The Competition for Digital Relevance in an Age of Content Shock

In the last few years there has been plenty of talk in the marketing world about “content overload.” Just check out this infographic below covering all of all the things happening on the web EVERY 60 seconds:

Every 60

As a byproduct of this immense rate of content production, marketers are struggling with how to present content to a desired audience in a way that both grabs attention and engages. For example, did you know that the average consumer sees up to 2,000 stories a day in their Facebook news feed? Or that if you’re running a Facebook channel for a business, the organic view rate of a post today is close to zero (when it hovered closer to 30% just a few years ago)?

Content overload and content shock is no joke. At current moment, I have dozens of books shoved in various drawers around my house and computer bag, and dozens more on my wish list waiting to be read – which I’m oftentimes pulled to read through commentary I’ve come across online. I have articles and ebooks both bookmarked and printed out in various capacities, stacks of industry magazines piled up high on my desk at work (with access to same content digitally), YouTube videos and podcasts that I’ve carefully subscribed to all begging for my attention, and of course the never-ending personalized stream of great content rolling through my Twitter and LinkedIn feeds that is real-time and to the point. Couple that with the constant distraction of targeted email across multiple email addresses, texts, pop-up advertisements, a variety of messaging apps, and social media notifications (which I’ve all but turned off completely) and it’s a wonder we read or pay attention to anything at all.

This breaking point realization of no longer being able to read everything I want to read led me to wonder as a marketer: what is it about particular content that draws me in, holds my interest, and pushes me to share amid all the noise? What does my own personal experience as a consumer look like vs. the way we see things on the other side of the equation, as marketers?

According to Mark Schaefer who has written extensively on the concept of content overload and content shock in marketing: “in any human, natural, or economic system, when there is an overabundance of some commodity, and there is a limited capacity to consume that good, something has to change.” In his 2015 book The Content Code, Mark Schaefer asks marketers to look beyond producing and promoting content, and to instead consider the reasons behind why people share. He writes:

I’ve spent the last year studying this essential concept of content ignition, and it has changed me. There is a science and psychology behind the act of sharing content that is awe-inspiring and beautiful and mesmerizing. People share content for hundreds of reasons, but there is a uniform process behind it inexorably linked to self-image, caring for others, and even compassion for an author or brand. It’s an astonishingly intimate experience, a precious symbol of trust and communion with our content that I’ve never considered before.

Specifically, Schaefer talks about the need for a marketing ignition plan that focuses on the following tenets:

  • Brand development
  • Audience and influence
  • Distribution, advertising, promotion and SEO
  • Authority
  • Shareability embedded into each piece of content
  • Social proof and social signals

In short, as a marketer the focus should really be on how to position, distribute, and ignite a given piece of content in the digital marketplace as opposed to focusing almost exclusively on the development and execution of content itself. This concept reminds me of the old adage: “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” The last thing we want as marketers is to see a great piece of content go unnoticed.

The Larger Trends Fueling the Spread of Content

To more deeply understand the broader trends influencing the spread of content, it’s important to take a step back and review the larger socioeconomic landscape. For this, I’ll turn to Shelley Kramer of V3 Marketing, who recently wrote a great piece analyzing the latest trends in the new technology and media landscape. Her write-up was an analysis of a presentation that Michael Wolf recently shared at a Wall Street Journal technology conference.  Exploring these points is critical for understanding where the future of audience attention lies, a concept that is always shifting and changing. From my own reading, here are the key points gleaned from the perspective of considering an effective marketing approach in 2017:

  1. Re-focus your efforts on social media: social has officially overtaken search as the primary vehicle for digital discovery
    Activate Outlook 2017
  2. Focus on customer experience: “the strength of the user experience ensures stickiness” (and leads to future commitment). Also, consider the experience of non-traditional audience segments (i.e. Boomers, multicultural) whose user experience and expectations should be considered accordingly.
    Activate Outlook 2017
  3. Consider audio and streaming content as a new and convenient source for reaching niche audiences: 35 million people now listen to podcasts on a weekly basis.
    Activate Outlook 2017
  4. Consider the impact of bots and Artificial Intelligence: as the competition for ideas in the marketplace remains fierce, the rise of bots and voice-activated search has the potential to change the game from the standpoint of relevance.
    Activate Outlook 2017

While the above-list is just one take on some of the trends to keep an eye on as we all compete in the game for digital relevance, it is a good starting point for discussion. As the structure of the digital marketplace continues to morph, as does the behavior among its consumers, it’s imperative that marketers who want to have their voices heard continue to craft strategies that not only respond, but adjust to the changing needs of the  marketplace.

Now it’s your turn: what are some of the reasons you personally share content? Where do you go to regularly consume content, and what content formats best resonate with you?

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