(full disclosure: I am a minor investor in Flipboard, which is used as an example in this post)
I find it ironic that marketing pros are debating whether “content shock” is a threat to content marketing, while hundreds of millions of their target customers are solving that problem right now – using personal media apps like Flipboard and Facebook Paper.
‘Content Shock’ … ?
Mark Schaefer kinda rocked the content marketing world with his recent post, “Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy”.
So far, Mark’s article has attracted almost 400 detailed, thoughtful comments and continues to see people pile-on.
You could say it hit a nerve.
I really like Mark’s term, “content shock”, though. It captures the fear that marketers have when they finally open their eyes to see the biggest problem facing digital marketing today, which is:
How will I ever attract my market’s attention… when they are overwhelmed with fresh, quality content every day?
Overwhelmed With Content
Americans are voracious consumers of media. According to Nielsen, we spend over half of our time awake consuming content.
Despite our obvious love for digital content, we are overwhelmed with it.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in almost every industry the amount of marketing content published every day far exceeds our target audience’s ability to consume it.
Just keeping up with your market’s latest content can be exhausting...
Yet, we continue to publish more.
In 2012, 2 billion images were uploaded to Facebook and 48,000 hours of news-related video were uploaded to YouTube… every week.
In 2014, we’ll upload about twice as much. In two more years, the amount will probably double again.
Yet this really isn’t news. Social networks and search engines have been dealing with the content overload problem for years.
Content shock is why Facebook’s Edgerank was put into place years ago. It’s why Twitter keeps testing new interfaces, and it’s why Google keeps updating their search algorithms to emphasize quality.
I think the discussion is hot right now because content shock is a relatively new issue for content marketers.
This is because content marketing is the newest, biggest trend to hit online marketing since SEO, and everyone’s publishing machines are just getting warmed up…
Perhaps the more important question to ask ourselves is:
How are our customers and prospects dealing with ‘content shock’?
The ‘Flipboard Effect’
Last year, I wrote two posts about the ‘content shock’ problem:
- The Flipboard Effect: What If They Never See Our Content?
- Mastering The Salmon Dance: Why High Quality Content Isn’t Enough To Get Noticed Online (my response to Jay Baer, who commented)
I used a different term to describe this problem, though. I called it, “The Flipboard Effect”.
I used that label to point out that your market isn’t just sitting there being overwhelmed with noise.
They’ve been aware of the problem for years, and they are taking control of the situation.
The Rise of Personal Media Apps
During the past four years, hundreds of millions have solved their personal ‘content shock’ problem with simple personal media apps that filter-out crappy content and irrelevant sources, leaving just the good stuff.
The leading personal media apps, Flipboard (100 million users) and Facebook Paper (1B potential users), help people discover and consume content differently than they can using social networks, news aggregators and search engines.
Other personal media apps include Zite (recently acquired by Flipboard), Pulse (owned by LinkedIn), News360 and Google Newsstand. Personal media curation apps like Paper.li also fit into this class.
Personal media apps are different than anything we’ve seen before.
First and foremost, they are designed to be personal. They tailor media discovery and consumption for one person – me.
Personal media apps are also omni-media. By this, I mean they are:
- omni-source: they cull media from a large number of publishers and sources; the best never restrict the sources I can pull from
- omni-device: they provide me with access to my favorite content on all of my devices
- omni-format: they help me discover and consume media in all its forms: video, text, SlideShare, images, gifs, music/audio… and whatever comes next.
Personal media apps are also independent of the publishers of the content that flows through them. They function more like a web browser or a search engine than a single site like Facebook.
Finally, personal media apps are socially aware. They let me grab media from my social networks and offer lots of ways to share content with others.
My personal media app of choice, Flipboard, makes daily content discovery and consumption a simple, fast and pleasant experience.
Flipboard saves me time by making all of the content that matters to me readily available, when and where I have time to consume it.
I use Flipboard on my iPhone and my iPad. It’s available for almost every type of device, including the web.
So what does this new behavior mean to a content marketer?
Well, it’s simple: if you are a marketer trying to reach an audience with your content, then personal media apps represent a new filter that your content must find its way through.
