There are a lot of people writing online these days.
I’m doing it right now, and you’re reading it (so far).
When 2014 finally rolled around, the term “content marketing” was no longer the stranger on the block, no longer the hot new idea. It was the word everyone was using, and sure enough–as if on cue–the blog posts started showing up talking about the death of content marketing.
Blogs are the ultimate zombies, having been declared dead, then alive, then dead–and wait, still alive!–more times than I care to count. I suspect that content marketing has the same resiliency, no matter what term it happens to be known as in the coming years. Still, it is true that there is a lot of content out there, and it has an impact on you and your readers.
What Too Much Content Looks Like
Imagine (and it is going to be difficult) if you lived just a few centuries ago in a time where you would hungrily await the arrival of a single letter to read over and over and over, a time when you might have had only one or two books, and read every word in the newspaper. You were hungry for news and content, because it was hard to come by. Anything would do.
Content marketing is even more effective when it’s scarce. Just by existing, you stand out.
This is not the case now, of course. We have content everywhere. Phones, TVs, T-shirts, even ads on the floor of the grocery store. As with most excesses, we learn to tune it most of it out as a matter of survival. We are limited in what we can process. Could you imagine reading, considering, and deciding what to do with every piece of content you come into contact with each day?
That’s what a deluge of content looks like.
A Deluge Of A Whole Lotta Words
Spammers hijack and abuse every legitimate system, and content marketing has been no exception. Their contribution to the movement has been to add more than their share of words and noise to the content overload. But, since content marketing has been around for over a century (or more, if you’re really generous in the definition), it’s likely it will survive the latest onslaught.
However, the latest theory in content marketing is that long form posts are better for being found by search engines. There is no way, knowing how skillful spammers are in sniffing out new ways to get traffic, that they won’t latch onto the “longer is better” idea and find a way to church out that many more thousand words of garbage.
Setting yourself apart from this kind of content marketer is imperative. How do you do that?
- Make sure your content doesn’t go in circles. Edit your content brutally and keep your copy tight.
- Clean up the look of your blog visually.
- Be a curator for your audience in your social media feeds. There really isn’t “too much” information when you need it, only a failure to filter that information. Help your audience and be a filter in your writing.
A Deluge Of The Absurd
How do you get attention for your content or your brand in a deluge?
You turn to the absurd to get attention and keep pushing the envelope as far as you can, hoping there is still room for it to be pushed. A recent article by writer Dustin Verburg shows two extreme examples of brands using absurd content marketing to get the attention of otherwise jaded consumers. Their efforts worked, yes, but at what price for the rest of us?
Shocking can only shock for so long.
Just as we quickly adapt to massive amounts of content by tuning it out in order to function, we adapt to the constant confrontation of our sensibilities through desensitization, a technique Mary Cover Jones used to help people get past their phobias. Jones’ research found that a phobia could be overcome by repeated exposure to the thing that frightened a person, if it were associated with something positive each time.
Desensitization happens for more than just overcoming a phobia, though. According to writer Christie Barakat, prolonged exposure to violence or something shocking in media “reduces or habituates the initial psychological impact until violent images no longer elicit these negative responses.”
The more we up the ante and become absurd and in-your-face and shocking as we try to grab whatever thread of attention is left, the more we devalue our reader and customer. It takes more desensitized readers to equal the value of a reader who hasn’t been shocked into boredom, meaning much more work on your part.
Repeated exposure to “cutting edge” leads to a tough scar. It’s going to take an increase in effort to get your audience to feel anything each time you try it.
While you can’t control the sleaze other content marketers might use, you can not add to it, and protect the value of your current readers:
- Be truthful in your headlines. They might not be as sexy, or get as many shares initially, but you protect your reader’s trust in you.
- Write content that is direct, to the point, and not manipulative. If you’re pinging their emotions hard every day, you’ll wear your reader out.
A Deluge Of Scraping And Copying
We had an incident here where a person, eager to join in the content marketing boom but not really interested in actually writing anything, began scraping our blog. The post that caught my attention, through linkbacks, was about how we were different than a T-Rex, not something everyone normally writes about.
There, on this fellow’s blog, was the post I had written and the cartoons I had drawn. I was furious. It wasn’t my best work, but it was my work, not his.
While we rectified the situation and the all of the content was removed (including the dinosaur graphics), it made me realize how people are so eagerly latching onto the promises of content marketing and so unwilling to do any work.
There are no fast ways to the end. There is steady hard work, and any attempt to circumvent that leads to scraping blogs to build your content marketing empire and ending up with a post about dinosaurs.
I’m going to assume you know not to scrape other blogs, but in a somewhat related frame of mind, be cautious in how you research your posts, and how much you copy.
