The level playing field has turned into a content arms race

Kremlin cannon

Have I ever told you how much I love Gini Dietrich?  For me, she is such an amazing role model for dong it right on the social web. And if you’re one of the five people on earth not already following her Spin Sucks blog, go do that now.

Gini is a smart and savvy friend and we don’t always see eye to eye, which makes her an even better friend. Last week she penned a post about how Facebook seems to be unfairly squeezing money from us by forcing us to use paid promoted posts to reach people who are already following us. It’s a good point of course, but I fell off Gini’s wagon at this point:

The awesome thing about the web and social media, in particular, is it levels the playing field. No longer do you need millions of dollars to spend on PR firms and ad agencies in order to build your brand and reputation among the masses.

Today all you need is a good writer, a self-hosted website and/or blog, and organically grown social networks. With those three things, you suddenly are competing with the big boys for reputation and credibility. You’re seen as a thought leader in your industry. You’re creating kinship among your prospects. And you’re selling in a way that has never before been possible.

All of the tools are free so it’s a really low barrier to entry. And it works.

You see, I have been thinking just the opposite about our social media world.  Yes, three years ago Gini was probably right. When the social web was young almost any foray into social media was novel and attracted attention. It was pretty cheap and the entry barriers were indeed low. You could post a video of a bride falling into a swimming pool and it would go viral.

No longer.

Today YouTube is mainstream entertainment fueled by slick corporate video content. People have increasingly sophisticated expectations about what they’re going to find on your Facebook page, Twitter stream, or blog.

I recently saw a statistic that stated there was more information created on the web in the last two years than all of human history combined. I don’t know if that is true or not and I rarely let facts get in the way of a good story anyway, so let’s just say it makes a point — there is an enormous amount of data to get through these days. Heck, even Mashable makes me dizzy.

The content arms race

To succeed on the social web today you better bring your A Game and a bucket of money.  To connect with customers today you need to consistently provide useful, relevant, and entertaining content — and that is not cheap. And as the information density on the web increases, so too will the cost to produce that great content.

Yes, yes, I know there are plenty of companies who are still finding niche success with modest social media programs but as soon as their competitors get in the game, the content arms race begins.

As I wrote recently, the social web is NOT a level playing field. There is definitely a first-mover advantage for people who have the money to create useful content and overwhelming amounts of it (which then become entrenched in the search rankings). In the long term, you probably will NOT be competing with the “big boys” (as Gini states) with just a writer and a blog.

Social media is a mainstream marketing and communication channel that will increasingly be dominated by those with the fattest wallets. Agree?

Photo: I took this shot during a visit to the Kremlin in Moscow

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  • Well, Mark, you’ve definitely got some big balls… in that picture. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

    I agree with you though. The mass shifted 2-3 years ago to the extent that it’s no more possible to get noticed as a writer, or marketer, or whatever else online now than it is to get noticed as a musician gigging at your average bar or club. That being said, the tools are still there and can’t afford to be ignored because people that use them will still see benefits even if the tools have decreasing rates of return over time.

  • What is your definition of ‘getting noticed?’

  • Mark,
    You have given me an entirely new perspective. I do think the web has created a leverage field window and I fear it is about to shut if I don’t get ignited in a new way.

  • Nope.. you’re right. I’ve said for 2 years that people need to prepare for the day where all the “free” social media would be pay to play. As Facebook has shown the past few months, that day is here. I don’t think you need to throw a boat load of money at it but you need to throw some. Not everyone is a Coca-Cola sized account. Businesses just need to realize that if they want to be seen, they need good information that’s entertaining and shell out a few bucks to show (back up) in people’s stream. And then they need to remember that we consumers are here because we want to be here with our friends and not to hear your brand selling us a pitch.

  • Totally agree Mark, the Social Domain is NOT free, never has been. All that’s happening now is that the costs previously covered by someone else (investors believing in the future) are being shifted to those who derive benefit. Yes, content is a huge part of the requirement, but as Gini identified with “Paid Promoted Posts”, as time goes on, you’ll have to pay more and more for the ability to get that content in front of your audience. What could possibly make someone truly believe that all of those Likes and Followers are “YOURS”? You signed that right away the second you accepted the Facebook (or Twitter for that matter) Terms of Service when you opened your account. In fact, everything you do on Facebook, post on Facebook and attempt to leverage on Facebook is “THEIRS” to do with as they please. To what end? To make THEIR sharehodlers money.

    I’ll quote another blog post of yours a long time ago where you said “Attention” is going to be a huge issue. You can have the best content but if it gets burried under a pile (for whatever reason) and nobody ever sees it, what good is it? Like you said, be prepared to spend serious dollars (relative to your business size and market scope) to make this work.

    It makes me laugh to remember the old days (a few short years ago) when business people said this Social Media stuff was all about kids chatting online and people posting what they ate for breakfast, generally nonesense. Then went home, got online and booked a vacation or decided on buying a car because of a review they read or a discussion in a forum. It’s nice to see those “dots” finally being connected.
    Thanks for everything you do to help everyone connect their dots!

  • Well, you already know we disagree on this, but you have given me pause for thought. We have been extremely successful in competing with the great, big, global firms right here in our backyard because of the social web. We continually go up against them in new business pitches…and win. Not only that, because of the reputation we’ve built using the social web, we have been able to get out of the RFP game. People who hire us already know who we are and what we do, just by reading and watching and listening to what we do on the web.

    We’ve taken this and translated it to our clients, who also compete with lower budgets than their big brother competitors.

    But, perhaps it’s more about creating really great, compelling content that makes it a level playing field, not the fact that the tools are free.

    It irks me that Facebook wants you to pay to have more than 16% of your fans see your content. But if the content is really good, it’ll reach more of them organically anyway.

  • Do you sleep!?!

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  • As a “little guy” who is playing the content game against the “big guys,” I’ll say that it’s not a level playing field, but it isn’t the Grand Canyon either. If you really work it persistently and with dedication, you can gain traction. It’s not a magic bullet, but the door is still open if you really work it and focus on your consumer more than you focus on your own stuff (as Kristen said).

  • This debate has my head spinning as I am caught between both sides of the argument. What makes social media great is that anyone can own a business and have access to relatively free tools to market themselves. That’s significant and that’s something that has never happened before. At the same time, social media is becoming so saturated that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. In order to create the content that attracts attention, a business has three choices: spend money to hire the people to make it happen, dedicate time to developing a creative marketing plan, or shift resources and prioritize. But I don’t believe that means one has to spend a ton of money of money or dedicate a ton of time… I’m a big believer that less is more. That ‘less’ has to be great, but it doesn’t have to be everywhere – and it doesn’t have to be everything to everybody.

  • @ericpratum:disqus Thanks for noticing my balls. In the photo. I think your musician analogy is a good one. Still an opportunity for a niche, and maybe lightning, but you can’t plan on that. Thanks Eric.

  • Glad I could get you thinking today! Thanks for letting me know Judy.

  • And speaking of Coca-Cola — I don;t know if you saw their announcement this week but they are re-launching their website and it is going to be in the form of an online magazine. Clearly they get it. Prepare to be overwhelmed by Coke goodness. Thanks so much for your comment Kristen. Always an honor to have you comment.

  • I’m in the same boat as you. I have not filled out an RFQ in three years. I get a steady stream of inbound leads based on my blog, and to some extent Twitter and LinkedIn. I think you and I occupy a niche, which is this — you and I have worked very, very hard to develop a ton of useful and meaningful content that demand attention.

    All this effort is paying off. You and I have do have at least a head start in our niche. And like you, I have never lost out to a bigger agency. Not once. One reason I think is that from what I see, the agencies still have no freaking idea what they’re doing. They’re preaching from a social media “playbook” that may or may not be relevant to the customers and they’re scrambling to find experienced people who have really done the work, Many times, i am being brought in to pick up the pieces from their wrecks — even at huge brands.

    So in some ways, you and I are not good examples because we’re not the little guys (even though we’re “little”). We’re the big guys because we have done the work, created the content and have real practical experience behind our reputations. To some extent we are dominating our niches.

    The case study I have in my head is @thesaleslion. Marcus has effectively dominated his niche for in-ground swimming pools by pumping out useful content for years. That niche is no longer a level playing field. To unseat him from the top of the search engines, you better be ready to bring a ton of money.

    Now think if the niche you are trying to serve is already dominated by content not only from a guy like Marcus, but from a big company with deep pockets. Honestly, I think you’re going to have to look elsewhere for a way in. There is no level playing field at that point. No way. Think about what Red Bull has done to the extreme sports market. That used to be a fragmented niche. Now it is being consolidated and dominated by a beverage company (and PS Coke is about to do the same thing).

    Thanks for sparking this discussion Gini!

  • I agree that this is certainly possible in many cases Rosemary, especially if bigger competitors are asleep at the wheel! : )

  • I think you’re right Mark. As someone running a business that is fairly large and established, yet not at all in the marketing budgetary range of some of the banks (who are our competitors) for the first time ever, wih very reasonable (id say ridiculously low) cost, a truckload of creativity we can potentially compete in marketing campaigns where previously traditional media would simply have not allowed us the opportunity. I love that Gini is so kind as to feel its terrible that we now have to pay, but as the business person, my perspective is “finally” – with effort and hard work – we hve a spot- the playing field is suddenly a little more fair. The land of opportunity opens up a little for everyone with social media – it’s an exciting time 🙂

  • I love this comment, and it hits the mark – it’s about dedication and hard work. 🙂

  • I think you have articulated the challenge precisely Rachel. The cost of competing is going up dramatically ( or it soon will be) so in the long-term, the company with the deepest pockets will probably win. Sad but true. Everyone can have a voice ( that’s a major theme of “Return on Influence”), but that does not mean that everybody has an equal opportunity to dominate a market niches on the social web. The level playing field is a myth.

  • I think this is the first time somebody has disagreed with me with a comment that starts out “I think you’re right Mark …” Thanks for the spoonful of sugar Mila : ) And by the way, that “truckload of creativity” is NOT cheap or low cost! In a roundabout way, you are supporting my point. How many small businesses can afford a truckload of creativity? I can’t. And frankly … I’m worried about it.

  • Mark, thanks for always responding. I think dedication is in order, but I don’t necessarily think that it has to be financial. If a business understands the value of what they’re doing, they would make it a priority. The only problem is… many don’t see the value ENOUGH to make it a priority. They want instant results, which is another topic for another blog! 😉

  • Interesting discussion, here. I think you are both right (and no, I’m not just pandering). I think that social media and content marketing has indeed leveled the playing field, but it’s definitely getting harder to stand out amongst the noise.

    I suppose it all boils down to how quickly do you want to achieve success? Certainly, if you have a fatter wallet, you will be able to move the needle quicker than if you just have a writer, blog and social channels. It can still be done, but it will be a longer haul to get to where you want to be.

    The Facebook issue does present an interesting conundrum though. I wrote about this recently (same day as @ginidietrich:disqus did) and have been talking with a number of colleagues about what this means for businesses – especially smaller ones. I think the barrier to entry was indeed low and now the ground is shifting beneath their feet, causing businesses to pony up to get attention. It will be interesting to see how things manifest in the coming year.

  • as posted on FB: …..i tend to agree with you Mark. AND Gini.

    the barrier of entry in social/industry authority is still low, but now given modest success and momentum, companies are much more likely to consider throwing more $$ into the social competition.

  • John Bottom

    Of course it’s not a level playing field. And I think the analogy is a little unhelpful because that’s not really the point.

    A better way of looking at it might be as a new technique that people learned at different rates. Say, for example, the famous Fosbury flop high jump technique which is always quoted in these cases. It started with a small number of people (OK, not just one, but then we have to scale the number of high-jumpers with numbers of business people) who found a different way of doing it. Until their competitors copied them (abandoning their long-practised Western Roll or Scissor Jump technique), the innovators had the edge.

    But sooner or later everyone cottoned on, and everyone did the same technique again. But of course it wasn’t a level playing field because people are different sizes. Some guys are bigger and stronger. That’s life.

    But as I write this, I realise it’s not the perfect analogy either. The little guy is now A LOT closer to the big guys than he was ten years ago. Back then he needed a printing press. He needed a high street store. He needed more than his creativity.

    These days creativity alone will still cut it. It’s harder than it was in 2009, but you have something that no one else has, you can still win out through uniqueness.

    Thanks Gini and Mark for making me think.


  • Thanks for sharing your wisdom Steve! Always a thought-provoking perspective.

  • Good point and something I wrestle with daily. It takes a lot of time and dedication and the results are rarely immediate!

  • Agreed. “Interesting” to see how things develop but I also think somewhat predictable. FB is definitely going to get more radical, and perhaps desperate, to squeeze out new sources of revenue, as I wrote here:

    Thanks Laura!

  • Thanks for the trans-platform comment Jillian! : )

  • “Creativity alone will cut it.”

    This is an extremely interesting and relevant notion John and I have been thinking about this a lot.

    In some cases, undoubtedly exceptional creativity trumps all. But is that sustainable? (especially for a small business)

    The second thought is that to win on the SEO game, content is a commodity. You do not necessarily need to be excellent. As I said, you just need to be first and overwhelming. Even if you have a creative disruption in the content stream, it probably won’t make a dent in the search engine results against a well-heeled and established competitor who has been plowing the content fields for years.

