How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy

social media black hole

There is a fundamental reality of the social web that is slowly killing your marketing strategy, whether you know it or not: The Physics of Social Media.

Now, don’t freak out. It’s not complicated or boring, and it makes no mention of black holes or the Higgs Boson.  It’s a pretty simple but important idea about the increasing demands on your content and marketing messages. Let’s look at the two colliding factors that will dramatically impact your marketing initiatives.

1) The amount of available information is accelerating.  I recently saw an infographic reporting that all of the information created in the past two years equals the amount of recorded information for all of human history. Is that true? I don’t know. I make up most of my statistics any way, but it sounds about right.  The point is, we are in a permanent state of information overload and it’s going to get much, much worse.

Cost of content marketing2) Our processing capability is the same.  We only have one brain that evolved to process basic threats, physical needs, and verbal communication. The physics of the human brain is woefully unprepared for this information onslaught.  We cannot add processing speed to that limited capacity (at least yet).

In the physical world, this is what happens when you try to push too much stuff though a finite pipeline — catastrophic failure. A flood. Wires bursting into flame. Server crashes.

So this presents the fundamental dilemma for you and me.  How do we get our marketing message to cut through the infinite information and make it through to a consumer brain — without going broke or having a catastrophic strategic failure?

We’ve never faced this before

This is a relatively new problem. Even in the early days of mass broadcasting, getting your message through was easy. You simply bought advertisements on the most popular radio and television programs. Those days are coming to an end. Nielsen reported that in 2011, the number of hours that Americans viewed TV declined for the first time in the history of television. Newspaper advertising, adjusted for inflation, is down to 1950s levels. Even website visitors are down. In the past two years, 68% of the Fortune 500 companies had a drop in unique visitors to their company websites.

So we have no choice. Day by day, every single company in the world is realizing that it must join this social media battle for consumer mindshare. And that war is raging though web-based content.

If you are comfortable with your content marketing strategy, don’t be. The game is about to become vastly more difficult and if you just keep on doing what you’re doing, you are slowly going to get wiped out.

Three ways to maintain content mindshare

How do you fend for your piece of your customer’s mindshare in the face of this information tsunami? There are only three possible strategies:

1) Maintain mindshare through increasingly spectacular content. This is the classic — but theoretically unsustainable — content marketing strategy: Offer amazing content that will make people want to spend time with you. But the cost of maintaining this quality level is inexorably going up.  So this approach will inevitably stall as costs rise and companies discover the finite economic value of loyalty.

2) Maintain “mindshare” with less pipeline.  If the cost of maintaining mindshare is going to keep going up (and it will), another idea is to find a way to push out the same amount of value through less time with your content.  This would explain the meteoric rise of content aggregation, infographics, and visually-oriented sites like Pinterest and Instagram. People don’t have to read. They are capturing information quickly and moving on to the next item in the pipeline.  I think it is safe to predict that we are just at the beginning of this trend.  Free advice: Invent social media platforms to expose more information in less time and you will become rich.

3) Infiltrate other content with your message. This is like a Trojan Horse. When a consumer opens up somebody else’s content they find you. The idea is that you let other content providers bear the huge cost of maintaining mindshare and you sneak in. Examples:

  • Guest posts on popular sites
  • Influencer outreach — Nurturing relationships with high-impact influencers willing to share and validate your content
  • News-jacking — Establishing a voice of authority so that the news channels come to you.
  • Brandscaping — Sharing space with other, related brands
  • PR — Methodically finding opportunities to place content in big “pipelines”

I would suggest that a successful long-term social media marketing strategy must have at least parts of all three of these, in addition to an aggressive network building strategy.

If you made it this far, thank you. I know this is heavy stuff and I appreciate your patience with the explanation. What do you think? Are you starting to feel the crunch?  What are your ideas on how a marketer can prepare for this next phase of competition? Or, do you think I’m wrong?


All posts

  • Mark, this qualifies as “spectacular content.” It really got me thinking. Thanks.

  • My thought Mark… (and this is a GREAT discussion starter by the way)

    This is more the “physics of the Internet” rather than just social media IMO.

    You have to get out of the “content competition stream” and into the “relationship building stream” as fast as possible.

    In my opinion, you have to look at content as just that… content. Give away as much or all of it… make it valuable… and keep creating what I like to call “fingers of content” out on the Internet in as many targeted places as possible where your audience engages said content.

    Also, re-purposing your content (in appropriate ways) into different formats so you can distribute it via the different format channels (e.g. Vimeo, YouTube, DVD, on website etc… for video content) is very critical.

