High quality content is a completely subjective — and massively broad — subject. For one person it means hilarious Tic Toc videos. For someone else, it means authoritative educational content that helps them finish their PhD.
For the purposes of this blog post, we’re going to focus on the kind of high-quality content that helps small business people succeed. But to do that, we have to look back, to the origins of this whole content marketing phenomenon.
When The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published on the web back in 1999 Christopher Locke wrote, “the internet has made it possible for genuine human voices to be heard again.”
What do you mean, “again”?
Never in history has the average Joe been afforded unrestricted access to an audience any bigger than the crowd in a neighborhood pub. The internet is a giant electronic soapbox that delivers unimaginable world-wide reach.
Anyone can pontificate at will, on any subject, and potentially reach billions of people across the globe. There’s a 16-year-old-girl who has reached 100,000,000 followers on Tic Toc.
How cool is that?
The democratization of online publishing allows anyone, anywhere, the ability to post thoughts, opinions, dance moves, photos, articles and silly cat videos. It has inexorably changed politics, journalism, medicine and business. It’s a game-changing tool for small-business marketing, even if you never produce one speck of “high-quality” content.
You could argue that it’s the greatest thing since the invention of the radio broadcast.
On the other hand, the Internet is also producing more noise, more fake news and more worthless blather than ever before. For the most part, it’s quantity over quality.
Here are a few mind-numbing stats about the growth of the internet and spread of high-quality content…
There are 7.7 billion people in the world. 3.8 billion of us are active on social media. There are more than 500 million blogs, and 77% of internet users read blogs.
As more and more people jump into it, high quality content becomes harder and harder to come by. It now takes a lot more effort — a lot more searching — to separate the crap from the fact.
Used to be, you had to have genuine, proven expertise a in a given line of work in order to get “coverage.” No one (except for the tabloids) published anything that would not considered high quality content, by today’s standards.
Plus, if you wanted to get published you had to get past the editors in control, and they were brutally picky.
The criteria was strict: First, you had to have some expertise. Second, you needed something unique to say… an angle all your own and a unique voice with which to say it. Therefore, publishing articles was not a particularly common element of most small-business marketing plans. And video was prohibitively expensive.
Content marketing is a different story.
There are no editors screening most of the content delivered on the internet. Any dimwit can start WordPress blog. Content farms are selling the same articles over and over and over again for $10 a pop. Regurgitation and blatant plagiarism is now being touted as “content curation.”
Corporations are hiring print and TV journalists to produce marketing content disguised as authentic news. Bloggers are now “digital influencers” peddling their soapboxes to corporate marketing managers.
Probably not what the ClueTrain authors had in mind when it comes to high quality content.
I frequently get solicitations (ok, junk mail) offering “expertly written content” for this blog. For me, it’s a business proposition that just doesn’t compute.
Most of the articles offered are off-topic, as if my marketing-minded audience will suddenly be interested in a piece about overnight skin rejuvenation. Often these unsolicited articles are obvious plugs for a product or a company. They’re rarely well written, thoroughly researched, or authored by anyone I follow/respect in the business.
Why on earth would I run an article like that? It’s not high quality content unless it’s relevant to my blog’s subject matter. To my audience’s pain points. And to MY brand.
How could that approach to content generation possibly be good for my business?
Sure, I could probably generate a little bump in short-term traffic, but it’s not going to produce loyal readers. In fact, it’s more likely to drive readers away.
Great brands are built on consistency and quality, not just clicks.
I also get a lot of questions from aspiring bloggers, so here’s a piece of advice…
Think about your brand first, and clicks second.
If you produce content of value — something you and your audience really care about— then the traffic will come eventually. As Gary V. famously says, you have to give, give, give, give and expect nothing in return. There is no shortcut to success, and a genuine human voice will always play better than some anonymous article you picked up and reposted, along with a hundred others bloggers.
Also, always remember how much saturation there is. On any given subject it’s too much information from too many questionable sources. If you don’t have a unique spin on the subject, it’ll just be in one ear, and out the other.
For instance, try wading through all the online resources about social media marketing…
“Will it help my small business marketing effort? Can I build a brand around it? What’s the best social media marketing strategy? Can I generate leads on Twitter? Where’s it all going? What’s it all mean for small business marketing?”
I don’t know. It’s still evolving.
But I know this: Just because you have a blog and a few thousand friends on Facebook doesn’t make you a social media marketing guru.
There are a lot of young wannabes in that field, but few real experts who understand how the business side of it. Guru status only comes from wisdom, proven results and the perspective you can only get from years of experience.
So if you’re a brand manager, marketing director or business owner trying to figure out the social media thing, beware.
Many of those purported experts or thought leaders are just good salespeople and tech-savvy online self-promoters riding the wave. When you’re scouring the internet for insight, pay close attention to the attributions and read the “about us” section to find out who’s really doing the talking.
In the Cluetrain Manifesto Locke preached a sermon of hope for the digital pulpit. He predicted that the internet would forever shift the nature of business communications, and he envisioned a world where the consumer would have a voice and corporations would have to listen.
Pretty good crystal ball, he had.
Many big brands are embracing the online “conversation” and are getting better at communicating on a one-to-one level. They may not be the earliest adopters, but they’re catching on and beginning to respond to consumer wishes.
If nothing else, they’re now painfully aware when people start spreading negative word-of-mouth.
But corporations don’t control the bulk of the internet conversation.
It’s the small-business marketing experts. It’s the average Joe on his soapbox with a big ego and a pay-per-click budget. It’s the stay-at-home baker who wants to brag about her latest batch of cookies. It’s the teenage entrepreneur cashing in on Youtube. Those little businesses are popping up faster than you can say, “what happened to Myspace?”
And that’s great.
Unfortunately there also are many modern snake oil salesman peddling their wares with content marketing. Despite the advances of social media, (or maybe because of the advances) there’s more phony crap out there than ever before.
The self-help industry. The diet programs. The plastic surgeons. The get-rich-quick guys. And my personal favorite, the golf swing gurus. Every Tin Cup wannabe has an instructional DVD or downloadable E-book available on the web. And they’re all “guaranteed to shave strokes off your game.”
Golf Digest wouldn’t publish any of them on a bet. The quality is no better than the corporate spiel that Locke railed against in Cluetrain Manifesto. “The voice is like a third-rate actor in a 4th rate play reciting lines that no one believes in a manner no one respects.”
Sometimes I long for the good old days when websites weren’t free and there was some barrier to entry on the internet. But not really.
We’ll all put up with some noise in exchange for the freedom of speech that the internet provides. And small-business marketing is better for it.
Now I’m just hoping for a natural weeding out process.
For more on small-business marketing and content marketing, try THIS post..
For affordable small business marketing help, call me at BNBranding.