    I know this is a contrarian view to the conventional wisdom on social media but I think it’s time to recognize that the game is changing and it is becoming just another broadcasting channel in many cases.

    Thanks very much John!

  • Props to both @ginidietrich:disqus and you, @businessesgrow:disqus, for stirring the pot. And frankly, it’s pretty cool that each of you has your own spoon, too! Here are some thoughts from my end, which if you combine then with $4.25, you can get something reaaaaaal niiiiiiize from Starbucks 😉

    Know your goals. That’s the key to every single effort I conduct online for my own brand and my clients’ brands. In many cases, creating is enough. You don’t need a budget. You just need time and the costs you attach to spending time. New audience members find one another — and you — through your dedication to respect. Respect for their time, needs, interests (and in many cases, lack thereof!)…we give to our audiences through a plan of great stuff for great people to help them produce great results.

    Other times, though, we need a bit more of their attention. Inboxes fill up, RSS readers get ignored, life happens and they’re not on social sites for a day or two (damn life!). So we pay to have them pay attention. This is the role I see Facebook’s promoted posts playing. Paying to have people pay attention. As sometimes, it’s not a lack of desire on their part to pay attention. It’s a matter of positioning and being given the chance to pay attention. Promoted posts do this in a more cost-effective and targeted manner than many other opportunities I’ve seen in the past few years. And the analytics on PP’s? Bomber. I know exactly what I get for every dollar spent. Video views, page likes, post likes, organic/viral/paid exposure. It’s not a substitute for creating (and creating good stuff). It’s just another way to level your OWN playing field with your OWN audience.


  • John Bottom

    I agree that Big Corp can throw money at it and jam the airwaves with high-volume, low-thought material, but millions of normal people can also roar their approval at a single piece of brilliance and thus give it the same volume. Can the voice of the thinking community be greater than the voice of the Unthinking Corporate? I really, really hope so.

  • I agree with @rosemaryoneill:disqus – The key is that while it is NOT a level playing field it is much, much more level than it ever was. Plus, there’s another key difference. What is required to be successful at content marketing is time and creativity. Yes, money can buy more time but it’s more feasible for little guys to find more time than it is for them to find more cash.

  • Yes, I do agree with that. But the challenge is creating that “roar” over and over again. Daunting.

  • I totally agree with Mila that Mark is right. Anywhere the competitors are asleep (like in Montreal) a small business can harness creativity and make a difference. This, essentially, is @ginidietrich:disqus’s point. However, once the “Arms Race” begins, as Mark so eloquently states it, the playing field gets tilted severely and although Creativity still “wins” it can too easily be obscured by a more methodical content creation approach. Or can it? Let’s look back in 18 months and see 🙂

  • It’s possible for that new brand to make some noise, but it’s much harder. What a leaner.meaner machine may have in it’s corner is the ability to make decisions more quickly than it’s big corporate competitor, but the big corporate guy probably has more money to spend to get those eyeballs. Having just gotten 28000 likes and a bunch of comments and shares on a promoted post on an account we just took over; I can attest for the power of Facebook promoted posts. I feel like a voice in the wilderness when marketers are indignant about the fact that their posts don’t-and never did-reach 100% of their page “likers” free. How dare they? Simply, no one else is giving away guaranteed reach for free, why expect Facebook to?

  • Very, very interesting (and accurate) perspective I think. I look for the budget allocations for point 2 to be going up and up though. Do you agree?

  • When everyone else is thinking the same then no one else is thinking.The playing field, the costs, big big business, the price of promotion is never going to change. Both you and Gini define the market to some degree. But why does it have to be that you are fighting for time with the world? The two biggest issues for me are: Are you relevant, and can you assure me of that? If you can’t no content or promotion is going to affect me. While on the other hand if you are relevant to me it comes down to finding you or you me. The advantage can still lie with being local. You don’t need to win the war, you just need to win the battle within your playing field at home. Nothing is free, ever! Social early starters got a jump. Remember AOL! A few things changed and they went away… But, with the changing times of screen size, content you read will soon be irrelevant due to the shrinking screen. Audio and video will really be a platform for attention. Not to mention the costs coming associated with Responsive Web Design. I’m jumping around a bit here, after reading all the comments. My main idea from you post isn’t that we can’t win against the way things are going, It’s why do you want to fight on the terms being offered?

    The pandora box is well and truly opened now. It is more how well you are educated in purpose of business and how you engage strategically and tactically using these channels.

