Surviving Content Shock: Why it’s Quality Not Quantity that Counts
Do you remember the days of Web 1.0? That’s right – it was basically an information dump, completely static with no interaction between content creators and end users.
Today, we’re firmly in the realms of Web 2.0, where everyone and everything is interactive. Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, eBay – these were the sites that ushered in the new era of the internet, where your average user was suddenly transformed from a passive consumer of information to an active contributor of data in all its guises.
Yes, Web 2.0 is social and participatory – and everyone and their grandmothers are participating.
With every day that passes, another 2.5 exabytes of data are created on the World Wide Web, and by 2020, there will be 44 zettabytes (which equates to 44 trillion gigabytes) of digital information clogging up the web waves the world over.
(image source: northeastern.edu)
It’s simply an astonishing amount – indeed, just like when I try to conceive of the infiniteness of the universe itself, just thinking about all this information that’s out there melts my tiny brain.
What it Means for Content Marketers
So what does this information tell us? Well, for one thing, that there is more content on the web than users could ever possibly hope to consume.
Let’s take WordPress as an example. WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in the whole world by far. Indeed, it runs 4.5% of the entire internet. An impressive figure for sure. But when you consider that this represents less than one twentieth of the content produced for the web, and that 64.3 million new posts are created each month via WordPress sites alone – not to mention the 45.3 million comments these blog posts generate – then what we’re dealing with is merely a drop in a brain-meltingly infinite ocean.
(Image source: WordPress.com)
The point I’m getting at is that we are all existing and working in a content-saturated world. Don’t get me wrong – this is a world that internet users have created for themselves. We love content, we crave it, are receptive to it, and actively seek it out. And so, for content marketers, this is a good thing! We’re supplying a pre-existing demand.
However, there’s a flip-side, which I’m sure the wilier among you will have already deduced – the supply is far exceeding the demand.
Enter Content Shock
The phenomenon has been labelled “Content Shock” following Mark Schaefer’s 2014 blog post of the same name.
We’ve got eyes bigger than our bellies, dear readers (if indeed there are any of you actually out there that have managed to sift through the glut to find this one, pure, golden nugget of content).
Why It’s Quality Not Quantity that Counts
Schaefer’s blog attracted a lot of attention, and, ironically enough, led to more content being created in direct response (like this blog you’re reading now!). Some bloggers, of course, were quick to try and debunk the claims; but for others (like myself), Schaefer’s blog articulated something that we’d all been sensing for a while.
About a year ago, Schaefer wrote an “official” follow-up post to ‘Content Shock’ – ‘Content Shock is Here. Now What?’ – where he reported that the “evidence was in”.
Rather than paraphrasing/creating yet more content, I think it’s most useful to just quote a couple of paragraphs in full.
“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:
(Image source: businessesgrow.com)
“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”
I think I speak for all content marketers when I say: “Yowza! If the biggest dogs in the kennel are struggling to get even 8 shares, what chance does a whelp like me really have?”
Indeed, the answer is clearly not to go on producing more and more content, for the results of this research highlight that content shares decrease when publishing is increased. So what can be done to survive Content Shock?
Surviving Content Shock
Well, the answer simply cannot be to stop producing content – after all, the demand for content still exists, even if there is a surplus supply. No, the effects of Content Shock do not mean content marketers should stop creating, but rather that content marketers need to start getting more creative.
And this starts, I’m afraid, by rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.
Uniqueness Is Key
We’re all creating content for the web, whether we’re doing so in a professional capacity or not, which means that the competition is rife.
Let’s be ruthlessly frank. How realistic do you think it is to get a significant number of users interested in your 600-word blog post that, I dunno, lists the 5 business benefits of VoIP? Hundreds if not thousands of these exact articles already exist – and I know because I’ve probably written a dozen or more of their variants for a number of companies. Content Shock, indeed.
The trouble, however, is that if you are a company that sells VoIP services, you of course want your potential prospects to know about the top 5 business benefits of VoIP. The conundrum, then, is how to ensure that more users discover your content before they do a competitor’s?
Well, here is where I believe content marketers are going to have to test their creative skills. I have a few suggestions, but, to be honest, experimentation is going to be your guiding light.
How can you turn a ‘Top 5 Benefits’ post into something interactive?
Well, how about instead of just telling your audience what the top 5 benefits of something are, why not instead survey them to see what they think they are. This could be done very simply via a Twitter poll or something similar.
Indeed, this approach will doubly benefit, for you will actually learn from the people who matter most (i.e. your customers and potential customers) what they consider to be the most beneficial aspects of your business solution. And with this information you can then strategize your future content accordingly.
Another example of the potentials of interactivity I take from the NY Times.
The online publication wanted to create a piece of content about how family incomes inform children’s chances of going to college. But instead of simply presenting a graph that displays parent’s income against the percentage of children who attend college, the NY Times first asks you, the user, to draw a line on the graph before you are shown the right answer.
Here’s what happened when I drew a line.
How cool is that? Certainly more engaging than a plain old blog post about the exact same subject. And the copy that’s presented below the results is at some level unique (I had a few goes at this, and can confirm that those bullet points display different copy based on the different lines that I drew).
How could you produce something similar to engage your audience with your content?
Work Harder at Your Content
In a content-shocked world, only the very best content stands a chance of rising to the top. And this means, my dear plebeians, that if you can start investing more time and more energy into your content then you will be able to create the stuff that people will want to read and engage with.
And from the results of BuzzSumo report we can see that it will not be a false economy to do so. Producing more content doesn’t equate to increased engagement. And so, in the end, it will be quality that counts.
Instead of ploughing hundreds of labour hours into producing umpteen blog posts that never get any traction, invest that same amount of time into producing just a few pieces that are simply far and away better than anything your competitors are producing combined.
And this means branching out from blogging. Make videos, create interactive infographics, conduct original research, and just start thinking outside of the box.
Blogs are not dead, but yours will only ever be as effective as your ability to innovate the format and produce something that no one else has thought of yet. And you’ve got the time to do it – less will prove to be more, provided of course that you focus on quality and originality.