In the world of Content Marketing, one term is coming into ever greater use. Content shock: The ubiquitous white noise from competitors drowning your content.
The growing disconnect between what content we produce and what we can collectively consume.
Yet a term that’s a bizarrely under-discussed elephant in the social media room. The escalating arms-race that most content marketers now engage in, to try and stand out. It is closely related to social media algorithms, which are largely a response from social platforms to content shock.
You need to understand this gigantic dynamic behind content marketing, if you are to ever make it work for you. In so many words: Content production is rising faster than our ability to consume it…
As social media consultants, we produce content for our clients or train them to produce smart, relevant content. Content that talks of their audiences’ problems and interests, owns its voice, and provides value. Content to grow their visibility and authority and nurture a valuable, emotional bond with their online visitors.
But there is an eerie truism, a hollow feeling even about content these days, that only pros seem to know. The face of content is evolving at a dizzying rate. How you produce it, consume it, share it, and with whom. And obviously, at a base level: How much of it there is of it out there really. There is a term for that, content shock. The question then becomes, what is content shock?
Content Shock definition & How to Measure Content:
There is a reason why amateur bloggers find that their content does not travel as well as expected. It may be for a variety of factors they could control (how well they defined their audiences, how compelling and relevant their content is, how savvy they are at promoting it, if they are using clickbait titles etc.)
But there is a meta-reason that is always there and gradually crushing any other factor. Unfortunately, it is also one they don’t control: The sheer amount of content being pumped out every day is spiraling upwards at a phenomenal rate.
And that rate is MUCH higher than the growth in their audiences’ ability to actually consume content. It is estimated that the amount of content on the web DOUBLES every 9 to 24 months, depending on who you read. Even if you take the 24-month conservative estimate that is still a GIGANTIC pace.
While our ability to consume it rises at a much lower rate of about +5% to +10% per year. And to further compound the issue here, it’s obvious that us content consumers will hit at some point a hard limit. You can only spend so many hours per day online, consuming content. And thank God for that, I’m a SM marketer but I like to think there are other things to life.
Clickbait content is often behind that vertiginous rise
This has all coincided with a dramatic increase in click baiting content designed to immediately grab the reader’s attention and flood the internet with a constant stream of content. This has all led finally to consumers being turned away from content due to oversaturation and a hard limit, at last, being reached.
The point to remember here is simply that content production is rising at geometrical (exponential) rate, largely unfettered (many tools and processes exist to repurpose content, extend mileage etc.) whilst on the other hand, our collective ability to consume that content rises at a much slower rate, and one doomed to level off. Call it Malthusianism for content marketing.
That disconnect keeps rising, and means that an average piece of content will get less and less mileage. And/or put differently, that you will need to spend more and more resources (time / money) to retain its average consumption statistics.
What is becoming increasingly obvious is the need for a content strategy plan that takes into account SEO by optimising each piece with google friendly keywords. This leads to a huge increase in visibility and site traffic and is one effective way of circumventing content shock.
Mark Schaefer, as far as I know was the first one to coin the term and expound the concept of content shock. Google him to read more on the topic, he is a genuine expert and his prose is limpid.
NOTE: I personally disagree with some of this original blog conclusions. And he also revisited the concept a few years later. There is a growing consensus that if content shock exists in quantitative terms, it’s actual impact has been lessened. Largely thanks to technical evolution since 2014 that allow content users to filter effectively what they actually want.
But he expounded the concept brilliantly, in limpid, vivid prose, a must-read.
Trust me, no offense, but your blog won’t go viral
… Are the words you often feel like uttering to a new client who is concerned about blogging or producing content “… because it’s going to go viral then I will lose control over it, and then there will be bad comments and I may get sued or sacked”.
And obviously, the client in question is referring to an obtuse article he/she painstakingly wrote (agonised over) on a 3 week period. Some technical point on an arcane engineering process. Or in general, something that the wider audience has little appetite for. Something that aims for no audience, with a safe, overly explanatory headline. Something that does not stand out enough, etc. I mean, YOU KNOW it won’t travel. And yet such are the misconceptions about content marketing from a general public that still believes their blog will “go viral”.
I do not want to sound patronising here, always hated the specialist expert haughtiness. We’re all good at / specialise in different things. However here, it really feels like someone needs to tell you for your own good. Content Shock is here, and the sooner you get your head around that, the better off you’ll be.
It can be heart-breaking to see people with good intentions, getting around to social media, poring over their blog for weeks on end. Thinking it needs to be perfect as it will be seen by “millions”. Only to see their content pieces flop time and again. Swallowed up by the bottomless white noise online. A blip. 2 likes. 1 from them, 1 from their nana. Flop. New blog. Crushed spirits. Flop. Much internal bellowing. New 3-part series, much of the same. Flop. Flop. Flop. Drama ensues.
The rise of the trash content behemoth
One of the frustrating things about social media is click-bait, trashy content, often on shock sites, that somehow yields large engagement and reach (though to be fair, often from insolvent cretins to be honest).
It is frustrating for a variety of reasons: Users obviously don’t like trash as a rule (even though a portion of them will engage with it!) Poor, soulless, click-bait, trashy content also prevents good content from rising to the top.
