By Eleanor Lim | Event Producer

November 3, 2021 | 5 min read

Ahead of judging The Drum Awards for Content, Gemma Hitchens, content director at The Financial Times, and Angela R Barber, senior vice-president of content production at Wunderman Thompson, discuss the impact of social media on the pace and tone of content, moments that have stood out and shaped the last year, and what to avoid.

Barber believes that the increased importance of social media, particularly with cities in lockdown, has driven a change in pace for content production. “Clients have found more confidence in social media. It’s forced us to believe that’s where all the eyes are first.”

She adds that brands engage with their customers differently on social, because “they start to see the interconnectivity between their brand and the consumers.” So they needed more content, and they wanted it faster – which wasn’t always simple. “Obviously, in the age of Covid-19, we had to keep people safe, not just creating engaging content in the traditional sense, and still trying to keep up with the demand.”

As for the most exciting social platforms of the moment, Barber admits to being surprised and impressed by Facebook. “In terms of programming, I think they have their finger on the pulse of what’s important to consumers right now, and what kind of content they can actually digest – and what’s getting them excited.” She mentions The Red Table Talks, a series hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter and her mother, and Steve Harvey’s show. “They’re doing a lot of lifestyle shows, coming up with things centered on pivotal moments.”

From a news perspective, Hitchens is drawn to the community aspect of social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. “When you’re a news publication, you need to go to where your audience is. We create content for ft.com, but on social the format lends itself slightly differently.” Creating video and visuals, polls and links to external experiences changes the way people interact with the content. “There’s a lot we can learn from what people want, and then reinforce our campaigns with that data.”

Hitchens adds that the pandemic has added another layer of change. “Pre-pandemic, we were hearing a lot about people’s attention spans getting shorter and needing to provide people really ‘snackable’ pieces of content.

“But in the last 18 months, we’ve seen that, when people have an interest in a particular topic, you can go longer form. You can really take the time to go deeper, and people will watch, listen, read that all the way through.” Subscriptions to The Financial Times went up, which Hitchens accredits to the audience’s demand for authentic and trustworthy content.

That desire for authenticity was echoed by the success of one piece of content she picks as a standout: the poem Amanda Gorman performed at president Joe Biden’s inauguration. “I think that was content at its best. It was very genuine, it really came from the heart – that was just obvious when she was speaking – it was delivered beautifully. It felt unexpected.”

America’s first-ever youth poet laureate read The Hill We Climb, which was reported on widely, shared around the world and translated into many languages (drawing attention to issues of diversity among translators in the process). “Just really looking at that, I felt pretty inspired,” says Hitchens. “It set the tone pretty nicely for January, for the year to come.”

Barber doesn’t pick one favorite piece of content, but pinpoints Nike as a brand leading the field in content creation. “Nike gets it right – in terms of inclusivity, messaging and with what’s happening in the world. They don’t have to wait for a moment in time.” The brand’s consistency impressed her in the pandemic: “The messages they put out hit hard. They wanted us to think, while at the same time fostering respect and appreciation for the brand. And that helps audiences make a connection: people lean in, they tend to trust more.”

When it comes to the awards, what are they looking for in a winner? Barber is looking for engaging, relevant content that’s honest and authentic. “I want to see content that is practical, without being too over the top and ‘sell-y.’ It’s important to invite consumers into the conversation, asking them to experience the brand.”

Hitchens is drawn to data-driven campaigns. “Audiences have gotten more data literate, consuming content on things like Covid-19 and elections. So if entrants are able to put data front and center, building a strategy with it – I love that.” She warns against brands talking issues that are irrelevant to them, without authenticity. “If your voice isn’t adding to that conversation, I’m not particularly impressed. Instead, be the signal that stands out from the noise.”

The results of The Drum Awards for Content will be announced on Thursday November 4 at 4pm GMT. Register to watch the ceremony here or check out the full list of nominees.

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