    You cannot assume your audience wants to consume your content in the format you want to distribute it… so don’t offer ONLY a book, or ONLY a Kindle formatted digital guide… offer it both ways, in audio format, perhaps a video version, in PDF etc… etc… so your audience can CHOOSE which way they want to consume your content.

    Keep the choices limited by some degree, so as to avoid the lack of decision when presented with too many choices. Constant testing will be needed here to determine which formats will be most popular based on your content and audience.

    I was blabbering on there for a minute… LOL.

    Bottom line, the best at giving the people formerly known as the audience what they want will win. (sorry, had to throw that Jay Rosen title in for good measure 🙂 )

  • I think you are totally right, Mark. Filtering data and filtering people is becoming a skill in and of itself. I often wish I were like Trinity in The Matrix movies, downloading information in seconds and then applying that new knowledge immediately (as in: flying the b2-12 helicopter).

    A fourth way to maintain content mindshare is to be unique. So unique that you attract your tribe with your vibe™. Our planet’s population will continue to explode and there will always be hundreds and hundreds of experts in your area of expertise but only one “you.” You will attract your true fans and they will pay attention to what YOU say about your topic and won’t pay any attention to the other guy or gal.

    So, that old saying: “if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” has never been more true. By flaunting what you’ve got, you’ll be memorable and attract true fans. My fourth point, combined with your number three point makes for one heckuva marketing strategy punch.

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | 99Covers Blog()

  • I’m humbled. Thank you.

  • This is actually brilliant and I agree with you. The first time I wrote this post I actually went into the “relationship-building stream” but the post was too long and I cut out about half the length. So your comment very nearly doubled the length of my post AND made my original point too. So we ended up where I wanted it any way. Good teamwork Joesph!!! You really are a great thinker.

  • Welcome fellow Matrix fan!

    You bring up a subtle point here that I have been pondering and that is the nature of uniqueness.

    When I started out on the web, I thought I was creating unique content compared to some of the established bloggers. That did not guarantee me a seat at the table. So there are other elements in the success formula. I haven’t totally worked that out but it is probably worthy of another blog post. Tenacity has to be in there. Probably a dash of personal networking. But certainly quality content is key. Thanks so much for your excellent comment.

  • Great post. I will be sharing it with 10,000 other businesses this week via I look forward to more great posts such as this. And if possible, I’d like to request a writeup from you that explains your viewpoint on the following: What economic impact do you think we will see if all services became a biddable commodity? Services such as maid service, handyman service, technology services, the list goes on and on. In this new world bidders(service providers/neighborhood professionals) can see the bid of others and the customer can indicate who is winning based on looking at the service providers price, reviews, etc. I was recently named by the Business Journal as one of forty up and coming entrepreneurs after seeing the impact BidWilly has had on one local city.

    Please let me know your thoughts. You can also email me at [email protected]

  • Thanks for the compliment Mark… I appreciate it. We need to examine this post topic in more depth for sure… it’s probably a book’s worth of material (or a PDF, or audio, or video… LOL )

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Network Marketing Training |

  • Super post Mark. I believe that all three are necessary, but that the trump card is usefulness. Content that isn’t inherently promotional, but is inherently usable by your prospective and current customers. If your marketing is so useful people would gladly pay you for it, it counteracts the invitation avalanche that otherwise is making marketing far more difficult. Companies need to be a YOUtility. Someone should write a book about that. Oh wait, I am. 😉

  • Sheesh, Mark, if you’re going to continue writing “must read” posts like this one, I’m never going to get anything done!


    Seriously, though, you’ve hit the nail on the head. At some point, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in with Content Marketing. The smart marketers are following your advice and spreading their efforts among the three approaches you mention above.

    An additional approach is to specialize. When I started, we wrote posts on virtually all forms of marketing. But now, we focus almost exclusively on social media and mobile marketing. By narrowing our focus, our traffic and time on site have both increased.

    Thanks for sharing your insights on this post, Mark. As always, it was a “must read.”


  • Information overload is best seen in modern primetime television viewing. You watch TV, talk about what you’re watching on Twitter, and text with your friends. You might also occasionally talk about it with those you’re watching with.

  • Ha! I’m happy to be news-jacked! : )

    I agree. Pretty vast implications for that individually and corporately. Can’t wait to see the book!

  • Dave Coulter

    This is one of biggest frustrations of small business right now. Is creating this great content a sustainable strategy? Difficult to keep your content calendar deadlines AND meet revenue goals AND keep employees focused AND on & on.