Finally trashy content cheapens the value of inbound marketing which can be a beautiful marketing tool, and a much more sincere, valuable, and nurturing form than traditional marketing methods. A topic we went into greater detail here, dispelling the myth long held about social media and inbound marketing.
Trashy content poses a vital problem to anyone in social media, and it needs to be managed. It offers little value but gains high traffic with misleading headlines and sensationalist topics that trashy content marketers know will work.
In the same way that the average journalist at your local tabloid paper is usually smarter than you would guess from the childish vocabulary he uses in his articles, the average click-bait content marketer knows very well what will work. He spends his time trawling for keywords, producing empty but appealing headlines and fake pictures, etc.
Trashy content ends up hollowing out the authenticity of the message. It is essentially a void, and people are getting increasingly frustrated with it and social media platforms.
OK then so what do we do now? Do we revert to direct mail and cold-calling?
No, there’s no need to abandon inbound marketing, or content marketing. This is where I differ in my analysis from Mark Schaefer: The good news is that the industry is catching up.
As far as I can tell, there are two main ways that the extended online networking / social media marketing industry is evolving to counter this, and enable users to consume better content:
User filtering: That means anything that users can do manually to decide what content, what kind of content they see. It can go from the simple “unfollow” on most major platforms, mute, disconnect, etc. all the way to more strategic tools.
These simple functionalities should be used liberally. You need wide networks to succeed in social media. But you also need to not be exposed to clickbait trash all day. So unfollow liberally anyone reposting attention-begging, guilt-inducing, cliché-clickbait-trash. There are also some apps out there, that can help you dramatically cutting down on the noise levels you are exposed to.
I spoke to Matthew Spurr co-founder of Quuu.co, the hottest curation apps I know. Quuu supplies manually curated content to users for free (2 pieces per day). An efficient process too. That curated content can be easily hooked to their users’ Buffer accounts. Quuu allows users to drastically cut down on time spent for their curation. It also works the other way: When you have particularly great content, you can submit it to their promotional platform for a small fee, see it join the pool of content that they will curate for their users from! In other words, your blog could be then fed through hundreds of accounts!
How do you think apps like yours can help with content shock?
“Well firstly, we have always said that the content suggestions that Quuu provides to its users are meant as a supplement to your existing activity on social media. We don’t want to discourage people from being social on social media. Just posting links to content only, it’s important that there’s a balance.
Ideally we’d see our users sharing a handful of carefully chosen quality content posts each day. Then spending some time actually following up with people and discussing them in a human way.
The content we share on Quuu is real, it’s not click bait. It’s not just fluff that’s written for the sake of having content on a blog somewhere. It’s content that our team have taken the time to read and review. Content they have been genuinely impressed with and additionally feel is relevant to the category to which it is intended (i.e. not out of date or vague). So I like to think that our approach to content strategy is helping to combat Content Shock!”
I particularly liked that quote, because it captures the essence of smart, meaningful social media activity. SM marketing should not just make you new online connections, you never engage with. It should help you engage with more, more meaningfully. A great way to do that is to automate some aspects, such as content curation, especially when you are provided content that has been manually curated for free. That will always grow your followership, contribute to your online authority and presence, at no extra cost of time. Time you can then spend actually engaging with followers, humanly, around topics you actually care about.
Platform filtering: This is when Social Media algorithms come in. Yes because that is another COLOSSAL elephant in the room: Platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn obviously cannot serve all your posts to your entire network. This is content shock at play, it is simply impossible.
Social Media Algorithms & the death of the Optimal posting times
Do you notice, how some of your posts gather nearly no engagement, say on FB? Yet you have a few contacts bound to love it?
That’s because each platform applies more and more prioritisation rules to content posted, as the disconnect between inventory and consumption capability rises.
One of the key factors is… The pace, the quickness with which each content piece is initially engaged with.
It looks something like this:
- Your content is initially shown to (depends on your network size) say 5-10% of your network.
- If it gets engaged with very quickly (say… in the first 1-2 minutes? Everyone’s guess here)
- It then gets served to another tranche of say 5-10% of your network, for it has been already socially proofed.
- And so forth.
One of the things this means is that… Buffer’s “Optimal posting time” is becoming less and less important. You might as well just ask 2-3 of your friends to like / share IMMEDIATELY, this would be a much better success factor than actual posting time…
But how do we define social media algorithms?
Social media algorithms regulate who gets to see your content. Who sees it in priority, what % of your audience will see it, what engagement it needs before it shows to another tranche of your audience, etc.
It is a standard of rules, scanning content for spammy keywords. Uplifting pieces that follow its rule while damming content that doesn’t. Checking the keywords of your content, and serving it in priority to contacts who already engaged with similar content.
This is all educated guesswork by the way. Social media platforms do not reveal their code, so it won’t be “gamed”. We expand on algorithms and provide some social SEO tips on how you can best master them here.
The nature of content and even social media marketing is changing. Content shock along with algorithms are here to stay and a reality we have to accept. They are to a large extent one of the key last ramparts against content overflow.
Even if they pose grave important questions about modern communication, social media algorithms protect our feeds from quadrillions of unsorted content flotsam. They do come with their own issues (chief among them, context collapse, and echo chambers). But they seem to be the best we have so that each individual and business can be connected with content and information of value to them.