A Deluge Of Rants And Backlash
In frustration, those who are trying to string words together for actual meaning and purpose inevitably snap, and you start seeing rather brash headlines and posts about the sorry state of content marketing.
It is frustrating to see the same repetitive content (some of dubious quality) get shared and rewarded over and over. So, we rant. And say things like “content marketing is dead!”
I’ve written a few such rants myself, and I understand the motivation behind it. The problem is that after about 20 or so of these “everyone is doing the same thing!” posts in your RSS feed, you see the irony and think “yes, exactly.” In some strange way, we respond to a feeling of too much content by creating more content. Plus, we think by pushing back at the trend of too much content, we might (ironically) make our content stand out.
A Deluge Of Leaders (And Maybe The Little Guy)
I don’t have a problem with thought leaders.
I worry, though, when the thought followers match them stride for stride, because it leads to that frustrating similarity in content and approach. The same headlines, the same type of blog posts, the same methods to attract readers. You can tell who is listening to whom by looking at their site design, the way they write, what they write, and what they advocate. You can see insular circles in social media, with the same people being shared and liked and copied.
We all have our favorite thought leaders, those whose techniques and ideas we trust and swear by, whose blogs we read regularly every morning. Just remember that your goal isn’t to mimic that thought leader, but to be inspired by the thought leader. This is because:
There is room for everyone.
Shel Holtz believes that good content will rise to the top. As long as your content is good, and as long as you do the right PR and have the right connections (it’s not enough to just publish anymore, remember, because there is a deluge), you will get noticed. I want to enthusiastically say yes, but what Holtz is talking about will take a lot of concentrated effort. While their might not be “room” at the top for everyone, there is still room for everyone.
There is room for an alternative idea.
That crazy unique approach that worked for that thought leader? That headline trick guaranteed to bring clicks, that design feature that will definitely bring in huge swaths of traffic? After 10,000 bloggers use the same technique, it loses its effectiveness. Remember, desensitized readers are created quickly. Think of a trend everyone is using now, something you are seeing everywhere on every blog. Are you sick of seeing it yet?
You can still follow a thought leader and wander around a bit on your own. When drowning in a deluge, everyone is grabbing at the latest life preserver. Eventually, there are too many holding onto it, and it fails to do what it was meant to do.
Don’t always leap for the life preserver. Trying swimming back to shore.
There Are Never Too Many Stories
So, if we are in the midst of a content deluge, should we even bother trying to find our place in the midst of it all? Aren’t people just tired of content?
People might get tired of some content, but they never truly tire of the good stuff. If people tired of content, we’d see no more books, movies, or television shows. After all, you can only see the hero’s journey in so many forms before it’s old hat, right?
Of course not.
People never tire of stories.
I’m probably going to lose some credibility here, but the importance of story was nicely illustrated in season 1 episode 10 of Star Trek: Voyager. In this episode (“Prime Factors“), much needed technology could only be acquired if Captain Janeway of the Voyager made a trade. The only thing they had of particular value in this instance were the vast collections of literature in their computer.
CHAKOTAY: Maybe they want something. Maybe they’ll bargain.
PARIS: But what do we have to offer? They seem to have everything they need.
KIM: Stories. Stories are an important part of their culture. They seem to provide more than entertainment. They’re kind of a measuring rod of values and beliefs. We have a huge library in our databanks. We could offer them the whole thing. All the great literature of dozens of cultures.
Let’s not forget the classic story of Scheherazade, who saved her life by telling stories, hooking one day to the next by leaving a story slightly unfinished. These examples show how stories (i.e. content) act as a kind of “currency.” In a way, you already understand this. Stories are the gold standard for content marketing because they always have value–they have since the beginning of time–even in the midst of a deluge of content marketing.
Now, you might be selling automotive parts and can’t exactly write an epic tragedy about glasspack mufflers on your blog. But you can tell the story of your brand as best you can, without always going for the hard sell.
When I sit down to write a post, I sometimes approach it thinking “this will be 2,200 words of pure help and resources” and while that may be (and is very acceptable), it doesn’t foster story. Or, I might approach the topic (a bit like this blog post) and envision that I have this theory and I’m going to use some illustrations to help get the idea across. It’s a more conversational approach, as if I were talking to you.
Think of it this way: not every blog post you write should take place in the lecture hall. Sometimes it takes place around the campfire. And that’s how you help your reader function in a deluge of content.
This was never intended to be a post with math and charts, calculating just when the tsunami of content would overwhelm the internet and how you could work the numbers for optimal results. Instead, it was meant to be a way to get your boat ready when the first waves hit (which is now).
There is a lot of content out there. It is daunting to think of how you can find an audience in it. It is tempting to use sketchy methods to do so. It is easy to get frustrated. And, when all else fails, there is always room for stories.
Great content rises to the top, and stories are the gold standard.