  • Yes, I would say that is a given but of course a lot of people don’t know the givens so that is an absolutely awesome point Jamie. Much appreciated and than you for your very generous praise of the blog!

  • Well said David! Thanks for being part of the community today!

  • I hear you there Dave, being a small business myself. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic. Thanks for adding your perspective.

  • Hey Mark,

    Outstanding post! Thanks for creating the simple but memorable image of the war between the exponential growth of content and our same-size brains.

    One of the “simple ways to maintain content mindshare” I thought for sure I’d see on your list, is to build your network of influential champions. As the volume of content becomes more and more unconsumable, people rely on following those they trust to catch early trends, or understand changes in the market. So building strong relationships with folks that are influential in the topic or market you operate in is critical so that your message doesn’t stand on its own, but can be echoed and reinforced by an ecosystem of advocates.

    It ties in so well with the “physics of social media” idea, that I thought for sure this would be part of your top strategies. Maybe add a fourth to the blog? 🙂


  • Mark,

    I think this is an ongoing problem. What a lot of companies want to do is throw a bunch of stuff on the wall and see what sticks. I suggested an approach to all kinds of channels at my last job, but upper management would not listen.

    What they decided to do instead was to put spammy link heavy comments on as many blogs as they could. The second I talked about Instagram or Pinterest, or even guest blogging without being spammy, I was labeled as a “troublemaker”

    It has taken a lot of time and hard work to build the relationships I have online. I did it by commenting on blogs and by being myself.

    If my content sucked, it would not matter how nice I was. Businesses need to realize that this kind of marketing, while free in many cases, costs much more than they may realize.

    IIf the content is bad, it won’t matter how many social networks they are on. Bad content does not get shared. Simple as that.

  • In the second to last paragraph I mention this crucial point. I try to keep the blog posts to a reasonable length so further exploration of that topic had to be on the cutting room floor unfortunately. Of course you are absolutely correct and many thanks for emphasizing this point!

  • Unfortunately your experience is not uncommon but here is a truth you can take comfort in — you are right and any business that does not get on board and understand the basic nature of online competition these days will be imperiled. Thanks so much Nancy!

  • very good post Mark. Marketers and businesses need to determine what matters to them the most on the social web then decide on the best channel to achieve that goal. Trying to be everything to everyone on the web will drive you crazy 🙂

  • Thanks, friend.

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Digital Marketing for Business |

  • jeffyablon

    Mark … I think this is my favorite take on this subject to date, anywhere, period. It says everything that matters, as says it quickly, and more than just “well”.

    Sadly, though, I also feel as though your attempt at enumerating a solution to the problem ends up, on the first, third, and twenty-third reads, falling on its face. Yes, what you say IS the solution. But at the end of the day it isn’t actually a workable one. As we see the way the algorithms … both computer and human … are developing, it becomes more and more clear that “content is king” is being redefined to mean “lots of content, so long as it isn’t TOO crappy” (hello, AOL) will win.

    It is, therefore, by definition, a numbers games. And the only way to beat that game as a small entity—define “small as you prefer—is through SEO. And of course, Google, being part of the big entity megamachine as well as THE megamachine in another context, keeps making that harder.

    Sorry, I’m done. I was hoping to come to some epiphany as I vented. I got nothin’.

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Dandelion Social Media |

  • Fantastic, insightful post. Thanks for sharing.

  • I definitely think you’re right, Mark. There is so much information out there that it’s hard to make yourself known just by producing some of your own.

    All of the parts you outlined are important, but I think the third might be the most important. From my experience, building an audience of engaged, excited readers has been the biggest challenge. But by doing a little outreach and guest posting, that’s how the company I work for is slowly making a name for ourselves. It’s a good start, but we also have a long way to go. So thank you for these ideas to think about.

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | The Perfect Storm Team |

  • Great post Mark.

    As “content” becomes increasingly competitive, one thing we need to add is being fundamentally useful. I don’t have any insights into @jasonbaer:disqus ‘s upcoming book, but I hope he is going here as well: stop just thinking about content, in any form.

    Rather than infiltrating other content through your active marcomm activity, infiltrate it with your product or through the voice of your organic community. I shared a couple examples recently in response to the focus on content in inbound marketing, I think they apply across the full spectrum of gaining mindshare or attention through content.

    (apologies for the link bomb, I think it is a pretty relevant extension here)

    Great post and an important topic for marketers to start getting their heads around, thanks for sharing this Mark!

