In the past ten years, digital and content marketing has grown from a niche endeavor to dominating the profession to the point that it has become the default when executives think about a marketing campaign. From social media and email campaigns to blog posts and personalized content, the rapid evolution of the space has been both exciting and disorienting — it’s tough to keep up.
That said, digital and even social media is much older than you might think. In 1844, Samuel Morse unveiled the telegraph, which used a binary system of dots and dashes to communicate over long distances. Just as in modern social media. telegraph operators used abbreviations (e.g. “GM” for good morning), played games with people they’d never met (chess and checkers, using letters and numbers to refer to squares and moves) and even, according to some reports, fell in love with faraway people on the other side of the wire. What’s more, everyone along the wire could hear communications from anyone along it, which created the 19th century equivalent of a chat room.
The digital world as we know it, though, began much later, in 1969 with the emergence of the U.S. Department of Defense’s ARPANET, which would later become the public Internet. Even the ARPANET had rudimentary social media, where researchers could share data and software. But even before the public Internet went mainstream in the mid-1990s, companies such as AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy developed closed communities with message boards, email and chat rooms.
When the Internet became widely available, however, digital media truly took off. Weblogs, which we know today as blogs, took off in the late 1990s, and platforms like LiveJournal and Blogger made this form of self-publishing simple to do. Modern incarnations of these kinds of sites, such as Medium and Substack have become full-fledged media platforms, with the best known writers pulling in hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars each year in subscriptions.
The Rise of Social Media
But while blogging was more general purpose and long-form, more pointed, shorter forms of social media began to emerge. LinkedIn launched in 2002 to network people in business. Myspace debuted the very next year, which enabled users to set up a profile page and easily share music. For a while, it was the hottest social media site on the Internet, but, as we all know, the 2004 launch of Facebook would eventually spell its demise.
Social media continued to rapidly evolve. Reddit largely replaced the Usenet Newsgroups, which enabled people to create and participate in an infinite number of bulletin boards built around specific niches, subcultures and fandoms. Twitter largely subsumed the blogging culture with its revolutionary microblogging platform, and, before long, it became a virtual town square for politics, journalism, activism and celebrity.
As broadband became more ubiquitous, and especially once smartphones put a high-quality connected camera in everyone’s back pocket, images and video became powerful forces shaping the social media and digital content landscape. YouTube launched in 2005, and by 2010, it was a staple of culture, entertainment and, of course, marketing. Instagram, launched in 2010, rapidly became the premiere social media site for sharing images, and video soon found a home there, as it did at Facebook and Twitter. Vine paved the way for micro-video social media, with TikTok as the modern incarnation of the concept.
Matching the Message to the Medium … and Vice Versa
For marketers, the result has been an ever changing blur of platforms that rapidly rise and, sometimes, rapidly fall, which means content strategies must also evolve quickly to keep up with the times. Amplification of website content – ebooks, blog posts, case studies, videos, infographics, and more – typically requires social media in order for that content to go viral. Ensuring content follows good search engine optimization (SEO) practices is just the beginning.
Establishing a presence on the social media platforms that matter for your audience is essential. Focused on enterprise technology? LinkedIn and, though it has lost some luster over the last year, Twitter (or, rather, X) are key platforms. Marketing to young consumers? Instagram and TikTok are where you need to be.
It’s important to match the platform to the audience. Sure, it might be fun to produce TikTok videos to promote your company’s zero trust security platform, but the teens and young 20-somethings who are the largest part of that audience won’t likely be very interested.
Looking ahead, we’ll likely see augmented and virtual reality (AR / VR) become even more powerful forces shaping content and social media. Currently, AR largely takes the form of fun Snapchat and TikTok filters, while VR is mostly confined to the nascent Metaverse. Eventually, however, it’s inevitable that these technologies will once again push the evolution of digital media further forward. Imagine the ability to virtually try on clothes with a 3D digital twin of your body or placing works of art and furniture in a representation of your living room.
Hyper-personalization is another near-term trend. As AI (and generative AI, especially) become more prevalent, content will be adapted and created on-the-fly to meet the specific needs and interests of each reader. Unlike customization, personalization is implicit, taking place in the background. The web app already knows who is interacting with it and what kind of preferences they have. As this capability becomes more common, it will transform nearly every kind of digital content: email campaigns, e-commerce sites, product pages, even company blogs. Obtaining and properly analyzing customer data to get a 360 degree view won’t just be a nice-to-have, but an absolute necessity to remain competitive.
What’s the take-away for marketers? We must remain adaptable, flexible and up-to-date so we can embrace the constant, rapid change in the digital landscape. It’s tough to do that alone.
If you could use some assistance keeping up with all the new developments in digital content, get in touch! We’d be happy to talk about how you can update your marketing strategy to stay current with the latest trends.