In the last few decades, the way in which we engage with content has become more interactive. The internet has enabled us to access almost anything at any time, make our voices heard instantly via social media, and distribute content of our own at the click of a button.
Creators are increasingly taking advantage of these possibilities to create new experiences. One of the most high-profile examples of recent years has been Netflix’s interactive episode of the science-fiction series Black Mirror — ‘Bandersnatch’ — which blends ‘choose-your-own-adventure’-style storytelling with the live-action sheen and mass appeal of high-end TV drama.
Writing for Hubspot, Clifford Chi remarks upon the sheer wealth of possibilities that interactivity opens up for marketers:
“Relying on the content formats we used yesterday to educate and entertain our audiences today is fine … But, at the same time, we’ve missed a huge opportunity to engage them at record levels because we glossed over the fact that screens and computers are so much more than just digital pieces of paper and printing presses.”
So: beyond all of the thrill and novelty, what does interactivity have to offer to content marketers and their audiences?
Now that mobile digital devices have become our main tools for consuming news and entertainment, there are more ways for us to engage with information than just reading or watching. One outlet that has imaginatively taken up the challenge of presenting information in a new way is The Pudding, who publish immersive visual essays and “[wield] original datasets, primary research, and interactivity … to thoroughly explore topics.”
Take their piece ‘The Art of Sampling’, for example, which details how the jazz pianist and producer Robert Glasper used samples from a 1960s Miles Davis record as the basis for one of his own original compositions. Rather than just describing the artistry and technique of Glasper’s sampling, the multimedia piece allows readers to deconstruct and study individual components of the finished track; giving them a uniquely in-depth experience of the process and the creativity involved.
Other pieces on the site use similar techniques to delve deep into subjects as diverse as the structure of stand-up comedy, representation in politics, and how cultural anxieties have evolved over time. What connects all of this work is an ambition to innovate and experiment in order to communicate insights that would not be so easily put across through ‘static’ text or video.
As the team themselves state:
“We’re trying to advance the craft … Sometimes we’ll attempt an unfamiliar visual approach — not because it’s guaranteed to work, but because we don’t know until we try.”
An interview with some of the minds behind The Pudding, conducted by Brandwatch, reveals another key benefit to investing in interactivity: audience engagement.
“When I ask which the most popular pieces are, Russell [Goldenberg, co-founder of The Pudding] says it depends on your lens.
‘I pride myself on engagement time,’ [he] says. ‘The Structure of Stand-Up Comedy’ piece has one of the best times, with an average of around 12 minutes spent on the page.”
This certainly makes sense that content which invites active participation would be more likely to grab and maintain an audience’s attention than that which does not. And the research agrees, showing that even the simpler forms of interactive content tend to be hugely popular with audiences. As marketer Amy Balliett writes for Inc.:
“Just look at the ubiquitous BuzzFeed quiz. Digiday reported that 96 percent of all sponsored BuzzFeed quizzes on the site are completed by [users]. What’s more, a 2016 Content Marketing Institute study found that 81 percent of marketers say that interactive content is more effective than static … when it comes to grabbing consumers’ attention.”
The fact that such content gives users the control and the choice to voluntarily participate suggests as well that interactive tools could be the solution to one of the key problems faced by today’s marketers: the personalisation-privacy paradox, described in one paper by the SAS Institute as the “challenge [faced by] marketers to find the sweet spot between individualised and invasive communications with customers.”
Evidently, interactive content can be informative and engaging, but it can also be useful. Speaking to Forbes, marketing entrepreneur Gaurav Harode explains how tools that we may not immediately associate with content marketing can serve the same purpose:
“One example Harode gives is calculators that business use to attract leads. You can use these calculators to calculate ROI, auto or home loan payments, and more. But what’s less obvious is these are interactive content tools designed to drive business to a company.”
Take Hubspot’s Website Grader, for example, which allows users to input the URL of their website and quickly receive fata about areas such as performance, SEO, and security. This is both a useful free tool and one that shows what the company can provide in terms of expertise to businesses looking to improve their online sales.
A key question to ask, then, is: what are your prospective customers looking for? What tools can you provide to help them? And how can those tools differentiate your business from your competitors?
So then, it’s clear to see that the promise of interactive content extends far beyond gimmickry. Interactivity can present brands with myriad new ways of engaging audiences: not just by entertaining or intriguing them, but by providing them with tools that they can use and find value in.