  • Mark, this is so on target with reality; the reality most don’t understand. As they do begin to understand it, the business will change dramatically. The notion of “BigData” is a potential solution but still doesn’t address one more fundamental problem being the cost involved in gaining access to and compensating for all of this content.
    The more these “holders” of user content understand the value advertisers can realize from its use (advertising, product management, customer services etc.), the more they are going to want to be paid for it.
    We are already seeing the impact of this with the massive devaluations of companies like Groupon, Zynga and Facebook. Twitter is now also struggling with the same issue. The winners will be the analytic providers who can truly define the value of specific content and the content sources who deliver on that value.
    Social Content is like oil. Our planet is full of it. But, only those who can extract it, refine it, and make it available in a state that someone can effectively use (and is prepared to pay for) will make money (survive). The rest of the oil deposits (Social Content) remains just that, deposits waiting to be tapped.

  • WmktgMINDs

    I agree with jaybaer, along with understanding where your audiences are instead of being everywhere is very important. Spending too much time trying to woo customers instead of servicing and making the existing ones happy (and understanding their habits will likely lead you to understanding habits of your potential customers) shouldn’t be overlooked or under appreciated!

  • so true……there must be a finite amount of “useful” content one individual can share – and yes, I skim read lots of blogs. This one grabbed me though because it spoke to *me*

  • You’re welcome Aaron.

  • it takes time and patience for sure. Great observation. Thanks!

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Public Relations & Social PR Insight |

  • I truly love this comment and the challenge. Here is a subtle difference though. You are going to win customers over time through many continuous small interactions. In that scenario, truly the quality of the content, the sincerity of the response, and the helpfulness of the interactions will win, not SEO, which may just get you the first glance or perhaps an impulse buy. What do you think?

  • I like it. Hopefully {grow} will continue to be a gusher. That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Thanks my friend!

  • Well said. Thanks for taking your valuable time ti comment today!

  • That’s the trick, isn’t it? : )

  • jeffyablon

    Your point re: SEO is of course valid. And in the end I know you know I advocate SEO driving content to your content driving more traffic to your content, blah, blah blah.

    But the volume versus eyeballs formula remains problematic, no matter how grea we believe our content to be. Like I said … you NAILED this, and I got nothin’.

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Community Managers Unite |

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Latest Social Media News |

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Games and activites |

  • Very much agree with this. Too many companies focus on acquiring new customers rather than retaining existing customers. Be useful and focus on nurturing relationships with people who have already expressed an interest and/or affinity for you and your product/service. It’s simply smart business practice. And it potentially reduces the volume of competitors messages you must be heard through.

  • thanks for sharing, Eric.

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | mobile warrior |

  • Great post. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to create new, relevant, meaningful content that cuts through the noise and hits with a mass audience. Marketers have to look for ways to get more impact while spending less time doing so. Influencer outreach is huge. I’d love to see some practical tips on how to accomplish the 4 bullet points in point #3, though. Future post?

  • rhonda hurwitz

    I absolutely agree and this post brings a lot of clarity. I also think that on the receiving end, we need better filters. In my case, I have stopped trying to read everything that comes to my inbox and in my various feeds, and rely on the better angels of colleagues I trust to share or comment on the important stuff.

  • probably a good idea. I’ve had a little of this and a little of that but you’re right that would probably be a good post. Thanks!

  • Great point Rhonda! Interesting perspective.

  • Michael Lake

    I am on a constant hunt for content that has a pair of characteristics: Valuable to my audience, and relates back to my service. Not easy to find for my business. Most recently, I found a survey white paper by Cisco/The Economist called “The role of trust in business collaboration”. I provide a complex B to B financial service that requires trust in the collaborative process. It provided content for an emailing that got LOTS of favorable responses and it allowed me to write a popular post on my blog featuring the paper. Relevance is the key. Another great piece of content I found that would be relevant to most B to B firms looking for great content to share is a terrific video by Seth Godin on leadership. Both the white paper and the video are in: I believe both are worth sharing.

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Physics - Paul Ramsay |

  • News-jacking isn’t a term I’ve heard before but I’m definitely dropping that term into client presentations now when I describe tactical ideas 🙂

  • Thanks Michael.

  • I’m not sure who coined it but there is an eBook out with that title. Good to hear from you buddy.

  • Interesting comment Steve. I think also social content providers need to learn to be more selective in their output too.I have noticed that there are some blogs I subscribe to that insist on emailing me several times a day. I have almost entirely tuned out from them even though there is definitely some useful stuff in there.

