Content RadarPerhaps you entered 2017 with a well-developed content marketing plan that you were sure was going to lead you to success throughout the year. If you did, let us be the first to say, “Nice try.”  Some surprising developments in the world of content marketing threw us all for a loop. The best of us, however, were able to adjust to this year’s surprising impacts and make them work to our advantage. For the rest of us, there’s still time.

So, what were the most surprising impacts of 2017?

Content Radar

Instagram out-Snapchats Snapchat

Even though Instagram Stories launched in late 2016, when January 2017 rolled around, Snapchat was still the king of “stories” — though the crown was in peril. By August 2017, Instagram Stories had more daily users (250 million vs. Snapchat’s 166 million) and more overall users than Snapchat. Snapchat has been reeling ever since, as Facebook and Messenger have both also jumped on the “stories” bandwagon in the last year.

Snapchat continues to try to get its footing back underneath itself, but Instagram isn’t looking back and Snapchat’s probability of catching up seems unlikely.

“Instagram Stories has really honed in on what Snapchat does and made it so much better — and they are already on a platform like Instagram, so you’re already talking to more people,” Devin Johnson, a social media strategist at Hubbard Interactive, said during “The Social Feed” podcast. “I feel like Facebook and Instagram are the big behemoths that can’t really be beaten.”

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Facebook launches “Watch” and “Explore” feeds

Perhaps the Facebook “Watch” and “Explore” feeds haven’t yet had a major impact on your brand, but when people review this article deep in the future (like six months from now) we want to be counted among those who are on the record saying that “Watch” and “Explore” are going to be big deals.

After testing new icons at the bottom of your Facebook mobile app for much of 2017, Facebook finally settled on adding the “Watch” and “Explore” icons to the mobile app. Each new feed expands Facebook’s ability to retain and attract new audiences on the platform.

While not yet a huge commercial success, “Watch” seems to already be succeeding in keeping people on Facebook for longer periods of time. Whereas the average view time for a news feed video is about 16 seconds, people are viewing “Watch” videos for more than 30 seconds on average.

Even though marketers have seen the potential for opportunity with “Watch,” one of the scariest Facebook features for marketers in 2017 was the “Explore” feed. Facebook has not confirmed, but marketers fear that all branded content some day will be relegated to the “Explore” feed — unless brands pay for posts to be placed in the regular news feed. If this does occur, it would likely cause one of the most significant shifts in digital content marketing since Facebook was invented.

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Live video becomes the new norm

An eMarketer report in the first quarter of 2017 found that not only was live video gaining traction — it was quickly becoming a preferred method of sharing and consuming information for many people — especially millennials. The study found that 2/3 of 18-34 year-olds had watched live video online, and nearly half of the same age group had created their own live videos.

Since that time, live video has continued to expand and improve, with no signs of its use slowing down. For example, Instagram now lets users host other Instagrammers on their live videos, and Facebook launched a “Creators” app that encourages more live videos from influencers.

“Live video is such a great way to let people know more about who you are and how you help your clients and customers,” Kate Volman, a small business marketing strategist, said in a video about the advantages of Facebook LIve earlier this year. “Using live video is way different than recorded, obviously — it’s live. So that’s where we get to kind of see your personality while you’re sharing really great tips and being seen as an expert in your industry.”

Content Radar

Twitter extends to 280 characters

The last few years have shown us several ways in which social apps have adjusted to be more relevant and allow a wider base of users to engage with them, but nothing that has happened in the last few years — including Facebook Live and Instagram Stories — has altered the layout of a single social app as much as Twitter allowing 280 character tweets.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Twitter’s adjustment to 280 characters is the fact that the company itself had praised the value of pithy, 140-character tweets since its inception. Now, Twitter has taken a step into a new land, and nobody is completely sure how it is going to play out. Despite this, there may be reason for content marketers to be optimistic.

“If somebody were to ask you a question on Twitter about your business, you can answer them in a more detailed fashion now,” Paul James Carey, host of “The Income Highway” said on a recent episode. “I’m sure now as time goes on we’ll see a lot more marketing uses for this.” Time will tell.

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Everybody goes all in on stories

When Snapchat first started with its stories, marketers thought it was cute. When Instagram jumped on board, marketers found it intriguing. Then, when Facebook and Messenger jumped on board this year, marketers started to seriously consider when, where and how they should be publishing stories.

In recent months, Snapchat has somewhat fizzled; Instagram has sizzled; and Facebook and Messenger stories have merged. So what does this mean in the long term for using stories in digital marketing? Well, nobody really knows. Neither Messenger Day nor Facebook Stories have really gotten off the ground to this point (hence the consolidating of the two tools).

“On Facebook, they’ve really had a hard time getting user uptake. They have not revealed the number of Stories users on Facebook. I know there were 70 million users on Messenger Day,” Facebook marketing expert Mari Smith said on a recent episode of The Social Media Marketing talk show. “The fact that they are bringing [stories] to groups, and events, and pages—they’re like, ‘Look people, you are going to like stories, all right?'”

Given that Facebook is opening up to brands the ability to publish stories, the interest in stories that started in 2017 could prove to have a huge impact in upcoming months and years.