Content Shock is here. Now what?

content shock is here

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post called Content Shock: Why Content Marketing is not a sustainable strategy. And it looks like the idea may be showing up in measurable ways.

The premise behind Content Shock is simple.

In any human, natural, or economic system, when there is an overabundance of some commodity, and there is a limited capacity to consume that good, something has to change. My post was a call to arms, pointing out that what worked in content marketing a few years ago — when content was a novelty — will not work in this era or overwhelming information density. Simply, the economics of content are changing.

The evidence is in

Since then, the signs of Content Shock have rippled through every channel. Organic reach on Facebook and other platforms has dropped precipitously for most brands, while spending to promote and boost on those channels has risen dramatically. One of the predictions I made was that businesses with the deepest pockets would be in the best position to survive the slide, since the obvious options are to produce even better content (at a cost) or advertise/promote the content (also at a cost).

Buffer, a company that specializes in social sharing, reported recently that despite consistent efforts at producing unique and useful content, their social referral traffic dropped by 50 percent in just 12 months. They opined that Content Shock had something to do with it.

This week, BuzzSumo reported an even more somber view of the situation. It revealed that for even the most respected content sites on the planet — including Buffer, Copyblogger, and MOZ — social shares of content have plummeted:

content shock is here

Even more startling, the company reported that these declines occurred even when year-over-year publishing INCREASED.

The research, which analyzed the shares and links of 1 million posts, found a low level of content engagement they characterized as “striking:”

  • 50% of randomly selected posts received 8 shares or less
  • 75% of these posts received 39 shares or less
  • 75% of these posts achieved zero referring domain links

Content Shock is here

What was the reason for this poor content performance? In the words of the report’s author Steve Rayson:

Whilst in earlier years it was possible that if you produced good content it would get found and shared, almost by virtue of its quality, this is no longer the case. There is now so much content that even producing great content is not enough. The bar is way higher. Popular sites with great content are also being affected by content shock.

So while marketers around the world have been “sensing” the effects of overwhelming information density (lower traffic, fewer comments, more promotion to simply hold ground), we are now beginning to quantify it.

Of course these are just a few data points — we need to be careful about making absolute statements about causation. It is likely that the true cause of these declines is a complex cocktail of reasons. But information density and the battle for attention certainly plays some role.

So what do we do about it?

My friend Rodger Johnson recently passed on this funny story.

I mentioned your book Content Code and your blog post on content shock in my media literacy class today. What’s the first thing students do? Google it! One student was reading content shock while I was lecturing, and at one point he interrupts class with, “F#%&! We are screwed” … Which opened a whole new discussion!

Are we all screwed?

Copyblogger, Moz, and Buffer are doing a lot of things right. They have websites that are established, respected, and powerful. All of them are creating the best content in the business. If they are having problems, how can lesser content creators ever hope to compete?

You can. But it requires a change. A big change.

Great content alone does not “rise to the top.” Great content alone is no longer the finish line. It is the starting line. The answer is not in simply producing more content, or even better content. It requres a new focus on “ignition.”

The economic value of content is zero unless it is seen and shared. This suggests the need for a new marketing competency. Just HOW do we get that content to move on the web?

This is what I have articulated in my new book, The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing, and your business. This book explores all of the possible options for an ignition-based marketing strategy, including:

  • Tactics to make your content significantly more shareable
  • The appropriate use of influencers and “borrowing trust”
  • The special role of branding in this environment
  • The unexpected influence of site authority on social sharing
  • How to find and nurture the “Alpha Audience” most likely to share your content
  • Social proof and social signals that help get your content to move
  • The new role for distribution, promotion and SEO

Information density is by far the most important trend impacting digital marketing today. It’s like a hammer pounding an anvil that will create new strategies, new platforms, new monetization strategies, and even new organizations.

I have a special treat for you today. If you want to be up to the very minute on this topic, I recently hosted Chad Pollitt on Blab and we discussed how his business, Relevance, is cutting through the content clutter with new strategies and research. Chad tells us:

  • How to find an opportunistic content niche
  • What distribution tactics are working today
  • New forms of content promotion that might be on the horizon
  • The unexpected impact mobile technology may be having on social sharing metrics
  • New pressures on content views and shares
  • Insights on content sharing and distribution trends being dictated by Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google

We are also joined on this video by Steve Rayson of BuzzSumo who provides his own take on Content Shock and how it is impacting even the best content today. Enjoy!

Click here if you cannot view the video: Social Media Office Hours: Content Distribution and Promotion

Illustration courtest Flickr CC and John Fowler

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  • Here’s the problem I have with the whole “content shock” issue – it suggests that my marketing goal is simply to reach as many people as possible. That’s not my goal. I work in an industry (senior living) where the number of potential prospects for my product is limited. My goal is to create content that is relevant to my audience and helps them make an informed decision as to whether my product meets their needs. I don’t care if it’s widely disseminated. I don’t approach content marketing as I would traditional outbound marketing. I want to make my content findable by the right people. And I want it to position my organization as a trusted partner. I agree that the challenge is to make your quality content stand out to those people in a sea of mediocre content, but I’m concerned that this particular conversation over-emphasizes undifferentiated reach.

