If you share a great piece of content, but there’s no one there to consume it, does it even matter at all? More important, how can we ensure that we’re successfully distributing content worthy of consumer attention in order to build an audience?

PluggedIn’s roundtable worked to answer this very question and predict the future of content marketing.

We learned that influencers and publishers are increasingly going to be the people creating content for brands. This is not only because they have an established audience, but because they’re able to create great content. We’ve seen that brands tend to fall short when they talk about themselves. So the future holds a combination of branded, curated, and expert content.

What makes a piece of content great? It’s not just sticking a press release in an article. It’s something that’s genuinely compelling. For example, Koda Wang told us that the most successful article of March 2014 on the Huffington Post was “9 Disgusting Things You Didn’t Know You Were Eating.” Suffice it to say, readers were intrigued. This article was a piece of native advertising sponsored by Chipotle. There was nothing promotional about the brand; the content was simply provocative. Would Chipotle have been able to create something like this on its own? Perhaps not. Would a reader prefer to read something like this from Chipotle or the Huffington Post? That’s an easier question to answer.

Authenticity is an incredibly important part of content marketing. If you don’t offer great content consistently, you won’t be trusted. Readers can see right through overly branded content. They know when they’re being sold to. And with so many options for where they can get their content, they’ll easily move on. That being said, we’ve learned that Millennials specifically don’t mind as much. They don’t care where the value is coming from, as long as they’re getting value.

Which brings us to the golden rule of content marketing: Serve thy audience well. Understand them and reliably provide them with useful, trusted content.

Here five other content marketing truths that we were able to uncover.

1. You must create a content marketing strategy to move people.

Brands create content hoping that it will evolve into a relationship with consumers. The key is figuring out how to move people from the state of being a reader to the state of being a customer. You must think about that transition. Content retargeting (like ad retargeting) will grow in the new year as brands focus heavily on how to move the needle. It’s more than just creating great content. Only about 35% of brands have a documented content strategy. This effort needs to be strategic. It requires thought, money, people, and sustained effort.

We’re in the age of short attention spans and the ability to spot branded content a mile away. You need to be strategic about how you push through the funnel. Look at your target audience, what information they’re looking for, and what they’re searching for online, and then give it to them.

2. Content innovation is often about chasing where your audience is moving toward.

It’s not just what you say, it’s where you say it. In order to be successful, you have to adapt content to different platforms and distribution models. Currently, social is where people are spending their time and getting their content. They like to have control over the content they get to choose. When it comes to social giant Facebook, where organic reach is now next to nothing, you have to pay to actually reach your audience with your great content. Of course, the younger generation isn’t even on Facebook anymore. So keep in mind that when the audience shifts, so does the center of gravity. Right now, that center is popping up in other places, like chat. In order to get in the middle of the conversation, brands need to understand what people are talking about and where.

3. You should use the internet for what the internet does well.

If a brand is trying to do something that you personally have never done on the Internet, that’s not a great sign. Sure, content is king for the user, but for the brand, it’s just a tool. What brands need to do is think about how real human beings are using the Internet, seeing what they’re doing on their devices, and meeting them there.

The New York Times can’t just drop papers on people’s doorsteps anymore. And processing news online is a very different experience than with a physical paper. You can’t just duplicate content for various formats. If you look at a New York Times physical paper, desktop, and mobile experience, you’re going to see three very different things. We’re abandoning things like sections and magazine covers, and we’re embracing what the Internet does best.

4. The holy grail is melding bifurcation rather than personalization.

We don’t read magazine anymore. We read articles to article, bouncing all over the place. So how do you aggregate that for the individual? Consumers want personalization, sure, but they also want to discover things they don’t know they want or like already. We go on the Internet because we want to find people who are cooler or smarter who will introduce us to things that are cool or smart. There will always be a place for the tastemaker in this process.

Perhaps the best way to get mid-content out there is to bring readers in with high-level content and then retarget them with mid-level content. This strategy is valuable for the brand because it gets a better click-thru rate, but it’s probably not as valuable for the user. So what’s the best strategy for related content? The Bleacher Report, for instance, leaves it up to the editors rather than algorithms. These folks let the publishers express their voice to give the best value to the user. The holy grail is melding technology with editoralization. With technology, you know so much about your user, so use that data to create better content.

5. The metrics we’re using to measure content today are completely broken.

Metrics such as likes, impressions, and shares are all surface level. As Alicianne Rand from NewsCred pointed out, there’s so much more data out there. What you should be focusing on is how you’re interacting with individual people to then see performance trends as a whole. Take all of that available data and get a big picture perspective on how individuals are creating and consuming content. It’s not about observations, it’s about the insights that come from them. More than that, everyone needs to be wearing a data hat. Consider data from both a reactive, real-time perspective (e.g. determining when to schedule tweets) and a proactive, reportive perspective (e.g. developing a long-term strategy for how to move the needle).

What do you think is most important to consider for successful content distribution? Share in the comments!

Roundtable Participants:

Playbuzz: Shachar Orren, VP Content / PubExchange: Evan Appleby, CEO Outbrain: Kodi Foster, Head of Brand Initiatives / Taboola: Paul Jelinek: SVP BD Movable Media: Andrew Boer, President / Appinions: Larry Levy, Co-founder and CEO / Zergnet: Brian White, COO / NewsCred: Alicianne Rand, VP Marketing Wired: Robbie Sauerberg, Director Media & Planning / Huffington Post: Koda Wang, GM International / Keywee: Yaniv Makover, CEO & Co-founder / Kik: Devrin Carlson-Smith, Head Strategic Development / Ingram Content Group: Kelly Gallagher, VP Content Acquisition / Ideal Media: Eder Holguin, Founder and CEO engageSimply: Judy Shapiro, CEO & Founder / NY Times: Jason Sylva, Executive Director, Audience Development / PowerInbox:Dileep Thazhmon, Co-founder & COO / DailyWorth: Ashley Healy, VP Sales /NextWorks: David Henry, VP Content Marketing / Outbrain: Rich Ullman, VP Marketing