Is the Industry Destined for a Content Marketing Collapse?

content marketing

Two incredibly smart and experienced content marketers–Mark W. Schaefer, in Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy and Christopher S. Penn, in The Role of PR in the Coming Content Marketing Collapse–are forecasting a collapse in the effectiveness of content marketing.

I caution you to read beyond the sensational headlines (lesson learned with the recent viral spread of the Marijuana Overdose Kill 37 in Colorado satirical article)–there is more to this story.

Schaefer and Penn analyze the economics of this particular marketing strategy and are forecasting an impending market dynamic that is about to radically shift the content economic model.

But wait, before you fire your content creators, close down your WordPress blog, and let your domain name expire let’s take a look at what’s changing and how you should respond.

Content Supply Exceed Demand

The simple economics of the matter is that content production is exploding; meanwhile, consumers’ capacity to consume content is relatively fixed.

This boom in content production is due to the proliferation of simple publishing platforms (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SlideShare.net, WordPress, Amazon/Kindle) while at the same time quality content is simpler and cheaper. Plummeting prices of high-quality cameras (especially in our smartphones), recording and editing hardware and software, and even software for researching, organizing, and managing more complex writing projects, and easier to use publishing mechanics are making quality content easier to produce and publish.

It’s a bit amazing that we are seeing the rare simultaneous increase in both quantity and quality.

As exciting as this trend is for the democratization of publishing, content, and all the opportunities that come with that equalization, there could be disappointment ahead.

People simply can’t consume more content and increasing volumes of quality content could make it even worse. The result–demand is fixed and perhaps even declining.

Here’s an excellent graphical representation of this economic relationship

Economics of Content

source: Mark W. Schaefer – Content Shock:

If you’re reading this there’s a good possibility that you’re either: 1.) a concerned content marketer or 2.) a marketing professional sweating bullets over the content marketing strategy you just put in front of your boss or client.

Good news you can relax, I’m about ready to show you how to stay on the profitable side of this trend.

How Are People Consuming Content

Starting with the problem: People can only consume so much content. In addition, people’s attention is beginning to make a preferential shift from text to visual media.

The preference has probably always been there, but the Web has just become more capable of delivering a quality experience with rich visual media content.

Perhaps more interesting is the shift in how people are consuming online content. In fact, I think therein lies the secret to beating the trend content glut.

In 1994 Yahoo! began to condition Internet users to use web directories for finding content, which took them to the #1 starting point for web users in 1998.

Ironically, in that same year Google began to shift web users to the convenience of search to find content. Both of these approaches to assisting content consumption craved unlimited content, especially Google’s concept of the Search Engine Results Page–you have to fill the page for any search.

Naturally the market responded and a content arms race was trigger, and with it the marketing games began.

Google was probably the first to understand the opportunity inherent in a web user’s limited consumption capacity. First, by introducing free text search versus digging through web directory hierarchies. Then, by inventing the closest thing to alchemy with “paid search.” Both innovations offered an effective means of overcoming content overload while preserving a fulfilling user experience.

We’re now entering into another paradigm shift–socially curated content streams. Arguably Facebook is the one to watch here. (For the record, I put my money where my mouth is–I just bought more Facebook stock yesterday). It’s simply the next iteration in enabling web users to get the content they want, when they want it.

Once again, we’re wrestling with overcoming web users’ ability to consume content.

Interestingly enough if you think deeply about the diffusion of innovation (commonly referenced as the technology S curve) the problem really hasn’t change since Jerry Yang launched “Jerry’s guide to the World Wide Web,” the precursor to Yahoo!. Efficiently sorting through a glut of Web content is still the quest, nothing has changed except the proposed solution.
content-consumption-s-curve

The news feed is just now becoming a viable new preference and the finite nature of that content feed is its growing pain. But, Facebook understands the challenge of the finite feed and is addressing it. Much like Google in the early days of overwhelming search results, they see it as an opportunity for ad revenue.

Bottom line on the crash? It’s only panic-worthy for those that don’t pivot their content marketing strategies. The solution is to jump into the stream!

How Do You Get Your Content in the Stream

Much of this I have already covered in my essay on Taking Advantage of Facebook Reigning in Organic Reach for Kaleidico Labs, but I’ll quickly generalize it in the context of a macro trend towards socially curated content streams.

1. Create Awesome Content – Even though we typically talk about content marketing with an emphasis on scale and reach, you can’t compromise quality or value. Take advantage of all the technology innovations that are driving down the cost of quality content. Strive for creative and innovative ways to deliver quality and value.

2. Understand the Finite Feed – Study and understand why the feed is finite. Learn how social networks feed content into users. Analyze what user behaviors reward content with higher positions. Also become a student of paid campaigns observing brands that have a sustaining presence within the finite feed–they’re probably hitting on a success formula.

3. Embrace Paid Media – Just like Google AdWords, you can buy your way into the fight. Contrary to popular assumptions, if you do it smartly and build on incremental successes you can use paid media with modest budget and gain competitive ground quickly.

In the news feed/stream paradigm it can be even more affordable. CPC/CPM rates are much lower in similar target groups. The relatively immaturity in their ad marketplace still presents big arbitrage opportunities, something that is rare in Google AdWords.

4. Love Earned Media – The stream is all about earned media. The news feed paradigm is built on the assumption that your friends and colleagues are better at sorting through the web’s glut of content than some search algorithm. Consequently, if you’re going to win here you need to learn to love earned media–networking, schmoozing, and scratching backs.

Get tuned into the influencers in your niche and figure out how to get their favor. This can be traditional media, new media publishers, the blogger illuminati, or even better a mix of all of the above. It takes work–it’s much like running a sales operation–to get the consistency and frequency necessary to really gain awareness in the swift moving news feed content stream.

5. Aggressively Build Audience – The content stream news feed is an interesting paradigm, unlike Google and Yahoo! before it there is no real central gatekeeper. Getting into your web users stream(s) is multi-dimensional. It’s not just the content they opt into, it’s also the content that they chose to trust from their friends (social network).

You penetrate this entry point into the stream with reach, gained through growing your audience. The cool thing about reach is that it works exponentially as you gain audience–every person you connect with connects you to their network and that network connects you to more networks.

6. Mine Open Graph Data – This one starts to get a little more sophisticated, but the basics are: get your audience to opt-in with Facebook connect or other OAuth API and then you get to take a peek at their Open Graph Data, an ad targeting paradise.

Here’s a great article on building target groups with Facebook Connect by Gagan Biyani, one of the growth hacking wizards behind Udemy, shared via Andrew Chen’s newsletter.

7. Reward Loyalty – Here’s one last tip. One that can have massive impact and often goes overlooked. Make it valuable and rewarding to be connected to you. Share unique and original content. Give legitimate preferential and intimate access to yourself and your own network.

Here are a few of my favorites at demonstrating this point–join their email newsletters to see it in action: Chris Brogan and Noah Kagan.

Conclusion

Market crashes are for those that are unprepared to react appropriately to shifts. What do you think? Is there a content marketing crash coming? How will you react?

I’m sure there are other opinions. I’d love to hear them.