  • The concept of Content Shock does not ignore the idea of content density and differentiation — it starts there. Certainly this would not affect every industry vertical equally, as you imply.

    In my book, I start with figuring out how “saturated” your market segment is. I’m guessing that senior living is a highly-competitive market and you mention the need to be “findable,” which suggests that you have strong competitors — you don’t have a captive audience, you need to compete for attention.

    Once you calculate the saturation of a market segment, you have to figure out how to maneuver — what are your options for differentiation? I also go into this in a lot of detai in the bookl. Can you differentiate by audience? By content type? By platform? Through your authority?

    I am guessing that in many cases, the ultimate decision-maker in your case is not the patient. So once your content is found, you DO what it to be shared. Not tweeted perhaps, but shared with family and loved ones. I also cover this in the book. In fact MOST of social sharing (70 percent) goes undetected because it is shared in a way we cannot see — an email to a friend, a text message, even printing it out for somebody to read.

    So although the degree may be different by business, I believe the fundamental goals are the same and we are all affected in some way, and at some point, by increasing content competition. I hope you are lucky enough where you don’t have to worry about competitors and their content, but if you do, you might benefit from the competitive advantage you might be able to glean from my book.

    Thanks so much for the excellent comment. I’m sure this was on the minds of many people Dan.

  • Billy Delaney

    I might be off target here but… I read after the direct marketers like Ken McCarthy et al. The approach they have is start with the want. What does someone want. Answer to that want and your product: content etc will be bought, read, viewed, passed along to other needy people. The content lake is overflowing with speculative expertise. Hoping to catch a fish with their content hook. I’ve fished commercially in the Gulf of Mexico. You go where the fish are. Most people fish by convenience not by experience. Mark is right. Too many fisher men in the same space. Too many hooks in the content lake. No fish. Find the fish first and then fish for them.

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  • Ha! GREAT analogy. Another way to describe the process of findign your niche. And sometimes, it takes experimentation, going from spt to spot to find the fish for you : )

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  • Hi Mark,

    You already know how much I loved and agree with whe approach of the book. However a thought crossed my mind while reading the post. What if the data collected by Buzzsumo (or other studies) is biased because of the shift to dark social channels in general? I did not personnaly collect data on this (one which comes to mind is the one from Radium One) but I started noticing that we (content “consumers”) tend to move more and more to more private / intimate / direct channels as our networks grow larger every day. Meaning that it becomes more and more difficult to remain relevant by sharing content with our generalistic networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

    It every day here in Germany. We tend to share less on “generalistic” networks (which offer APIs so that we can measure shares etc) and move to more “intimate” channels to share directly one to one or with a smaller group of people, which in the eyes of webanalytics tools are “dark channels”. In Google analytics terms “Direct Traffic”.

    This could mean that we do not share less, we would maybe even share more, but in a more granular way. Now the question is: is this good or bad. Certainly depends on the business and context… :=)

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  • The Truth Behind the Truth Behind Content Shock is that marketers are not effectively optimizing their content for their prospects.

    Nor are they properly identifying their prospects in the first place, leaving them to produce lacklustre content that fails to connect.

    Another truth – often overlooked – is that content intended for a well-defined audience, is not very likely to ever go viral. Think about the real life part if this… when someone has a problem and you provide them with a solution, why would they spend any time at all shouting it out through their social profiles instead of simply getting that solution? Time is money people.

  • That is a possibility but I’m not sure it can account for this dramatic shift. For example, today on average, about 70 of the sharing goes on in dark channels like email. Let’s say that went up 10 percent to 77 percent — a huge shift in a short period of time described by Buffer, about a year. That would account for a very small part of the decrease they have seen. I have not seen any data suggesting that a dramatic shift to dark sharing has taken place but thanks for the good theory on this!

  • Exactly and very well said. However the interesting thing here is that the businesses in this study are probably doing as good a job at this as anybody.

    You are also hinting at possibly differentiating by TYPE of content. “Hub” content that solves problems is not going to go viral but other kinds of story-telling might, at least it could be more likely. GoPro videos are an example of that.

    Thanks for the superb comment Randy!

  • Given my work is in the B2B sector, I’ve tended to favour content that informs over content that entertains. Both have their place of course, but my money is on the content that makes more money. Breakouts like Red Bull aside, when it comes to nuts & bolts, the average busibess is looking to solve problems. A reality is that educational content is seldom viral-worthy. (Not enough crazy in it.)

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