The power of content in a post-digital age

It is 18 years since the phrase "content is king" was first coined by Bill Gates.

Bill Gates was right: Content IS king, argues Mark Flanagan at Portland
Bill Gates was right: Content IS king, argues Mark Flanagan at Portland
The quote became one of the most annoying, overused and misapplied phrases in business history. 

But, as we reach the next stage in the evolution of communications, Gates' phrase needs revisiting. 

At the beginning, of course, when everything was new, audiences were divided between those who consumed information online and those who didn’t.  

As social media grew in popularity, this was replaced with an obsession with platforms, channels and technology. 

The days of marvelling at the mechanics of the medium are over. We are entering what might be dubbed a 'post-digital age'. 

This doesn’t mean, of course, that digital platforms, services and technology will stop developing. 
It’s a recognition now that everything is digital and it is what we say rather than where we say it that matters. 

In a world where we are digitally literate and channel boundaries blurred, people don’t care – or even know – whether content has reached them via Google or Twitter, on a smartphone or in a newspaper.

Does watching the news on iPlayer makes the source TV or web?

Nowadays, everyone – not just traditional media owners – has the ability to publish content, which means conversations are influenced by a much wider range of sources and opinions.   

Brands and organisations need to be in those conversations directly rather than allowing others to interpret their story for them. This means offering primary content. 

While many firms understand this is what they must do, they find the idea a challenge.

They worry where all this content is going to come from, whether they have enough to say and the risks of conversations they can’t control.  

Yet most companies and organisations sit on a wealth of great stories and powerful data.  

They can harness the insights of their in-house specialists. What’s needed is the expertise and confidence to turn this material and opinion into compelling content for owned and third party channels. 

Don’t fall into the trap of believing quantity matters more than quality. Google’s algorithm now rewards authority and ‘shareability’. 

It is vital not to saturate the market with mediocre output. 

So what does that mean for companies and organisations and those that advise them? 

First, there is no place for the false divide between traditional and digital media and the silos that have been built. 

The only difference between non-digital and digital is that one route to market requires going through a mediator – a journalist – and the other direct to the audience through owned and earned platforms.

Second, a clear narrative and compelling content that flows from it remains central to successful communication. 

But while once this was restricted to press releases, articles or speeches, today it must seamlessly include blog posts, tweets, infographics, video and other content in a variety of formats. 

When I go the cinema, I concentrate on the story and performances, not the means of delivery. 

Electricity itself is not interesting; it is what it allows you to do that matters.

In a world where digital is ubiquitous, Gates' vision of content as king is the new reality. 

Mark Flanagan is the senior partner for content and digital strategy at Portland

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