Or they may never see your stuff.
Personal Media Apps Trump Inbound Marketing
The extraordinary recent growth of Flipboard, Pinterest, Feedly and Google Newsstand show that personal media apps are becoming a preferred way for hundreds of millions of people to get their daily media fix.
I’ve been using personal media apps since 2010, and I can tell you that I spend a lot less time on publisher-built tablet apps, blog aggregators like Techcrunch, email newsletters – and even social networks like Twitter.
I believe personal media apps are the latest move in a fundamental shift taking place in media, in which control over media distribution is moving into the hands of consumers and away from publishers, aggregators and search engines.
If apps like Flipboard and Paper end up taking a sizable chunk of our media time, then inbound marketing practices will need to adapt. We really have no choice.
Replacing Search With Discovery
In content marketing today, most companies push reams of content onto the internet using a variety of paid and organic methods, hoping that people will find their content and be attracted to the company’s website.
The main assumption underlying all inbound marketing is that your buyers will search for and find your content. Mostly using Google, but also on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.
Search. And Find.
Contrast this with Flipboard, which makes it easy for me to discover and consume all of the content that matters to me inside of a single app – so I don’t need to search for it.
Instead of requiring me to search on Google or leaving it to social serendipity, Flipboard presents the latest, best articles from hundreds of high quality sources and organizes them into sections that I designed myself – usually by topic.
To save time, I also subscribe to other people’s collections (Flipboard magazines) when I find someone who knows a topic better than me or who curates it more frequently. More time saved = less need to search.
Personal media apps are also impacting other forms of content discovery.
For example, my Flipboard setup is so complete that I rarely check other sources for news, media and events. I don’t check my RSS reader (Feedly) nearly as often, and I almost never read email newsletters or visit websites to see what’s been published lately. I find it really telling that most of the unread emails in my inbox consist of drip marketing emails and newsletters…
Bottom line: if you want your awesome content to reach me, then it needs to make it into my Flipboard setup – or I probably won’t see it.
And I’m not alone. Personal media apps are free, and usage is growing like weeds.
Today, Flipboard has over 100 million users and is adding a few hundred thousand each day; Pinterest has 70 million affluent shoppers sharing products; and, Facebook Paper recently launched into a captive market of over 1 billion.
What’s A Marketer To Do?
When your audience takes control over media distribution, how do you get your content in front of them?
After all, marketers are paid to get reach and engagement with their content (which deliver leads & sales).
The good news is that some best practices are emerging that can help. And technology will play a major role.
The most obvious solution to being filtered by your audience is to market your content within the personal media apps themselves.
This may involve creating a popular Flipboard magazine or Pinterest board for your audience and then promoting those within those apps – assuming the platform offers paid advertising (and Flipboard & Pinterest do, see my disclosure below).
But for content marketers without big ad budgets, non-paid methods are needed.
Influencer (or advocate) marketing is viewed by many as a powerful, inexpensive way to cut through the growing level of noise online.
Influencer marketing works like this: you find a powerful voice with a lot of followers in your market. Then you recruit them to speak for you, to share your content and to convince people to trust you. The influencer’s audience likes the message, trusts you more and eventually buys your stuff.
Hopefully you can recruit your influencers for free. Sometimes you need to compensate them.
But influencer marketing is really just a ‘social network’ solution to the ‘content shock’ problem. It assumes that aligning and leveraging person-to-person relationships is the most efficient way to get content to people who value it.
Problem is, influencer marketing may not work as well as people claim, and it may not scale for lots of practical reasons including: misaligned incentives, loss of trust in paid spokespeople, human error and biases. I think that influencer and advocate marketing are really just updated versions of affiliate marketing, so they will probably suffer from the same scalability challenges.
Besides, marketers don’t really want third party representation. What they really want is a direct, responsive relationship with their market!
We want to deliver the right content to the right person, when they need it and are most receptive to listening. We don’t really want third parties involved or changing our message in any way (if we can help it).
In other words, we want our content highlighted on the top of every potential buyer’s Flipboard, Paper and Pinterest feed.
So how do we accomplish this?