    Since I met you and followed you. I’ve stopped a couple of times to really consider what you have posted. I mean really consider your content. Because of that, I’ve had to consider what is coming along the nets. History is the best teacher, and no one seems to learn from it right? So, when I listen to you, Gini and others I look ahead and ponder choices. For me I am going to go with podcasting that directs people to my business and related locations like websites, forums and such. I am always interested in what you post, even if I don’t always comment. On days like this you are addressing something which I expect you have formulated an approach on for the future, or soon will. And that I wait to hear from you about. Billy

  • You’ve prompted another thought here Jon and that is that I really do believe that there is still an advantage for small businesses in this space. One, as you say is the time. Also the personal connection and real engagement, which is almost entirely lacking at the big brands. And I also think there is a subtle but important aspect that small businesses are more likely to recognize the qualitative benefits of social media better than a big company addicted to spreadsheets. Thanks for the great comment!

  • It’s almost a new line item. Previous advertising expenditures were about asking (“Look at me! Look at me!”). Promoted posts are more in the realm of reminding (“Hey – we know you’re busy. We thought this might interest you and wanted to pin it *right here* so you wouldn’t miss it.”). What is your audience’s attention worth to you…and what are you willing to pay (and in what situations) to garner it? I’d almost rather see a budget shift from other non-interactive forms of advertising into opps like these that are highly interactive. Maybe not “up and up,” but re-routed.

  • Quite interesting. When you get right down to it, FB is really demanding that engagement becomes “advertising.” I understand why they are putting the squeeze on us but it really is a little evil, isn’t it? “Free connection” … at a price!

  • Oh, it’s quite evil 🙂 They finally figured our how to monetize attention. Crafty little suckers. At least we haven’t devolved into the “punch the monkey” banners of the early/mid-2000s quite yet! And…at least there are solid metrics to help guide future expenditures.

  • Here’s why. Because companies are spending tons of money to build that following and then FB charges you to connect with them. I really do understand that FB needs to make a profit but it does seem ludicrous that you have to pay money to connect with your own audience. Will be interesting to see how this model evolves! And congrats on the big FB victory Brad!!!

  • Ha!! I WISH! : )

    I’m not sure anybody can really formulate a strategy that is effective for more than a few months. I think you need to have vision + Intense flexibility. Like you, I’m just figuring out how to twist ad adapt without wrenching my back out of place!!!

    As always, thank you for your wisdom and support Billy!

  • gwenm4

    I agree with you, Rosemary – I think many are looking for that “magic bullet.” It takes time and dedication, but you can move the needle if you are persistent AND consistent

  • It is going to get to “punch the monkey” though. People are going to get increasingly desperate to break through EdgeRank. It’s going to get crazy. My humble opinion.

  • I think you say something very wise here Josepf (as usual). I think MOST of the market is still “asleep!” Be first, be overwhelming, or be defeated.

  • EdgeRank: a conundrum, isn’t it? We strive to beat a completely nontransparent algorithm. Facebook just monetized the cheat sheet 🙂

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  • Following the bouncer…

  • Sleep is for slackers, ask Dear Abby.

  • I don’t look at “level playing fields” as being the answer to the questions I ask. Let me qualify that and say I start from a different position.

    When I used to sell online ad space we talked about how at that time the market was spending about 5 billion per year on ads. My goal was 1% of that. I didn’t have to worry about a level playing field to try to obtain that.

    You don’t need a ton of resources to start to really compete online. You need a plan, patience and determination.

  • Thank you Mark for opening this very important, and interesting debate… Plan to continue using the “unmarketing approach” by engaging, and sharing to gain traction!…

  • Which fortunately many big competitors still seem to be 😉

  • Dear Mark,

    I love this post! It calls attention to the role that big bucks play in successful online/social media marketing. I agree with the other wonderful posters who speak about “little guys” vs. “big guys,” dedication, hard work, and more… I’ve landed on large to huge company Facebook pages and found them to simply be presentations without conversations. zero engagement. Bad idea.

    It doesn’t cost any money to provide a link to super duper content you’ve discovered on the web, or thank someone for a thoughtful comment. And, quite frankly, smaller companies on shoestring budgets can spend their “time” creating real relationships with a more manageable following. I have 432 LIKES, so a promoted post cost me $5 to reach my likes and likes of likes.

    And, I reply to every comment and thumbs up. I could spend a little more and gain 100’s of LIKES, at a cost of less engagement.

    There is one mid size company that has 6000+ Facebook LIKES and their page looks like an advertisement for power point presentations.

    No money is no excuse.
    Good luck.

