People now consume more content than ever before. In the USA, the average adult spends 11 hours a day perusing content. That’s an average. No doubt, some hardcore gamer types are consuming up to 18 hours of content every day. Barring some unforeseen innovation that renders sleep obsolete or allows us to consume content while we sleep, our content consumption can’t move very far beyond this. We have likely already reached something like peak human consumption – and we’re likely to stay here for the foreseeable future.
You might think this would be good news for content marketers. But even this amount of consumption is absolutely dwarfed by the world’s content production. At our current pace, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. Experts estimate that approximately 90% of the internet’s data has been created in the last couple of years alone.
Even if we could spend our entire waking lives consuming content, we could only consume the tiniest fraction of all that’s available. In a world with quintillions of bytes of data, how is any given slice of content supposed to actually reach an audience?
In his 2015 book The Content Code, Mark Schaeffer describes the phenomenon of content production vastly outstripping possible consumption as “content shock.”
For marketers, content shock means that content alone – no matter how brilliant – isn’t enough anymore. ‘Content is king’ is a dead adage. The game has changed. As Schaeffer says, “The real power only comes to those who can create content that connects, engages, and moves through the network through social sharing.”
If you can get people to share your stuff, you might just stand a chance of overcoming content shock. Let’s take a look at five ways you can amp up your content’s shareability:
1. Help people express themselves
People love to talk about themselves. We are social animals, and our brains’ hard-wired instinct to self-divulge gets amplified when we use social media. On average, people spend 60% of conversation time talking about themselves. On social media platforms, this spikes to 80%.
Self-fulfilment is one of the main reasons people share content online. A survey done by the New York Times Customer Insight Group determined that 68% of people “share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about,” while 69% “share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world.”
In a previous blog, we discussed how brands can position themselves as wise mentors in their customers’ stories. If you can position yourself as the essential guide in a reader’s story, that reader will be far more likely to share your content as it’s helping them express themselves.
2. Be yourself
When you’re producing content for social media marketing, don’t be afraid to be yourself.
When Michael Dubin started Dollar Shave Club in 2012, Gillette had 72% of the razor market share. But Dubin had the revolutionary idea of dramatically undercutting his behemoth competitors. His subscription service allowed for low prices but also to something that felt like a community. The business model was indeed groundbreaking but what should not be overlooked is the impact of Dollar Shave Club’s viral marketing.
Dubin’s hilarious videos garnered millions of views and the company’s popularity skyrocketed from there.
In 2016, Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club for a cool $1 billion.
Dollar Shave Club’s success is one of the biggest David vs. Goliath stories of our time. Of course, not every piece of content will have viral appeal. But you only have a chance of going viral by taking a risk and being yourself. In the age of content shock, the quirkier you are, the better.
3. Go long (if you need to)
Let’s get one thing straight: content should be exactly as long as it needs to be. If a blog idea only warrants 200 words, then it should be 200 words long and not a word longer. If it needs to be ten times that length, then it should be.
A recent blog of ours is over 3,000 words long precisely because the subject deserved in-depth treatment. People tend to think that the easy availability of online content means that nobody sits down to read feature-length stories anymore. But they’ll make time for quality if you give them what they need. That same piece, incidentally, was praised by a prominent Bangkok business leader as “One of the best marketing articles I have read in a while.”
We tend to assume that people these days have no attention spans. But this simply isn’t true. People actually crave long-form content. A study analyzing 100 million articles determined that long-form content of 3,000-10,000 words gets the most shares. The study’s conclusions are consistent with the New York Times’ findings that 90% of their most emailed articles are over 3,000 words long.
These results may partly reflect the fact that the web abounds with short-form content, so long-form content simply has less competition. But in world of click-bait journalism, people really do want to read well-researched and informative pieces.
So, make your articles and blogs as long as they need to be. Just be sure to break up the text with lists, images and graphics. Even if your audience will gladly read 3,000 words, they won’t be eager to sit down in front of a 3,000-word text wall. And we know a certain content writing agency in Bangkok that can help you out if you get stuck.
4. Conversation is better than controversy
In The Content Code, Schaeffer says that even though controversy undoubtedly ignites content, conversation is much more sustainable. Controversy attracts eyeballs but won’t necessarily keep them once the excitement dies down.
If you can write something that fosters genuine conversation rather than instigating a shouting match, it will probably have a longer shelf life.
The Content Code was published in 2015, and the world has already changed quite a bit since then. We’ve all seen a rapid increase in advertising content that takes a stand on social issues. The most obvious example of this is Gillette’s infamous The Best a Man Can Be ad.
The video has over 30 million views on YouTube – where it has garnered 1.4 million dislikes and just 795k likes. Piers Morgan called it “the year’s worst marketing move.”
People are still arguing about the video, but whether it was a disastrous marketing move still remains to be seen. Gillette stands firmly at the top of the razor market – despite significant encroachment from the aforementioned Dollar Shave Club – and parent company Proctor & Gamble CFO Jon R. Moeller told Forbes Magazine that “Retail sales trends are in line with pre-campaign levels.”
Will brands continue to take stands on controversial issues? It’s hard to say. For the time being at least, it’s probably bet to stick with the more sustainable strategy of generating conversation rather than controversy.
“The fascination value may drive a short-term spike in traffic, but will it make somebody want to befriend you? Become a customer?” Schaeffer asks. “Or, will they just stay on the sidelines and walk away when the fight is over?”
5. Re-package content
Just like the trees of its namesake, evergreen content never loses its freshness. So, if you’ve published an excellent evergreen article, why not get as much mileage as possible out of it? Turn the article into an infographic, a series of quotes, an explainer video, and an interview video. Just like that, you’ve turned one piece of content into five.
“Every piece of content can be altered for a different medium with minimal additional investment,” says Schaeffer. “This means more content, gaining more exposure with new audiences, in less time.”
An uncertain future
Advances in artificial intelligence are coming. OpenAI, a nonprofit co-founded by Elon Musk, has already developed a bot, GPT-2, that can analyze a single line of text and then write multiple paragraphs mimicking the style. OpenAI decided they will never release GPT-2 because they say the bot is just too good.
“Due to our concerns about the malicious applications of the technology, we are not releasing the trained model,” OpenAI announced.
Sooner or later, somebody will make high-quality AI writing technology available to businesses or to the public at large. Maybe AI will find a way to help us overcome content shock. Maybe writers will learn how to enhance their writing with AI. Maybe AI will replace us all.
For the time being, while we still have jobs, content writers need to produce great content – while also making sure the content they produce is shareable. Just remember what makes writing truly resonate.
Help people express themselves. Be unique. Take as much space as you need. Stir up meaningful conversation. And present yourself in multiple ways. If you can succeed at these five strategies, you just might stand out in a sea of content.
Lexicon is a full-service digital marketing agency in Bangkok, Thailand. We specialize in corporate storytelling and produce all of our content in-house, including branding, copywriting, video production and graphic design. We bring all of our services together and use Digital PR and social media marketing storytelling to connect our clients with the ideal target audience.