The biggest threat to quality content is…social media.

Content marketing crashThere is a huge crash coming.

Racing down the highway, approaching from opposite directions, are content marketing and social media marketing.

Many people think these two vehicles are complementary, one supporting the other, driving in the same direction. And potentially they could be. But that’s not what I see happening.

I think they are about to collide and cause a lot of companies some huge headaches.

Here is what I’m seeing…

With their Panda update Google bankrupted a ton of companies and forced the rest of us to focus more on the quality of the content we published, and less on the quantity.

For the last couple of years we have all been focused on creating quality content. At least, we have if we want Google to be nice to us and list our pages high up in the search results.

At the same time, feeling nervous about what Google might do next, a lot of companies have been pouring more and more money into social media. If Google isn’t going to give them the volume of traffic they want, then maybe social media can pick up the slack.

So we have two things happening. We are creating quality content for Google, and we are getting serious about social media.

Sounds good so far…but…this is where we come to the conflict and the upcoming crash.

It turns out that while Google responds well to quality content, social media doesn’t.

In fact, social media performs really well for you when you create very large volumes of trivial, useless and totally crap content.

For example, I could write a very, very useful article under the headline, “How to Maximize Clickthroughs on any Ecommerce Website”.

I would get very few shares or likes on social media for that article, however good it might be.

If I want to maximize my reach through social media, I would do better to write an article with a headline more like, “5 Things Every Marketer Can Learn From Miley Cyrus”.

The content might be trivial and ultimately useless, but I would get a lot more exposure.

Make no mistake, there is huge pressure on editors to start publishing less of the first kind of content and more of the second.

The Onion did a wonderful send-up of CNN when CNN devoted their top news spot to Miley Cyrus on a day when things were falling apart in Syria. Why did CNN devote that spot to Miley Cyrus? Because it gave them massive exposure through social media.

More recently, Marina Shifrin, a journalism graduate, quit her job creating videos because her boss had 0% interest in journalism and 100% interest in social media clicks and shares. She created a short video of her last few minutes at work.

Update, Oct 5th: Or read this article at PaidContent.com, which explores how sites like Gawker, BuzzFeed and other outlets that seek out social media friendly content sometimes cross the line and publish “real life” stories that are actually hoaxes. Sometimes journalist don’t look too closely at a story when it holds the promise of being a big hit on social media.

Google demands high-quality content. Social media thrives on trivial content.

And there is massive pressure on editors to do well on social media.

What should we do? There is a risk to trying to invest too much effort into trying to please Google, simply because for all we know they might introduce another major update in three months that will pull the rug out from everything we are trying to do today.

At the same time, jumping on the bandwagon and shoveling bucket loads of trivial content to score big on social media brings its own risks. If we publish too much nonsense we’re going to damage the credibility of our brand.

What’s the answer? I honestly don’t know.

But I do think we are entering a very interesting, messy and disruptive time for marketers online.

It’s getting harder and harder to win with quality content.

And the downside of creating too much trivial content is that it will damage us in the long term.

For myself, I’m just going to keep doing what I do, with very little regard to what’s hot, trending or expected. I won’t “win” at social media. I won’t get to the top of page one with Google.

But I will still be me. And maybe, in the long term, that will count for something.

Discuss!

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

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17 thoughts on “The biggest threat to quality content is…social media.

  1. Good points. Have you seen the twitter account Huffington Post spoilers? I think there is exhaustion for the BuzzFeed style content.

    To your point, I think people need to stay focused on writing to an audience segment rather than traffic and shares.

    It’s true, and article like 10 things Miley Cyrus can teach you about your PPC campaigns would get more traffic, but I think it would also attract amateur and less serious marketers. So if you want to attract the DYI, don’t make this hard! audience then that content works.

    But if you want to attract a more advanced audience I personally wouldn’t click on the Miley Cyrus article for that reason. And I get excited by articles with “advanced” and “ultimate” in them–for example, “the advanced guide to XML site maps that every WordPress Pro needs to know.”

    End of the day, I think Buzzfeed knows their audience just as People magazine knows their audience.

    It has been like this since Victorian times and cheap, light content is nothing new.

    But I would bet that someone who clicked and read your first advanced article is much more likely to buy courses, tools, and books from you than someone who reads the Miley Cyrus version.

  2. I disagree. We built Copyblogger with useful educational content, distributed by social media (not advertising). It has to be engaging and creative combined with useful, but it doesn’t have to be trivial. Social media sharing of content has become the norm in every industry — it all just comes down to building and participating in relevant social networks where both influencers and your prospective audience are present.

    • Brian, hi. I don’t disagree with you. There are smart ways to combine social media and content marketing. You do it. I do it. My concern is that just as there were content farms flooding the web with low-quality content up until Panda, today there are social media farms doing the same thing. Google put the brakes on poor content. But who is going to put the brakes on trivial social media? Nobody. So more and more editors have to compromise, just like CNN did. I’m not saying one can’t be smart about this. But I am saying that we’ll have to do it against a backdrop of a rising tide of trivia.

