Mastering The Salmon Dance: Why High Quality Content Isn’t Enough To Get Noticed Online
Did you know? Dolphins don't drink water. All of their hydration comes from the food they eat.

I recently saw the following short interview with Jay Baer (posted on Convince and Convert) in which he talks about the recent changes to Google’s search engine algorithms (Panda and Hummingbird in particular).

In this interview, Jay explains why these changes to Google mean that producing high quality authoritative content is becoming a minimum requirement to winning customer attention online – if you care about ranking on a search engine, that is.

He’s right.

But this is just short term advice.

There’s a technology storm coming soon that will render even great content worthless if you’re not prepared for it.

Google Moves from Keywords to Context

Others have written extensively about where Google is headed with innovations in quality scoringconversational search and semantic search. I won’t bore you with the details here.

Suffice it to say, the future of getting your content “found” online is no longer about keyword stuffing, guest blogging and grey-hat link building.

Google’s recent and rapid migration away from keywords towards understanding user context carries big implications for today’s inbound marketing, content marketing and of course, search engine optimization (SEO) strategies.

With Google’s latest releases (Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird), we are now being forced to focus intensely on the user’s needs with our content. High quality content is the only sure way to rank.

If you haven’t done so already, now is a good time to re-think what you’ve been doing with your websites, your SEO tactics, your marketing platforms and especially, your content.

Producing High Quality Content Isn’t Nearly Enough To Get Noticed

Watching Jay’s interview only crystallized my strongly-held belief that high quality content will soon lose its competitive advantage. 

“Say what? Content marketing is on fire!”, you may be thinking.

I’ve written about this issue before.  I call it “The Flipboard Effect”.

The story goes like this:

As marketers school together and publish ever-increasing amounts of high-quality, authoritative content online, a simple math problem arises that most content marketing pros haven’t addressed (much less acknowledged).

We end up publishing much more quality content than our target audience could ever consume.  

We overwhelm them with quality, in other words.

You might argue, as Barry Feldman recently did, that even better content quality is the way to win this game.

To which I would counter,

Drowning in Champagne is still drowning.


In the real world, even super-premium-quality markets can get over-supplied with inventory. Just ask Ferrari about the early 1990s.

This is especially true when the cost of the product is so low, as it is with digital media.

The math behind this issue is easy to understand:

  • the amount of quality content being published & shared online is doubling about every 2 years
  • the growth in online users, human attention span and our ability to consume content are not growing as fast.

This is why publishing better, high-quality content will never be a complete long-term strategy for grabbing the attention of your audience.

I believe that we reached the saturation point on Facebook several years ago, when EdgeRank was released.

On Twitter, the “drowning in Champagne” problem is clear to anyone who follows more than 100 quality accounts. Have you read ALL of your Twitter stream lately?

In the future, high-quality content will of course be important – but it will be a minimum requirement. You’ll have to do much more than that to actually deliver that content to your target audience.

Mastering The Salmon Dance

So what else do we need to do to reach our market… you know, those nice people who won’t take our calls or read our emails today?

Well, in my opinion we will have to master three new dance steps to get our awesome content into the welcoming arms of our market.  

I call this 3-step ditty, “The Salmon Dance” … and not just because I like The Chemical Brothers (which I do! bonus music video, below). 

Here are the three new dance steps we’ll all need to learn:

Step 1:  make your content stand out in a really crowded stream.

No matter how good it is, you must acknowledge that your awesome content is entering a roaring, noisy and fast-growing stream overflowing with similar-looking beasts.

So how do we get noticed?

Well, understand that people are passionate first and rational second. So inject some emotion into your content to get it noticed.

Creativity, heart-tugging headlines, humor and drama have never been more important.

If your team is more business than fun (as most professional marketers tend to be), then hire a professional videographer, a comedian or a screen writer to produce and edit your next line of content. Or maybe even your agency (the horror!).

You know, maybe Miley Cyrus is on to something (ignoring “content quality” for a second).

twerking a scientific explanation

Step 2: learn how to navigate new, hidden (& fatal) obstacles.  

grizzly bear hunting salmon

Once published in a million channels, your content will have to make it through a variety of customer media filters that are being built right now between you and your customer.  

Hundreds of millions of people today are using new personal media curation platforms to uncover the most relevant content from their fast-moving streams – and to filter out the crapSome of the more popular ones used today include Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Feedly and Flipboard (90mm users).

The dance step you need to learn here is simple: learn how to optimize & publish your content so they shine in these platforms.

For example, Flipboard accepts optimized RSS feeds, so your articles can look and feel like they were published in a magazine.

