In a recent post, top content marketer and blogger Mark Schaefer scored a hit and started a big controversy by predicting the end of content marketing as we know it because of a forecasted Content Shock. With Content Marketing having been all the rage these past few years, his post made some noise generating responses and debate from many. And while a lot of people have given numerous arguments as to why he’s right or wrong – including Shel Holtz who argues that as content consumers we become better and better at filtering content through various curation tools – nobody yet has looked at the role publishing-by-curation and the interest graph played in that picture.
What is the Content Shock?
Before coming to that, let me recap Mark’s points. The essence of his argument is in the graph below:
While to some extent we’ve been benefiting from technologies that helped us consume more content he says, these progresses were negligible compared to the rate at which we’ve been producing more and more content. The resulting effect has been a higher cost of content creation driven by the fact we have to produce more and more quality content just to keep afloat: while producing 1 blog post a month might have been a great content strategy back in 2009, it’s nowhere near sufficient to rise above the noise on social media and search engines in 2014 – as a recent study demonstrated by estimating at 10 the number of posts content marketers needed to publish on a daily basis. At the same time, Google and Facebook are doing everything they can to kill low quality content which means you can’t solve this equation as Demand Media and other content farms used to by lowering the production cost of each piece of content: quality is not an adjustment variable anymore.
In that context, are content marketers doomed?
What did the HuffPost, BuzzFeed and UpWorthy teach us? In a world drowning in content, the value shifts from creation to curation.
To answer that, let’s look at what happened in the media space. After all, adopting a content marketing strategy means becoming a media as Brian Solis noted a few years ago already. In the past 10 years, we’ve seen:
traditional media consolidate or die,
traditional Web 1.0 online media struggle (AOL, Yahoo)
new post Web 2.0 media explode (Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, UpWorthy)
Did Deep Pockets win? Not at all. Startups did.
How did they win? By reinventing the publishing model to transfer the content production externally. The common point between the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Upworthy (and I could add more examples like Business Insider etc…) is that none of them is producing 100% of the content they publish. They all use a form of what we call at Scoop.it “publishing-by-curation”. In a world drowning in content, the value shifts from creation to curation and those examples show how you can build huge value by carefully editing and publishing other people’s content. The Huffington Post was acquired for $315M+: in just 6 years, it was valued at 20% of the market cap of the New York Times, an institution created in 1851. BuzzFeed projects to make $120M of revenue this year from its fast-growing audience of 133M monthly uniques (4x the NYTimes’ traffic – not to pick on them but hey they’re the reference…). And finally Upworthy reached 30M monthly uniques in just less than 2 years.
So yes, if we look at becoming a media the old-fashioned way by producing everything internally (or even owning our own printing press – ie self-hosted wordpress blogs), this race will have an ever-increasing cost. But things don’t have to be this way in a post Web 2.0, social-media driven world.
But there’s more.
The volume of Content increases; but the long-tail also keeps getting longer.
Mark’s graph is great but fails to capture another dimension which is the longer and longer tail of our interests. In a world with a finite number of interests, the amount of content produced competes for a finite number of top positions (think Google search results pages, Facebook newsfeeds, etc..). But here’s the thing: thanks to the Web and the ever-improving ways to refine our searches or newsfeeds, we are constantly refining our interests to make them more and more precise. Back 20 years ago, the passionate skier that I was had no choice when it came to content: just a couple of ski magazines which sometimes covered the gear I was interested in but most often didn’t. Now, I can curate the best content not just on skiing but on backcountry skiing or freeride skiing, learn online how to sharpen my skis’ edges (and what are the best tools to do that) or even watch a video of a specific ride I might be interested in doing.
This is the well-documented, long-tail effect and it’s becoming increasingly relevant to content marketers because now, we’re seeing the rise of the interest graph.
Twitter introduced that idea that we might not want to connect with just people we already knew, but also with people who shared our interest. Going further, platforms like Quora, Reddit and of course Scoop.it let you connect with strangers around shared interests – precisely through content. Better still, they don’t constrain people in a finite number of interests but directly let users create their own topics of interest, making them as niche as they want. Don’t get me wrong: niche doesn’t necessarily mean small – at least not in “not worth my time” small. Independent professionals like Lauren Moss – an architect in Orange county – attracted more than 250,000 visits to her curated content. Top curators using Scoop.it are not just brands or larger companies such as Orange, RingCentral or the University of San Francisco but they also include individuals such as Robin Good or Susan Bainbridge who now have audiences above 1M – again with no marketing budget.
So this is not anymore about fighting for top positions in a short-tail 20 categories – like Apps on the Apple iOS App Store. This is about leveraging the interest graph to distribute the right content to the right people through communities of interest.
Curate and be curatable
In his great post, Mark concluded by asking his readers: “What is the next area of innovation we need to pioneer when the implications of Content Shock become unbearable?”
Looking at what happened in the consumer media space and how the long-tail is constantly shaping our interests and demanding that we continuously refine them, it’s clear to me that interest-based publishing-by-curation will be a major way for content strategists to overcome it.