The world is awash in content. 

As recently detailed by Wired's David Pierce, Instagram's photo cache grows by 80m each day.

YouTube sees 400 hours of video uploaded every minute, and more than 250,000 status updates are posted to Facebook in the same span.

Obviously, as Pierce points out, "You could never read and see everything online. Not in 100 lifetimes. Not even if you never ate or peed or worked again."

That's a blessing and a curse for individuals, but increasingly, it's a thorn in the side of brands.

Brands become content creators

Thanks to the rise of ad blockers and generally skeptical consumers, more and more brands are becoming content creators.

Starbucks, for example, isn't just a coffee chain. It's a storyteller, and not a bad one at that.

By creating content and not ads, brands are hoping that they can reach consumers and build stronger relationships with them, but cutting through the clutter is increasingly difficult because of the deluge of content.

To help consumers separate the wheat from the chaff, popular platforms on which content is distributed and shared are increasingly turning to algorithms.

While Facebook's News Feed has been subject to an algorithm for years, Instagram and Twitter, services that have historically displayed content in chronological order, have recently introduced algorithms of their own.

Many users have voiced displeasure about the introduction of these algorithms, but given the overwhelming amount of content posted to Instagram and Twitter, it's not hard to understand why these companies are adopting them.

Beyond trying to make sure users see the content that's most likely to be relevant to them, algorithms pave the way for these services to more tightly control organic reach, which can in turn be used to bolster their paid ad offerings.

It's not just algorithms

Algorithms present brands that have jumped on the content bandwagon with numerous challenges.

The biggest: it's increasingly difficult and costly to ensure that content gets delivered to its target audience.

Quality content isn't cheap to produce in the first place, so brands that aren't getting the love they want from the algorithms often face a sub-optimal choice: pay up or let expensive content go to waste.

But it's not just algorithms that brands have to worry about.

In the past week Facebook has come under scrutiny after some of its former "news curators" claimed that they "routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential 'trending' news section."

While the alleged suppression of content from conservative news sites doesn't relate directly to brand content, it highlights the fact that employees at companies like Facebook exert significant control over the content that large numbers of consumers see.

This means that a small group of individuals can make decisions that impact millions upon millions of people.

So what are brands to do?

For better or worse, it's increasingly difficult for brands to ignore content marketing altogether.

Content marketing can deliver ROI, and there are common mistakes brands can avoid to increase the likelihood of success. Econsultancy's Periodic Table of Content Marketing can help. 

But as content volumes increase and third-party distribution platforms become the primary means through which digital content reaches consumers, brands will have to get to grips with the fact that embracing content creation will not be a panacea.

Patricio Robles

Published 11 May, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2642 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (4)


Daniel Young, Strategy Director at Brightpoint Digital

Agree that brands can't ignore content led digital strategies. They also have to recognise that the build it and they will come approach is dead in the water. With smart distribution strategies, including programmatic content marketing, brands can bypass the key obstacle that you refer to in your article. To accomodate for the increased media costs - brands need to ensure two things 1) the content is of good quality and 2) they have the measurement and attribution modelling in place to report effectively on the impact of content strategies.

The industry has created a false dichotomy between content marketing and performance marketing - we're bringing those two things together for our clients and proving that clients can build brands and improve their digital marketing performance at the same time.

about 2 years ago

Simon Swan

Simon Swan, Head of Digital Marketing at Met OfficeEnterprise

Nice post Patricio -

For me, where brands need to re-connect is what the purpose is and the needs of their audience. It's about connecting your brand with the digital tactics or in this case, content

*The acceleration and need to stay relevant has meant many brands have not kept apace with a disconnecting themselves of the digital tactics now used to help service their growing numbers of digital customers

*Growing expectations to deliver new and innovative revenue streams through digital channels as budgets continue to shift from offline to online channels i.e. the shift in content being churned out

*Specialist skill sets: For brands to retain their relevancy and to keep pace with a digital landscape, hiring specialist digital marketers to work on specific channels are recruited in to apply their specialisms but are not necessarily connected with the brand purpose

about 2 years ago


David Wright, Director at BSA Marketing

Great post Patricio

E-mail gives (particularly) B2B brands another angle which helps to address the vagaries of social media platform algorithms. As B2B tends to have more tightly defined or niche markets, it is easier to build high quality contact data which offers an additional, and direct, communication channel. This said, the relevance and quality of emailed content is at least as important as with social media. I would argue it is even more important.

about 2 years ago

Rob Mansfield

Rob Mansfield, Head of Content at Age UK

Nice post. I've long been of the opinion that simply pumping anything out there is both damaging and also self-defeating. Doing a bit of research into what your audience actually wants is pretty basic, but beyond most organisations.

Your final point about third party distribution platforms is key and one that many brands have still yet to really embrace - I think investing in adaptive content will be a key trend over the next 2-3 years.

about 2 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.