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'It's Groundhog Day with hashtags': Element Digital's Kevin Fitzsimons on the overabundance of content

  • Opinion
  • April 18, 2016
  • Kevin Fitzsimons
'It's Groundhog Day with hashtags': Element Digital's Kevin Fitzsimons on the overabundance of content

“Content is king” has widely been proclaimed by marketing folks for decades

Today, it’s a message that continues to be embraced wholeheartedly by marketers.

Five exabytes of content were created between the birth of the world and 2003. In 2014, five exabytes of content were created each day.

Yet, despite this outpouring, content is not working.

In 2015, Moz and Buzzsumo analysed a million posts to understand the correlation between different types of content, and discovered that 85 percent of online content is redundant.

Think of the time, effort and money that went into that 85 percent. Think of what could have been, had it been invested elsewhere. Think of the 59 percent of marketers who will increase spend on redundant content in 2016.

Something is broken. There’s just too much content.

(Before we go further, let me state I’m fully aware of the hypocrisy of writing a piece about content that is, by definition, a piece of content. But digital is nothing if not meta, so it can’t be helped.)

Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

It looks like Huxley will be right.

The deluge of content is so great, there’s a modern condition named for it – 'Content Shock'.

Brands are advised to post to Twitter anywhere from 10-30 times per day. The Huffington Post publishes 1,200 pieces of content a day. Coca-Cola spends more on content than on television advertising. 130,000 articles are published every week on LinkedIn. It’s expensive to create, it’s hard to filter, it’s impossible to consume.

To cut through the noise, a reductionist approach has been adopted. The current advice for reaching a large audience on LinkedIn is to write about one of five categories. Since when did the entire population of global professionals decide they were only interested in five things? That’s 130,000 posts a week, largely on the same five topics.

It’s Groundhog Day with hashtags, content for content’s sake.

So far, so much complaining. Am I calling for the end of content creation? No, but I am calling for a focus not on content, but on quality and purpose.

It’s not possible to create content at his volume and scale and retain a degree of quality. Mark Duffy (aka Copyranter) recently wrote on the linguistic gymnastics employed to define and justify the content assault. Xero’s CMO has described content marketing as ‘garbage’, and it aptly describes much of what has been produced in its name.

Ad blocking is an industry headache, but the real issue is quality. Use of ad blockers is simply an indicator of consumer dissatisfaction with digital content. Who can blame them, when a recent survey stated that 70 percent of brands produce poor quality content when judged against challenging criteria like, you know, being easy to read.

The decline in quality is symptomatic of a decline in purpose, of misunderstanding what content is actually for, combined with a self-imposed pressure to churn out content multiple times a day.

This has been driven, in part, by this absurd notion that every brand in digital is now a ‘storyteller’. Yet the majority of consumers, even those who liked your page or feed, have little interest in your brand story. Give them something genuinely useful, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll stick around for a moment. But your story? Who cares!

Consumers don’t have time to pay attention. They want content that addresses their intent, solves a problem or meets a need, in that moment, on that device. It all comes back to a clear strategy and the customer experience - content with purpose, acting in the context of a larger journey, moving customers from A to B.

There’s an obvious business rationale here too. Great content requires an investment, if not in its creation, then at least in its promotion. But if your content achieves no measurable result, if it’s part of the 85%, then it’s a waste of money. Is your content solving problems? Are you measuring its performance beyond tactical outputs, beyond clicks and likes and shares? Is it actually changing anything?

That’s the key. Less is more and purpose is king. Be original. Don’t write another listicle. Quality trumps quantity every time. Ignore everything you’ve ever read about how often you ‘should’ post. If you must create content, do so because, as brand or human, you have something truly, genuinely, purposeful to say.

The king is dead. Long live the king. 

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