Master Emerging Discovery & Distribution Technologies
A lot of talk today is about how you need high quality content to win in inbound marketing today.
OK. Content quality is paramount.
But great quality cannot, by itself, overcome every obstacle.
As a content marketer, your job also includes promoting and distributing your content to your target audience.
Today, distribution and promotion requires mastering new technologies including AdWords, marketing automation and new tech-based intermediaries including Google, Facebook – and now, Flipboard & Paper.
As we enter the age of personal media apps, there are a few emerging content distribution technologies that marketers will also need to master, including:
1. Personal media apps including Flipboard, Pinterest, Facebook Paper and Google Newsstand. Your list will vary depending on where your target audience spends most of their time.
The CMO’s Job: At a bare minimum, we need to design, format, tag and schedule our content publishing so it will look good in every media app that matters to our audience. Our content needs to be discoverable, beautiful, rich in visuals and meta-tagged correctly. We should also publish Flipboard Magazines, Pinterest boards and Newsstand channels chock-full of helpful quality content for our markets – whether we published that content or not.
2. New search engine algorithms, which are getting much better at identifying true user intent by entity, device and channel.
The CMO’s Job: We need a new model for SEO, one that understands how semantic search works and reflects how people engage with content differently across device types, apps, platforms and channels. This mimics the way Google says it processes a search query today (or will soon). I’m not sure if anyone has a great comprehensive model on how to do this, yet.
3. Intelligent personal assistants. This includes technologies like Siri and Google Now and intelligent alerts and notifications used by mobile apps like Foursquare and Yelp. Given the rapid shift of attention to mobile devices, intelligent assistant services may soon be the #1 way that people learn that new content and offers are even available.
The CMO’s Job: We need to master the data formats and integrations for each app and each platform that our audience spends time on. We need to develop an agile technology and data services infrastructure to continuously feed these machines with accurate profiles, metadata and bite-sized content suitable for personal alerts.
4. Mobile apps. We’re not talking about your own branded apps. Rather, we mean the 2-3% of apps that your customers actually use on their smart phone 😉
The CMO’s Job: We need to learn what types of ads and messaging work best inside of the apps our customers use (including personal media apps). We need to provide these apps with access to our offers and to other useful data via open APIs we build and maintain for that purpose.
5. Wearable computing devices and the apps that run on them.
The CMO’s Job: While it’s still early, wearable computing is worth keeping an eye on – mainly because it’s so personal and immediate. Anecdotally, I’ve used a Pebble smart watch for many months, and I don’t look at notifications on my smartphone much any more. Instead, I push the notifications that matter to my wrist. Something to think about.
6. Emerging media networks. Especially Amazon, Apple, Netflix and YouTube. The age of forced advertising is in decline. Just ask Comcast and Time Warner about their TV subscriber growth if you don’t believe me.
The CMO’s Job: We need to continue to learn how to produce original, useful and entertaining video content that people choose not to skip. And tag it for discovery.
7. Conversational Marketing. Social media isn’t just about media and content marketing. It’s also a way to cut-through the noise by engaging in 1-to-1 conversations with your market.
The CMO’s Job: We need to help all of our front-line employees use social media to find the right prospects and influencers and to engage with them as people first – to solve problems, to answer questions and to offer assistance when needed.
Time To Upgrade Your Skills
If you’re with me so far, then it’s pretty obvious that your marketing team will need to be technically proficient to deal with your market’s adaptation to ‘content shock’
Leveraging technologies like the ones listed above will require making changes in staffing and training. You will need to buy software, hire consultants, hire experienced engineers and hire data systems experts to accomplish the work above.
I really mean nothing personal by this, but: most young liberal arts graduates just aren’t trained do this kind of work.
On the other hand, this post is about emerging trends. Most internet users do not use personal media apps today. You could rationally make the case to continue leaning on social networks and search engines to distribute your content for years.
Of course, if a decent share of your market starts using Flipboard and Paper, then your awesome investments into high-quality content may be for naught when it gets blocked, filtered, sifted and sorted out of your customers’ personal media network.
If you choose to ignore this trend, don’t be surprised if attention, amplification and engagement declines over the next few years.