When it comes to content marketing, the quality versus quantity debate just got serious. Based on Buzzsumo’s 2019 publication of analysis of content performance on the platform, new challenges face content marketers.
Changes in software, social media platforms and messaging apps create fresh challenges if you are designing marketing and sales strategy for your organisation.
These three key challenges are content shock (or saturation), changes in social media affecting content performance and the need to increase content quality or compete on content quantity.
Key Challenges for Content Marketers
Content shock and information density
When Mark Schaefer first talked about Content Shock in a 2014 blog, many in the content and digital marketing world predicted the end of ‘content’ as a strategy.
Schaefer was writing in response to a huge increase in the volume of content being published hourly on every digital channel and the finite number of hours we human beings have in the average day to consume it.
Schaefer is a leading light in the content marketing world and his blog, Content Shock – Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy, created a tsunami of comments. Many agreed, some disagreed, but the core idea, that content marketing may not be a sustainable strategy for some businesses is not to be dismissed out of hand.
This is how Mark Schaefer described it:
“Content Shock: The emerging marketing epoch defined when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it”.
The challenge that Schaefer was facing as a blogger and podcaster was that he was essentially ‘paying’ people to consume his content. It takes time to produce, especially podcasts, and although it is free to self-publish online, there is a time cost involved: number of hours x hourly rate, for example. Time that could be used more profitably elsewhere. The ROI would be delivered further down the line from the number of website visits, leads and conversions.
With the sharp increase in content published across all channels in recent years, there is a greater supply of information to the customer and more competition for their attention. If demand does not increase as sharply – due to the finite capacity to consume digital content – then the business would see a diminishing ROI (or ROTI – Return On Time Invested).
If the time cost had to increase (for better quality content), or the volume of web traffic decreased (due to increase in competing content) then the time cost may increase to such a level that it ceases to be a viable strategy for some businesses. Especially those of you who are in a sector or industry where there is a huge volume of competing content.
The concepts of the Money Value of Time (MVOT) along with the Return on Time Invested (ROTI), originally developed by Rory Vaden, are particularly relevant to content marketing. It is a viable strategy for no- or low-budget marketers, but only up to a point.
“Over time, the low budget content producers are eased out of the consumer mindshare as we “pay” more for their attention. Pay with their time, or increasingly pay to increase the distribution of content via social media or digital channels.” Schaefer
Marcus Sheridan, another leading light in the US content marketing world wrote a blog, Six Arguments Against Content Shock, arguing that:
- great content will always win;
- it costs no more to produce great content;
- content shock is irrelevant if you have an identified niche;
- customers will always research purchases and seek answers;
- content marketing does not require a big budget;
- and technology will provide the solution to finite consumer demand (for content).
His content marketing philosophy – listening, communicating and teaching – goes some way to explaining his point of view and belief in quality versus quantity.
“To me, that’s all we’re striving to do here. And because these words are the core of content marketing, and because they’re also principle based, the value of this will never go away. Listening will always be critical in business.”
Effective communication will always dramatically impact consumers. And powerful teaching will always be the key to generating consumer trust and action.” Sheridan
So, on one side we have ‘measurable results’ and on the other we have ‘relationship building’ – not necessarily at odds with each other, until the increase in competition for customers attention reaches a level that is unsustainable. It could also be when others in your company raise questions about whether this is the best strategy, the best use of your time and budget.
“Of course there are always exceptions in business and everyone can point to their favourite “David” beating a Goliath. But the economics of content marketing are straightforward: create lots of great content that can be discovered by customers and potential customers. If you can saturate your market, all the better.” Schaefer
Fast forward to 2018, and the publication in January of Content Trends 2018 – BuzzSumo Report by Steve Rayson (BuzzSumo is a paid research and monitoring tool).
The report (and accompanying slide show) present their latest research and findings based on analysis of content performance across the BuzzSumo platform. To add credibility, they share the performance analytics of their own content too.
What they found is worrying, wherever you sit on the ‘purpose of content marketing’ swingometre. They track content performance based on shares, likes and comments.
First the bad news.
On average, social shares have more than halved since 2015. They looked at the median number as opposed to average number.
In 2015, the median number of shares was 8.
In 2017 it was as little as 4.
Content Shock, or Information Density as BuzzSumo call it, is evidently having an impact as more content competes for attention.
So too is the increase in private sharing, so-called “dark social media”. People are sharing content more frequently via apps (including Slack, Whatsapp, Messenger, etc), within email or text message. You can’t see (or measure) the true number of shares your social media posts and other content have earned. You can only see engagement in the form of likes, comments, shares/retweets when performed directly on your own online platforms or on social media.
Facebook changes have had a significant impact on content performance, especially ‘reach’. In 2017, Facebook warned brands and publishers that due to the tremendous quantity of content now being published directly onto the platform, they were going to limit the number of posts and ads Facebook users were served (shown) each visit.
Brands who had spent years building their Facebook followers, saw the true organic reach of their Facebook content plummet along with engagement and referral traffic to their website.
In 2018, Facebook announced that it would now be limiting the number or ads served to Facebook users each visit too.
This has obliged brands to ‘pay to play’ on Facebook.
Other changes among the big social media players have also had a knock-on effect on sharing (and engagement).
- YouTube has been plagued by scandal as ‘video nasties’ pursue the same target audiences as big household brands in an attempt to have maximum exposure and impact.
2. Google+ has become largely irrelevant.
3. Twitter has recently ‘outlawed’ repeated posts – a common distribution tactic for evergreen content.
4. Even LinkedIn referral traffic is down as all the social media platforms compete for attention, time users spend on their platform and advertising revenue.
Not surprisingly, many brands are revising their entire social media strategy as a result.
Now the good news.
A number of online publishers have apparently ‘bucked the trend’.
The New York Times has actually seen shares of its online content (news) treble over time, since 2015. The Economist and Harvard Business Review had also seen an increase in social shares since 2015 – not in all content but in some content.
The conclusion that Rayson draws is that in an age of ‘fake news’ and information density, quality may trump quantity.
These online publishers already have a reputation, earned over many years in traditional media, for producing well-researched, informative, long-form and credible ‘news’. Rayson suggests that “people are more selective in their sharing” as they want to share something worthwhile with their audience.
Linked In sharing is also up so this is good news for B2B (business to business) brands.
In short, the volume of content has significantly increased and median shares have halved since 2015 but in some areas, such as news or analysis (The New York Times, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, etc) there has been a slow but steady increase in shares.
In the same period ‘clickbait’ content – with an eye-catching title but little substance – has seen a significant drop in shares and performance.
The Flight to Quality…
All of this together would suggest a preference for quality, well-researched and credible content that will presumably deliver value to those with whom it is shared, versus quantity. It also enhances the reputation of the brand or individual who has curated and shared quality content.
Many marketers and agencies turn to marketing automation as the solution to ‘quantity’ of content published, and whilst this may help in the short term, it won’t improve the quality of content created.
“Content Shock isn’t the problem, it’s the solution. By producing high quality, core evergreen content, and also regular content such as news, updates and practical tips, you provide less opportunity for new entrants who will struggle to gain attention.” Rayson
You can certainly compete on quality and you may not need to win the quantity game depending on the sector or industry you are in.
You just need to reach, convince and convert enough of your target customers to succeed.
Where do you start?
Our online programme Content Marketing Conquered is designed with you in mind. Based on our successful workshop programme and latest strategies, we guide you to the top in 6 easy steps.
Photo by ytcount on Unsplash
If you’d like see the full BuzzSumo presentation: