Why we create crap content: We’re afraid

crap content

By Mark Schaefer

An industry “thought leader” recently characterized me as a “loose cannon.”

I found this surprising since this implies there’s a set of standards and expectations that I am not following in a lockstep fashion.

His statement pissed me off (momentarily), and I am not easily pissed off.  Who is setting these industry expectations and rules? And who believes they are in a position to judge me, or anybody, for honest opinions that may not swim in the marketing mainstream?

It occurs to me that this sort of elitist arrogance is precisely why so many people create crap content.

We create crap content because we’re afraid.

Afraid of getting fired.

Afraid of being wrong.

Afraid of standing out.

Afraid of rocking the boat.

Afraid being criticized.

Afraid of not fitting in.

Afraid of being a loose cannon.

The social media/ content world is one of immense pressure for conformity because we want to fit in so we are invited to speak at an industry conference. Because we want to make a “list,” or gain a mention or a tweet from “an influencer.”

This dynamic came home to me in a very personal way the other day when somebody told me, “It’s not easy questioning an influencer like you.”

Why?

Who am I to you? If you took a stand against me or another “influencer,” wouldn’t the world be a better for it? Wouldn’t YOU be better for the debate and the fact that people would observe you as somebody who is willing to take a stand?

Social media and professional fear

This idea of professional fear in the social media world is nothing new. The first “controversial” post I wrote was published seven years ago. I pointed out that the social media world is a country club where people just say nice things to each other all the time in hopes of returned favors. I was new to this world of clannish protectionism and pointed out that without debate there is only stagnation and “group think.”

I was so nervous when I hit the publish button that day! But here was the reaction from many readers: “Thank goodness somebody finally had the guts to say this!”

How can you be “authentic” without ever disagreeing with anybody? How can you be interesting and human without being honestly curious, bemused, or conflicted once in awhile?

Over the years I have publicly challenged an opinion from nearly every “influencer” out there, including Jay Baer, Mitch Joel, Marcus Sheridan, Gini Dietrich, Jason Falls, Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan, and many others (and they have all taken their shots at me too!). And guess what? We’re all still friends. The Earth did not split open and swallow me up because I had a dissenting point of view.

I never attack people, I attack problems, and if you’re a professional, why wouldn’t you appreciate and even enjoy that type of dialogue?

Adding your voice in a meaningful way

If you have a worthy insight, share it. If you have data that suggests somebody is incorrect, why not have the courage to say so? Is the risk of challenging the status quo real, or perceived?

To stand out today, you need to come up with something better than the same old “10 Ways to Create Better B2B Content” crap. How many times has that been written?

Do. Something. New.

To stand out you need to be original, and to be original, you must have the courage to add your own story and ideas, opinions, passions, objections, dissensions, and observations.

If you don’t believe me, there is research to back me up. Buzz Sumo did an analysis of the content that gets the most shares and links (shown to be an important factor in search engine ranking). The top posts in the world had these characterstics:

  1. Authoritative content that answers popular questions, such as ‘what is ..?’
  2. Strong opinion posts
  3. Content that provides original research and insights
  4. Content that leverages a trending topic but that also provides practical insights
  5. Authoritative news content on new products or developments

Authoritative. Strong. New. Insights. Original.

Content that is bold, takes a stand, and goes against the grain makes a difference. Perhaps it is your only way to stand out on the web today.

I’m not suggesting to be controversial for the sake of controversy. That is not a sustainable strategy. That makes you a bully. But when you are unafraid to say what is in your heart and mind, and you say it in a professional and caring way, that establishes you as a true thought leader.

And we all benefit from loose cannons like that.

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 courtesy Thomas Heaton

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