant, Interesting, Timely and Entertaining. Typically content marketers get a few of those right, but not all four – particularly, a lot of content fails to be entertaining.

Just to drive that point home, the number one article of all time on Slate, a news website, was a tool to help you “Travoltify your name” after his flub at the Oscars. People like being entertained. Leadership and marketing teams should constantly be thinking, how can we make our company more entertaining?

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

As a tactic for getting more people to consume your content, Schaefer suggests borrowing a bigger pipeline. Align yourself with people who already have a following. This is not a new idea as it is something savvy content marketers have done for years. But Schaefer pointed out there are tools that are now better than ever at making this process easier, like Appinions, which tracks where conversations are taking place online about the topic you are writing about. Use this information and get close to the influencers.

The Future of the Internet

What I thought was most interesting about Schaefer’s talk was his thoughts on what will be the next stage of the internet, which he believes will start in 2015. He called the next stage “immersion.” It’s a stage where people are going to deal with content overload by creating filters to keep most things out and only let highly relevant content through, which he predicts will really hurt search marketing. Since people are already getting the content they want pushed to them, they’ll never even see the noise.

As an early peek into what the future may look like, he suggests looking at the app Zite, a content filtering tool. Although he didn’t give this example, I think Gmail’s recent addition of automatically filtering and grouping promotional emails falls in line with this theory. By adding filters, Gmail has made it more difficult for marketers to reach potential customers through traditional e-mail marketing.

Obviously, Siri isn’t always the most effective tool, but the eventual arrival of cognitive computing will hurt content marketing in the future by allowing you to ask a detailed question to your smartphone and get a very specific answer. You will no longer get a list of maybe-relevant blog posts to choose from, as you do now when you search for a topic.

Schaefer suggests the way to win the content marketing game in the future will be to create experiences so interesting and compelling that it invites people out of their filters. The proliferation of augmented reality – which Schaefer contends may be even more profound than the internet itself – will change the way we market and sell. There will be a digital layer across our real world, but one thing will remain constant – we’ll want to play with the world around us. Fun, immersive experiences may replace a lot of the traditional content we consume today.

Take the Power Back

One thought I had while listening to Schaefer is that all of this may really shift the power back to big brands and those with extensive resources. The internet was the ultimate equalizer. It gave bootstrapped start-ups and small companies a level playing field to compete with big brands. It gave bloggers the ability to compete with established news organizations. With the complexity and investment required to create immersive experiences, the playing field may no longer be as level.

That’s it for me from this year’s SXSW. I am marking my calendar now for SXSW15!


Geoff is a true entrepreneur. He’s passionate about helping companies find, build and grow their next big idea. He launched his first venture at age 16, when he started a computer store in a shopping mall in Sarasota, Florida. Since then, he’s built eight more companies.