  • Interesting post Mark and and an even better discussion below in the comments. I agree with most of the commenters (including @ginidietrich:disqus !) about the importance of pumping out good content and watching out for what your customer needs. In the end, however, if you are selling a product or offering a service that is truly useful and better than the competition then the customers will spread the word. So, marketing is super important but in the end what will ensure your service/products’s longevity and virality is the quality.

  • Better than being the bouncing ball I suppose. : )

  • Ha! Love that Erika.

  • 95 percent.

  • Valid point. If your goal is to NOT dominate a niche or search engine rankings, the pressure eases. However, if you aim to be number one, get ready to do battle. Thanks Josh.

  • Glad you found this helpful Dr. Rae!

  • This is a very interesting observation Lawrence. I have actually been thinking about this a lot and am working on a blog post about it. I see a growing number of big company sites that really have no soul. Is this the way of the future, or simply a progression toward something better?

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

  • Let’s take a cross-section of top 100 online properties. Mashable, HuffPost, Lifehacker, Gawker, Slideshare, Twitter, Facebook, Jezabel, and so on.

    EVERY SINGLE ONE of those sites was born in mid 2000s. Mashable, HuffPost, LifeHacker all born in 2005. Gawker in 2003. Twitter, 2006. Facebook, 2004. And so on.

    There was a time when the getting was good. And that time has past.

    We will need to change the rules of the game if small bloggers are going to win this arms race. And if I can help it, change is inevitable 🙂

  • The definition is in the eye of the reader, which is one reason statements like these are so easy to disagree with even if in reality we both agree on the fundamental point. I might define “getting noticed” as getting a job offer, or making hundreds of thousands from your work as a result, or something else big like that. You might define it as growing to an audience of 100 people. If so, we have different bars, which is where it becomes easy to disagree. Fundamentally though, a busier, louder, more packed marketplace does make it more difficult to get attention from anyone, right?

  • Ha! Thanks, Mark.

    Definitely agree. It takes a lot of hard work to really get recognized. I recall reading a post from Noah Kagan or someone like that a few months back. In it, he said that he’s really come to the conclusion that the spread of content creation tools has made it even more evident that the people that actually do and create are more valuable than the people that talk about the doers and the creators. I found that to be a really interesting perspective.

  • I like that definition and I agree with it. A more crowded marketplace does present some more challenges but it also offers a lot of opportunity.

  • There are players out there who dominate the search results but I am not convinced they are doing much more than that. Probably a separate issue, but it is really easy to build Potemkin’s village out here.

    What happens post click is a whole different story. After you get noticed you still need prospects to convert into customers.

    I guarantee some of the ‘players’ are not financing their online operations off of their online sales and are instead relying upon income from other sources.

  • Hi Mark:

    It’s been a (busy) while, but I wanted to add something to
    this discussion that’s been bothering me:

    I have been using Facebook’s “Promoted Posts” for a few months.
    I don’t see that I have any other choice, and I accepted the necessity to pay a
    little money to get the word out.

    Here is where it gets bad: I get probably around 90% spam “Likes”
    on my page and posts from promoted posts. Everything is odd about theses “Likes”: The (empty or weird) walls and profiles, the profile pictures, the timing of
    activity (lots of “Likes” suddenly and at the same time about 1-2 days after
    the post has gone live) and the behavior (61 people “Liking” the exact same
    picture in an album of 13, when all others got 1-2 “Likes” by real people).

    I was surprised to not hear anybody else talk about this. Then
    I read about the “Limited Run” case:

    I just wanted to add this to a discussion about “Promoted
    Posts.” If the model is debatable when the posts are served to real people, it
    surely is when they’re served to spam bots after not enough people interact
    with the content for Facebook to collect money, no? If this continues and confirms, it pretty much renders Facebook unusable for me and my clients.

    Has anyone in this community experienced or heard about

    Thanks, as always, for lending your space to great discussion,
    Mark! Hope you’re well.


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  • Mark,
    Did you catch the NY Times article on the launch of the new Coca-Cola corporate website, which aims to be a storytelling rather than corporation-selling site? Putting aside any discussion of whether or not they’ve reached that goal (OK, I do discuss it at some length in the Branding Magazine piece “Storytelling or Advertorial?”), I was interested to see the description of the investment to create this substantial, on-going piece of online content marketing: four staffers, 40 freelancers, and a multi-million dollar, multi-year commitment.

    So I’m with you on this one; the times are rapidly a’changin’ and we all need to figure out how to thrive on a playing field that starts to look ever more like the uneven turf of traditional marketing (which I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing, but that’s a whole different discussion). BTW, thanks for introducing me and many more to Gini before this, via your books.

