Content Shock is here. Now what?

content shock is here

By Mark Schaefer

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

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon. 

Illustration courtest Flickr CC and John Fowler

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