  3. Hi Nick,
    Great site you have here. Been visiting off and on for a while now but never felt the need to comment as you have a knack for “nailing it”.

    With that being said, this post got me a little fired up because I think businesses and news organizations still don’t understand how to use and maximize social media. Let me explain:

    Your website Nick is very niche specific. It caters to writers, copywriters and aspiring writers / marketers on how to be more successful. Correct?

    Now your social media site (Facebook) is excellent in my opinion. Your posts aren’t simply regurgitating the content on your website. It has a personality. It shows me, without getting into too much detail, who you are, what you do and how YOU are as a person. It really is quite personable. I would hire you just because you’ve pulled back the curtain a bit and revealed another side of “Nick” the writer. Plus you do an EXCELLENT job at responding to comments/concerns. THAT builds trust.

    Now, The Copyblogger website is an exceptional resource site. Without question. But honestly Brian, the Copyblogger Facebook page sucks big time. Too many posts, too frequently during the day and all of them are regurgitating everything that is on the Copyblogger website. And in scrolling through just the past month, not a single question or concern readers had was addressed from Copyblogger. That doesn’t build trust at all. We already know Copyblogger is THE authority from the website. We don’t need a continuation of that authority rammed down own our throats on the Facebook page.

    And right there is the problem. When businesses and news organizations resort to fluff material to generate “buzz”, they’ve already lost the social media battle. The girl who made the video recognized that as well. Social media is not about search engines and quality content, it’s about revealing the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. I’d much rather see CNN do a “Look at how we got the story” pce or a “interviews gone south” pce on their social media site rather than seeing the same information I can get on their website.

    K.I.S.S Theory (Keep It Simple Stupid) combined with a dash of transparency makes Social media work not the search engines.

    Just an opinion from a fellow Canadian Nick.
    Hi from Edmonton!
    Thanks

  4. Michael, hi

    You raise some good points, and pinpoint a central problem with how most people and companies use social media. In a nutshell they use it as bait, and they use is as a broadcast channel. They broadcast either their own stuff or trivial stuff to get people to come to their site. As you say, they are missing the point of social media – and its core strength. It is SOCIAL. But only if you put in the effort to make it so.

    Nick

  5. I have just added an update to this post. Rather than ask you to scroll up and find it, here is the new paragraph:

    Update, Oct 5th: Or read this article at PaidContent.com – http://ow.ly/pwzmR – which explores how sites like Gawker, BuzzFeed and other outlets that seek out social media friendly content sometimes cross the line and publish “real life” stories that are actually hoaxes. Sometimes journalist don’t look too closely at a story when it holds the promise of being a big hit on social media.

  6. Nick, I support your argument but I maintain that the publishing industry has always behaved in this way. It has done so for centuries. Social Media Marketing is just following the well-trodden path.

    I bet everyone on this comment thread has a list of sites that they no longer respect and have walked away from once they got disrespected INTELLECTUALLY. Facebook’s ‘sales data’ is hidden away for a very good reason. I believe that if it were truthfully revealed, many small businesses would go after FB with a meat cleaver.

    1) The people who most need to read Nick have to be caught using a ‘Cyrus’ hook
    2) The people who already do read Nick were caught using an ‘Integrity’ hook
    3) Google seeks integrity and Social Media seeks Miley

    Social Media is just a casino. The players are the marketing companies, hiding their losses like gamblers always do, occasionally striking lucky and winning millions. Of course, the gamblers argue that it is a finely tuned and scientifically magnificent marketing tool. It isn’t. It is wildly unstable and prone to random events of an uncontrollable nature.

    The top athlete sponsoring a drink gets busted for drugs. The pop star decides to bite a kitten. The viral video posted by an amateur buries the $2M marketing campaign from GM.

    Social Media sites have sold marketeers a lie. You simply cannot guarantee marketing success through Social Media. So, businesses instead spend their budget on out-smarting Google ranking algorithms. It works, for ten minutes.

    The truth is that marketing success is only sustained by

    1) Top quality copy and branding that is aimed like a cruise missile campaign
    2) Zillions of dollars of budget used to purchase expensive private user data

    Ask Red Bull. Ask Monster. Ask Ford. Their customers all routinely tell them their underwear size for the cost of a can of beans.

    Which is why your article should be promoted by using a picture of Miley Cyrus nibbling a kitten.

    Marketing companies do NOT bear the negative social cost (an Economics term, there) of viewers who’s time on this planet has been wasted by watching trivia. At least the Nick Usborne brand promotes education and awareness!

    You call Miley and I’ll get hold of a kitten. We could go far…!