Step 3:  turn new technology into a competitive advantage

In addition to dealing with changing audience behavior, you will also need to learn how to publish content that will naturally rank well in the new search models and algorithms that are coming online, right now.

If you don’t learn how to adapt to this sea change in search technology, then your content risks being ignored – even if it’s awesome.

salmon against the current

New Search Algorithms

Among the more important hidden forces you’ll need to turn to your advantage are new search algorithms that Google, Apple and Facebook are building right now.

For example, consider latent search.

Latent search is what happens when Google doesn’t wait for you to enter a search query, but instead relies on environmental data (mobile apps) and historical data (your cookie trail) to know what you’re doing right now and recommend an action or content that might be helpful… without requiring you to lift a finger or enter a query.

To crunch this data, Google uses machine learning, semantic markups and natural language processing – to name a few.

The most important thing you need to understand about latent search is that it prioritizes content based on user behavior, user context & entities – not keywords. Latent search also uses data collected on our mobile devices, a trend that is growing very quickly.

Latent search algorithms are more complex and harder to understand than Page Rank. And, if Google’s most recent change to keyword visibility is an indication, we may soon have to navigate these currents with even less information than we have now.

Clearly, old-style SEO tricks won’t cut it anymore.

According to Google, to rank well in their search platform, you will need to build content that:

  • addresses a specific problem or otherwise provides significant value for the user
  • is formatted to work on the user’s device (e.g., if for mobile then it should be short & to the point, load fast, responsive, etc.)
  • relates to entities (not keywords) that the user cares about

To learn more about this subject, check out Eric Engel’s great Copyblogger article that describes how Hummingbird, semantic search and context are changing the face of search – and why quality, helpful content is a prerequisite for ranking high.

Mobile and Wearable Computing

If you think your audience has attention deficit problems today, then you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The wide variety of mobile & wearable computing devices coming to market now will soon account for more than 1/2 of online impressions.

Each type of device – smartwatch, eyeglass, tablet and smartphone – fills a different role in our lives, which argues for a future in which different types of content may be required for each. 

And, clearly, blog posts aren’t the answer for mobile/wearable computing.

There are some common “content themes” emerging for mobile devices, however. Most mobile & wearable devices provide a lot less screen space to engage people, and they are used mainly when people are time-pressed, so they average less viewing time. This argues for a future full of bite-sized chunks of content delivered as-needed, in a highly personalized way. Long-form posts won’t work on a smart watch.

Google Now is a real product that provides a glimpse into the way online marketing might work on mobile/wearable devices in the future:

google now on phone

Think: bite-sized, actionable, alert-like and personalized.

Here are a few more mobile-related technologies that are coming soon that you should start learning about now – before they impact your journey upstream:

  • cookie-less ad targeting
  • mobile-ready content: useful, minimal and responsive (1,000 word blog posts might not cut it)
  • in-app publishing
  • click-to-call marketing (back to the future, with phone calls!)
  • wearable computing apps (smart watches & Google Glass)


Is your content ready to master the “Salmon Dance”?


When marketing in social media, try making serendipity your goal – instead of clicks, likes, followers or leads.  

When Did ‘Social’ Become ‘Media’?

I’m certainly not the first person to point this out, but it bears repeating:

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn weren’t designed to be media properties.

They were actually designed as a modern replacement for old-school social networking platforms like bulletin boards, discussion forums, Usenet, and IRC chat.

That is, their primary function is to help people connect and engage with each other, to interact, to learn, to entertain and to socialize – not to browse through professionally-produced media (or ads).

We’re Doing This Wrong

But that’s not how most companies treat social “media” today, is it?

With few exceptions, the tactics we use to reach customers on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are just adaptations of broadcast advertising methods designed for mass media.

For example:

  • display ads are replacing the newspaper and magazine ads of the 70’s
  • viral videos are assuming the role that sitcoms played in the 80’s
  • Facebook pages are substituting for websites developed in the 90’s
  • recruiting and renting ‘influencers’ is just a form of online affiliate marketing, developed in the 2000’s

The vast majority of “impressions” that reach people on Facebook and Twitter today are still the same-old “shout at me” display ad variety. Or worse, they are meaningless time wasters – like this experiment that went off the rails:

Coca Cola Australia’s social experiment goes flat


My point is that the marketing methods we use in social media haven’t changed all that much – but they really need to, if we want to leverage the communication power of these networks to their full advantage.

But if mass media-style marketing isn’t gonna drive traffic and sales, then what’s a marketer to do?

Should we borrow the old-school tactics used to market stuff on bulletin boards, discussion forums and IRC?

Well, YES – that would be GREAT place to start.