  • Very key point. Thanks for sharing your wisdom Abdallah. I’m so pleased you are becoming a regular around here!!

  • Well you and I have had some big discussions on this topic and you know I agree with you. I believe that if many of the top blogs stopped publishing today the old content would still dominate the search results for years. That’s not right. So I say go for it Dino! : )

  • First of all, WELCOME BACK!!! You are one of my favorite commenters of all time and I’ve MISSED YOU!

    I was not aware of this anomaly, I’m embarrassed to say. Thanks for sharing that link. FB has got to clean that up and fast!

    Thanks for sharing Dagi. Please stick around OK? You add so much to the community!

  • Yes, i did see that, which seems to be a natural evolution of their “content excellence” announcement:

    You know I really think they are leading the way here and I think they will be the gold standard. Their VP – creative said that they want to create content so great that people wear it on T shirts. That’s the right attitude.

    Glad you connected with @ginidietrich. We can all learn a lot from her!

  • Great debate! I think you have a point Mark, but I think it is also true that, put simply, the WWW (and social media) have opened up access to channels that were previously closed unless you had the budget to go through traditional media.

    We at Forth Metrics have proven it to an extent ourselves – on zero budget we created a compelling ebook, reached out to the industry influencers (including Gini Dietrich ) and published it with great success that would not have been possible even 5 years ago. To quote one other example, I have just been reading a thread started by a small tech company looking for a PR-type organisation “who understand the concept of awareness campaign building for tech launches”, trying to avoid “traditional PR, where it’s a faceless, carpet-bomb of dead language”. In a nutshell, the solution was around identifying where their target audience ‘hangs out’, what their ‘pain point’ is, building relationships with the relevant bloggers, influencers, reporters, etc, and then giving them relevant, compelling, helpful content. All possible on a small budget.

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  • I’m leaning toward Gini on this one.

    It’s still impossible to know what content will go viral, and the web is just as malleable and dynamic as it has always been. In 2 years Mashable may fall out of favor. In the last 2 years several popular blogs in the social media niche have lost a lot of traffic. Plus, Google has recently introduced algorithm changes that seem to diversify the results. For competetive search terms I’m rarely seeing two results from the same domain on the front page anymore. There are just too many interests. People have made similar predictions since I started publishing on the web.

    I believe that notoriety and celebrity makes more of a difference for popular brands and big businesses than quality content. There’s a lot of sub par content that rides the coattails of the Wall Street Journal or Forbes (which started outsourcing a lot of its content to regular people). Sites like Gawker and the Huffington Post aren’t rolling in profits either. There isn’t much money in online media compared to other business models.. I suspect that 50% of the content created in the last 2 years resides on domains that will be dormant in a couple of years. The web is kind of like capitalism – the market takes care of itself and sets prices due to supply and demand – it does have a leveling effect.

    Money can help a lot, but I don’t think it’s mandatory, and it hurts when the Internet thinks that a website bought its success. If Facebook makes paying mandatory, that’s when someone will succeed with a Facebook replacement.

  • YES. Social media should be about human networking!

  • No question. As I said in the post, there many examples of success and there will continue to be. Congratulations on your success Hugh!

  • Great points Adam. Thanks for the intelligent and well-written dissent!

  • Because of that delightful “content excellence” announcement I was hoping for more from their corporate-website-cum-consumer-magazine. And perhaps it will yet be more as they continue to evolve; after all, Coca-Cola Journey is only a couple of days old. I think they have the opportunity (and the budget) to obliterate the boundaries of corporate/brand content (as epitomized by the self-aggrandizing piece about the CEO that was one of the lead stories on the first day). Of course, if they do, we will also, each on our own scale, have to continually try to exceed the expected bounds of marketing content, too.But then, I guess that’s what we should be daily striving for in any case.

  • Laughed to myself over that quip! Onward sir!

  • Of course, you just made my day, Mark! Thank you SO much for the wonderful Welcome!!!

    No need to be embarrassed at all. I heard about it because it was big in the German press; I don’t think it has made the rounds so much in the United States yet.

    I hope the word will continue to get out and force Facebook to address this and change course. They are stumbling over their own feet in a desperate attempt to find a way to make their advertising model work, it seems. I’ll follow the issue and let you know when there’s news.

    Be well in the meantime.

  • I haven’t has time to explore it yet but I agree with you Chuck!

  • Great. I wonder if the algorithm varies by region of the world. My guess is that it does.

  • One positive sign: Ashley Brown, @iamashbrown, who’s leading this charge for Coke, seems eager to engage on the subject; if you’re interested, see the comment stream at

  • Awesome. I actually love Coke and their approach to marketing.