    • Loop, hi

      Great commentary! I think the trick, ultimately, is to survive. That sounds like a depressing ambition, but I think it’s more than that. I know a ton of gurus who were at the top of their game a few years ago and are now…well, they’re gone.

      If I hang on to being me, and avoid feeling envious of those who win at the casino once or twice, I’ll probably find that by the end of my career I will have out-earned them all. Simply by surviving.

      Nick

  7. Hi Nick,

    I agree with you. But I think that Google is the problem. We try to behave and play by their rules. Then, just when everyone gets it, they change the game. They keep small and medium companies jumping through hoops. Until they have some real competition, we can either keep playing by their rules, or as you said, just be ourselves.

    Scott

  8. You make some great points, but I think there’s more to the story. The picture you paint is synchronous, but the reality of content marketing is diachronous. In other words, the battle is fought over time, and some content has more staying power.

    A false ‘real life’ story, or a fake Twitter account, is a good example of content with a short half-life. In the early stages, it spreads like wildfire. But once the cat’s out of the bag, the value of that content declines dramatically.

    Contrast that with a really strong, timeless ‘how to’ post, or a valuable infographic. Stuff like that can be shared over and over, by its author and by others. It is an appreciating asset, not a depreciating one.

    That’s how quality content wins out. Not by being top of the tree from the minute it’s published, but by sticking around and delivering value over the long term.

    As you say, it’s crucial to know who you are and what you’re aiming for. When I blog, I do aim for social popularity – who doesn’t? – but my hit rate is probably about 50%. Posts I think are zingers fall completely flat. Other posts, that I initially thought of as potboilers or also-rans, turn out to be enduringly popular traffic magnets.

    All you can do is keep on keeping on, and don’t sell yourself out just to grab buzz today at the expense of reputation tomorrow.

    • Tom, hi

      Google used to be really good at giving brownie points to high-quality, evergreen content. But what I’m seeing now is that most of my oldies but goodies are getting no traction through Google, because their algorithm now seems to be more focused on giving those brownie points to what’s new and “fresh”. As per Google’s “Query Deserves Freshness”.

      Other than that…I agree! : )

      Nick

  9. Nick- I think that’s why I have an aversion to social media. It’s fluff, pointless, and a waste of time. I do like how Michael illustrated how social media CAN be useful– by adding dimension to your personality.

    It’s important to remember that clicks do not equate with truth, value, or substance.

    I love writing valuable content that adds something of value to my clients and readers. I’m afraid I’ll have to leave the fluff to others.

  10. Nick, I agree with your analysis. It sounds very judgemental but there is a divide between trivial and meaningful, which I’d suggest has always been there, only now the internet just highlights it – and makes money out of it.

    The question, for me, is not whether they’re on a collision path, but rather whether they’re on the same planet. You know the saying about thinking/talking about people/things/ideas: the trivia you identify thinks it is thinking and talking about real and meaningful stuff. Let’s leave them to it. In my experience, the trivial and the meaningful seldom intersect, and for that I’m grateful 😉

  11. Hey Nick – great discussion topic.

    I tend to agree with Brian Clark. I see content marketing and social media as working together.

    Social is just another channel for content – albeit with a different slant sometimes.

    And there has always been quality journalism and trash that sells newspapers and magazines. There’s an audience for both.

    Anyway isn’t all media social?

    I don’t where it’s all going any more than you, but you’ve got to stay true to yourself and keep making art, whatever your perception is of art.

  12. Enough navel-gazing and waffle.

    Nick has cleverly set ringing a siren that has been very quietly building a resonance for a long time. He declared that his article in ExcessVoice was intended to be provocative, and, lo-and-behold, out come running those who don’t want to miss their place on the soapbox.

    You can gnash your teeth at Google for its discourteous use of algorithms. You can worry all you like, and for as long as you like, about the dumbing-down that accompanies Facebook and other social media low-life. It will all be for nought.

    I would advise all website marketers, copywriters, sloganists to acquire a BSc (Econ). The market will direct you on the path to success. Watch carefully, research well, opinionate before-the-fact less. That is the path upon which survivors will out-perform the mountebanks, because the outcome is yet awaited.

  13. Hi Nick

    What strikes a chord with me is what you say about editors being under pressure to achieve high social media scores. I see this time and again with my copywriting clients: they’re often under massive pressure from within their organisation to use social media as a broadcast medium. Any sort of “social” conversation with their audience is frequently seen as an irritation.

    The solution? I like your idea of surviving. Maintaining integrity and doing work I know to be good and appropriate is my approach. It means I’ve had to walk away from several clients but I believe in the long run that will reflect well on me. In the longer term I guess the rules of the game will shift yet again – presumably there are other far from cuddly Google updates on the way (Woodlouse? Anaconda? Stegasaurus?) – and we’ll all be complaining about something else.

    Cheers
    Tom Brodie

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