  • Pingback: Content Overload – A New Era of Online Marketing « WebWorld Advantage()

  • Pingback: The Physics Of The Internet()

  • Great advice Mark. May I suggest that it’s not about killing your marketing strategy but more about embracing a new marketing mix. I’ve heard it say that there are 2 types of people who dance with the elephants… the quick and the dead. You’ve got to either quicken your marketing pace (by adding the elements you’ve so generously outlined above, for example) or get left in the dust.

  • Rowland John

    Great Posting.

  • Good point. I emphasize this in my classes. Don’t over-react by killing something that is working! A lot of people pile into social media marketing because they are afraid of being left behind and they make irrational decisions. Thanks Anne!

  • Jason Verdeli

    Great post! I think that many organizations need to start thinking about creating a purpose-driven online community along with executing the proper content and outreach initiatives. It gives them an opportunity to share their voice and connect with others that share a similar interest or goal.

    The key is keeping it integrative with other platforms so people don’t see this type of interaction as “another thing to do”. The secret is not in the platform, but in the engagement. It’s the same methodology behind why I headed the development of my own platform to handle this called Social HubSite ( That’s my 2 cents 🙂

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media over saturation could kill your #marketing strategy | Green Apple IT - Green Affordable Intelligent Technology()

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Social Media NL |

  • Pingback: Author Spotlight — Mark Schaefer()

  • Hi Mark. Great post.

    I’d like to suggest a fourth way in increase mindshare.

    Think of it as “heartshare” and make the consumer your medium.

    Co-creation of brands has never been more relevant.

    And when the consumer becomes the medium it puts a whole new spin on the “medium being the message”.

    So forget “interrupting” your way through the clutter.

    Create brand tribes.

    They’ll want to cluster together and everything they say and do that is based on the “emotionale” that the brand has adopted becomes relevant messages.

    If the “organzing idea” is a good one, what the brand tribe does, says or thinks will attract more tribe members.

    It’s actually quite an old science. Creating brand tribes where the tribe member becomes the medium.

    Religions have been practicing it for years.

  • @ Sumit Roy
    Thanks Sumit for the interesting dimension of “Heartshare”. Actually increasing brand tribe would bring the brand champions to support the brand’s value. But applying Social Media would be a more transparent exercise which the brand may find it difficult to maintain.

  • Pingback: Content Overload – A New Era of Online Marketing |()

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Social Media News Australia |

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy | Strategy in Action |

  • Pingback: How the physics of social media could kill your...()

  • Thoughtful, useful article-thanks!
    “find a way to push out the same amount of value through less time with your content” – this is the essence of good Twitter. Catch your readers in a Sesame Street moment (much shorter than 90 seconds). People who are “bad” at Twitter now were no good at headline writing, or doing a précis in high school. It all comes back to being able to think. You must be able to think to market intelligently, and you must be able to market intelligently to make social media work. If you cannot think, no platform or tool is really going to help you.

  • Pingback: Beyond content marketing: What’s the next phase? - The Edge International Marketing()

  • Pingback: The Danger isn't Attention, It's Context | Marketing Technology Blog()

  • Pingback: The Danger isn’t Attention, It’s Context | Lord of the Net()

  • ydris

    Thanks Mark. You make really important points about the interplay of marketing strategy and content. Too often marketers see social as another outbound blast channel without thinking that every other marketer is doing exactly the same. All that can possibly result in is too much information and little mindshare. I would like to add something to your list above. Once a marketer has followed steps 1-3 above, and assuming they have effectively segmented the audience its time to manage the content the end users see based on their existing relationship and where they are in the buying cycle. You can see further thoughts on how to do that on my blogsite

  • Pingback: How the Social Web Could be Killing Your Market...()

  • Joann Woolley

    Insightful stuff! Makes a lot of sense and I am a fan of not re-inventing the wheel.

  • Holly McIlwain

    Mark, another important post on “Grow.” This is a heavy topic and one I’ve discussed with my partner. Pendulums seem to swing and I predict a swing from time wasted on non-productive sites toward more useful info to increase production. Am I just too optimistic? Love Grow, always. thanks y’all.

  • Pingback: I fear for small business owners who do not embrace social media()

  • Pingback: Das war 2012: Ein kleiner Rückblick mit den SEO Trainees()

  • Pingback: Content Overload – A New Era of Online Marketing | WebWorld Advantage()

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details


Send this to a friend