  • Mark, my take on this is closer to yours than @ginidietrich:disqus ‘s. Yes, it levels the playing field somewhat, simply because there are more “free” possibilities than 10 years ago.

    Content marketing (and related, inbound marketing) is more cost effective. So says the research. What you are seeing is the natural conclusion of that statement. Because it is more cost effective, marketers flock to it. With more marketers comes more content and to compete effectively, everyone starts creating more content or better content, starts promoting it more aggressively, … The cycle will continue as long as there is a big enough gap between the cost effectiveness of this ‘new’ marketing and traditional marketing.

    I pointed to basic economic models to say that the cost advantage of inbound marketing will go away, to some mixed reviews and a good discussion (at least for my little blog) in the comments.

    Also worth reading, Hubspot’s response which they posted in the comments on B2C. Not surprisingly, they don’t really agree with me, but Mike Volpe’s comment includes some good points:

    Definitely interested in seeing how this plays out, but I’m certain the end result isn’t a nice level playing field…

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  • The only thing that’s level is the fact we can all play on the same platforms. Everything else still comes down to three things:

    1. Budget
    2. Expertise
    3. Luck

    You can get anything to happen with #3, but without #1 and #2, you’re going to struggle. Because #1 usually dictates the accessibility to #2, organizations and bigger businesses will continue to have the upper hand in most respects.

  • Interesting, because Gini brought up this very discussion on Hecklers’ Hangout last week. I love the first part of your equation for success…I’m not real thrilled with the last part:

    Bring Your “A” Game + Bucket of Money = Success

    I’m still hoping to have an “A” game with content curation/creation, and then a compelling product with some high profile successes against the 800# gorilla with the limitless budget. What I’m working on now is getting more of my people resources to contribute to that “A” game content to offset the bucket of money. Yes, people have an associated cost, but I was going to spend that anyway since they are OUR people. And Content is the gift that keeps on giving versus some of the other strategies that need buckets of money.

    The Colorado Technology Association recently announced a new award category in their Apex Awards called the Connector Award. It was awarded to the individual/company who “took a flyer” on an upstart company or idea. We may not have an upstart company (been around since Dec 2000), but our product is relatively upstart in comparison to our biggest competition with market share. We just need more companies to “take flyers” on at least *evaluating* our solution alongside the incumbent.

  • Great post! I have on my to do list to go back and watermark photos on my blog (with something tasteful in the bottom corner. It’s your cool unique photo, we know that from reading your blog but after it gets picked up in Google images, Pinterest etc, even the well intentioned can lose track.
    If you are interested in more about watermarking, I tried to pull together some input from blogchat and some Pinterest buddies on a recent post on my GooglePlus following a photo attribution scare on Instagram.

  • I’m boggling slightly at “content arms race” given what’s currently going on in the Middle East.

    But to your point… it’s always been possible to spend big money and get things wrong.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. As they say in France.

  • I agree with you Eric. It’s basic economics. I think the downfall is inevitable and in fact is already happening in some places.

  • Completely agree. Under “expertise” I assume you’re including creativity, which is extremely difficult to maintain. We will see that first-hand when we see Psy’s follow single to “Gangum Style” : ) Thanks Danny!

  • Sorry for my late reply. I had replied earlier but for some reason it did not show up. If you look at the date on my post, you will see it was written before the issues in the Middle East escalated. Thanks for the comment.

  • Certainly there is a first mover advantage in this space and plenty of room for innovation, but over time I still think the company with the deepest pockets will probably win. But let’s hope you’re right and I’m wrong!

  • Might be an interesting guest post?

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  • This discussion thread has been interesting and insightful, although it may have veered off-course. Returning to Gini’s original remarks,

    “Today all you need is a good writer, a self-hosted website and/or blog, and organically grown social networks.

    With those three things, you suddenly are competing with the big boys for reputation and credibility. You’re seen as a thought leader in your industry…All of the tools are free so it’s a really low barrier to entry.”

    The consensus seems to be that, YES, this is true, YES, this is possible. Hurrah for the optimism of marketers! But isn’t this both the best of times and the worst of times? Isn’t the same low barrier to entry also creating a democratization which creates competitors out of every Tom, Dick & Jane?

    Now that we ALL write on our self-hosted blogs to audiences of our organically-grown social networks on a level playing field that stretches off to an infinite horizon, we have diluted the value of content to zero, and lowered the signal-to-noise ratio to the floor.

    (Not that there’s any going back…)

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