Learn from the Pros

Forum marketers know how to generate new business from social media.  It’s worth taking a few notes on how they do it.

Forum marketers tend to communicate in a peer to peer, one-on-one fashion with group members almost all of the time. They have a real name.  They talk to people.  Address important questions.  Help them, if they can.  Tell a joke if it’s funny.  Share interesting photos and video clips that only they could produce.  And of course, sell stuff.

Most importantly, the way they sell is quite different than the way we market on Facebook today:  they seek to generate moments of serendipity with their target customers.

Um, what did he just say?



Photo credit- Amos Nachoum / Handout

Photo credit- Amos Nachoum / Handout

Wikipedia defines serendipity as,

a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it.

Julius H. Comroe once described serendipity as : to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer’s daughter.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Serendipity is that special win-win moment that happens when we truly understand our customer and his problem, and we know exactly how to help him. Our customer receives exactly what they were looking for, without any effort, and without even thinking about it. He’s truly surprised at his good fortune.  “Cool!”, he says.

Serendipity is the type of consumer experience that great brands are built upon.

So here’s the point of this post:  used correctly, social media can help you create moments of serendipity for your customers, too.  

I say this because social media connects people and organizations together around the interests, problems and solutions they care about. And, it’s a really efficient way to share information, advice and help with your market.

But how can a marketer create moments of serendipity in modern social media – in a systemic way?


Science, Chance or Art?

Let’s put some meat on the bones and look at how old-school social marketers leverage a discussion forum I love, the LotusTalk Forum, to create serendipitous moments that drive real revenue for them.

Let’s say you are a Lotus dealer who is tasked with generating traffic and sales from “social media”. How would you go about marketing your dealership and your inventory on a semi-anonymous social network like a discussion forum – or Twitter?

Well, you might want to:

share your top personal experiences

tell a joke

solve a problem

share technical information that only a Lotus Elise expert would know

or offer a hard-to-find item on a need-to-know basis

This is old-school social marketing, and it works.

Yes, the scale of forums is much smaller than Facebook, but the principles and methods are sound.

The central premise here is that you must be real, you must be part of the conversation, you must seek to help people solve problems as your primary objective.

Once you have achieved this social marketing zen, then selling becomes serendipity for your customers.


“Old School” Rules of Social Engagement

For more than 20 years, successful “social marketers” have relied upon the following best practices to generate sales from social media:

  1. Learn where and how your customers talk online.  Not just about your products and services, either.  On modern networks, look for groups on Facebook and LinkedIn and hash tags and keywords on Twitter (NeedTagger offers a third option).  There are thousands of forums and specialty social networks, too.  Creating your own community or Facebook page might also work, but it’s risky.
  2. spend days or weeks monitoring discussions before talking, i.e., listen carefully.
  3. Mix it up.  Engage in conversations regularly, often in ways that have nothing to do with selling or marketing products/services to anyone.  In other words, participate as a human being.
  4. Understand and respect the rules of the group.
  5. take time to build genuine relationships with people – and enjoy them!
  6. don’t take things too seriously; have fun.
  7. Actively look for needs that you can help with – whether they are business related or not.
  8. Interrupt conversations only when you can offer genuine value to the conversation.
  9. Always offer assistance with no strings attached.  Don’t, for example, send a prospect to a landing page to get a quick answer. Instead, share your email address, a price or a photo.  If they want a long answer found in something like an ebook or whitepaper, then landing pages are fine.
  10. after the sale, and with her permission, thank her for her business.

As you can see, creating moments of serendipity in social media is not an “art”.  There is a science to it.  A process, if you will.  It’s been done before.  You can learn how to do it, too.

Of course, in a few important ways this time it is different.  Social media is huge.  It is literally taking over the public’s attention.  Forums and IRC pale in comparison.  And there are content management elements in modern social networks that make them more media-like.

If you’re with me so far, then the biggest challenge for social marketers today boils down to:


Creating Moments of Serendipity at Twitter Scale

The volume of posts published in social media is doubling every year.  That’s why data mining, monitoring and engagement tools are important – they save you time and keep you focused on the conversations that matter.

In NeedTagger’s case, we help organizations detect conversations and expressions of need related to their content, products and services. We make it easier to approach, engage, follow and retweet people expressing needs, so a marketer can enter into a meaningful conversation with a prospect.

Other tools excel at helping large teams engage in a coordinated fashion, and still others excel at analyzing market conversations en masse, to understand what content and strategies make most sense.  All of these tools are about dealing with the enormous scale of social media.

Using tools to get more done with less is important.  But regardless of the tools you use, at the end of the day you must engage with people as a real person –  in your own authentic way.  And you must learn the rules of engagement – which are really not that new.