Trends in digital communications, jobs and talent in 2013

Happy New Year ! 2013What will 2013 hold for employers and for communication professionals seeking work in digital communications? Firehead presents a set of predictions and trends that we think will be pertinent over the next 12 months.

1. Uptake of content marketing by large organisations

Content marketing reached a tipping point in 2012, according the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) – and we think it is set to explode in 2013. Here’s why…

There has always been a business lag in social media. It takes time for cultural change to happen and the shift from traditional marketing methods to modern content marketing has been slow.

But larger organisations and multinationals with bigger marketing budgets are catching up and connecting content marketing to their bottom line. Coco-Cola has even launched its own content marketing agency to react to changing consumers trends – read more on its Content 2020 strategy.

2. Content marketing talent land rush

Secondly, traditional communicators are showing a massive appetite to learn new skills. The recent Content Marketing Show sold out in five minutes, while the industry’s leading event, Content Marketing World, is now into its third year in 2013 and is going global with an event in Sydney in March.

Finding the right employee or freelance talent to be an advocate for the reader, while understanding the business and its specific needs, is a key task for us as recruiters in digital communications.

Right now, there is a land rush of marketers, PRs and journalists brushing up on the skills needed for content marketing. At present, the skillset falls somewhere in between all of these roles, but must also be combined with a working knowledge of modern, multimedia storytelling toolkits.

3. Rise of the niche content roles

Content roles are diversifying with new job titles forming. Within content marketing, for example, the brand journalist appeared to be rising up the recruitment agenda in 2012.

If content marketing is used as a competitive differentiator between brands, then whoever serves their customers and clients best will gain the competitive edge. To that end, we expect the rise of brand journalism to continue with particular opportunities for journalists – who have a natural skillset in covering a specific beat and serving up content in engaging ways for readers – to work for brands and bring something fresh to the content marketing mix.

The CMI, in its epic Slideshare of 2013 predictions, also highlights the rise of the Chief Content Officer as a dedicated ‘chief storyteller’ liaising across PR and marketing to integrate content strategy and user experience.

We also predict an increasing number of specialisms off the back of demand for ebooks, video, and content for tablets and mobile (augmented reality and metadata in particular). We also expect responsive design to rise up the business buzzword tables in 2013.

4. ‘The new SEO’

Finally, content marketing has also been given a push from search engines. After Google introduced its Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, which deter aggressive SEO tactics, writing more human-friendly content has become the new advantage. Expect an increasing shift on to front-end content choices in order ‘to win at Google’.

As a result, content marketing has been touted as ‘the new SEO’. While that doesn’t show a full understanding of SEO, in terms of a business buzzword for 2013, it’s probably true. Update your buzzword bingo cards now!

5. Content strategy matures

Content strategy was put on the map in 2008 with Kristina Halvorson’s post on A List Apart – The discipline of content strategy – followed by her excellent handbook, Content Strategy for the Web. The field has grown in leaps and bounds ever since and we’ve covered its growth in-depth over the years here on the Firehead blog.

Yet, as both our job ads and hiring trends survey research has shown, there has been an ongoing struggle to define the role in the workplace – which can make recruiting in content strategy challenging to say the least!

What employers expect and what (often-transitioning) content strategists offer is a work in progress at present. A content strategist may be called on to do the brains work of creating a new content roadmap only, or to project manage delivering a new strategy, or to carry out the hands-on work themselves – or all of the above.

Content strategy skill requirements also seem to expand or contract depending whether it’s a marketing role or a more technical one, industry-specific or more general, a defined strategy project or part of other ongoing content tasks. Which makes it very hard to define the ideal skill set.

Our prediction for 2013 then is that content strategy, after a meteoric rise from 2009 to 2012, will continue to spread but more slowly as the field matures. It may be that the content strategy role may not be defined as a discrete job for many years but will have to adapt and evolve depending on businesses’ frontline content needs – and budget (see next point).

6. Innovation in content strategy buy-in

We also think 2013 will see renewed focus from the content strategy profession on ways to sell content strategy services.

Content strategy is a senior consultancy role with a correspondingly high price tag – see our survey results on pay. In the face of tightened budgets and ongoing global economic woes, we expect the conversation to shift more towards finding new ways to get buy-in and options for low-cost, entrance-level alternatives.

Offering low-entry or pain-point content services (such as Content Strategy Bitesize), is one option. Offering informal content strategy surgeries for businesses along the lines of the Social Media Surgery model, with free initial chats, could be another.

Two longtime content strategy evangelists, Noz Urbina and Rahel Anne Bailie, have also recognised this need with their new book out this month: Content Strategy – connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits. In it, they fill the huge gap in content strategy books of making the business case to the project managers, hirers and other budget-holders.

What a great sales tool for content strategists and content agencies!

We also highly recommend Karen McGrane’s Content Strategy for Mobile, which expands content strategy work into new areas and offers a potential specialism for some.

7. Tech comm gets content strategic

Tech comm has gone digital – that’s checked off the list. It’s rare to see printed documentation coming out of Tech Pubs anymore (although there are some rare exceptions, they are usually a complement to the online versions).

The next step, at least what we’re seeing at Firehead, is a big land grab for content strategy roles. We think this trend will continue, although (and I repeat!) content strategy is a process, not a deliverable. As a process, it has a perfect place in the world of tech comm, just as it does for any publishing process (and we’re all publishers now!).

Technical communicators have many of the skill sets required to deliver the technopower behind organisational content. But there is still a gap when it comes to having a global view of the organisation necessary to be able to strategise its content requirements. We think many technical communicators will start to bridge this gap in 2013 by moving over into roles that allow them a more strategic view as part of their path. But to do this, they will have to step out of (and maybe knock down some) silos. We think this is a Good Thing.

Maybe 2013 will be the year when publishers of all stripes come to terms with the process of content strategy and forget obsessing about the label. The work still needs to be done – and there’s plenty of it. A rose by any other name…

The call to action bit!

If you are seeking a new, better, different role in 2012, don’t forget you don’t have to job-hunt alone. We have new jobs and opportunities coming in every week.

Firehead covers a number of specialist content and communications recruitment areas – mainly digital content and technical communication roles based in the UK and mainland Europe, although our remit extends to other territories also. So if you’re in content or tech comm work in Europe and want to get ahead, file your details with us and see what happens! We also welcome clients with recruitment needs in the digital comms area to get in touch.

Wishing you a happy and prosperous new year in 2013!

From all at Firehead.