A flip switched at some point in the last ten(ish) years and now the world is full of content. Bursting with content. All companies are trying to create content. There approximately five dozen streaming services crammed to the brim with content. Videos and newsletters and podcasts that you love and enjoy that used to be made and written by people are now made by “content creators.”
Everywhere you turn, content is fighting for your attention. Do a simple Google search and you’ll find dozens of pieces of content in multiple formats all fighting to tell you about it. Pretty much anything you can think of probably has some sort of content created about it in some format it.
It’s sort of exhuasting.
Partially because there’s just so damn much of it and you’ll never be able to consume it all.
But partially because most of the content that surrounds you is just noise.
The early days
A quick internet search tells me that Bill Gates is the one who first wrote the cursed phrase, “Content is king.” I have no idea if this true. Probably someone else wrote it first but Bill was the first one to publish it in a forum where enough eyes landed on it to give him the credit.
Classic billionaire stuff right there.
Companies creating actually valuable content used to be a novel idea. The old way of marketing is creating cool ads that capture people’s attention (I guess still a modern way of marketing too).
Advertorials have existed for a long time, but I don’t remember sponsored content from my childhood ever being worth reading. Unless you really wanted to buy a fancy watch and needed 500 words to back you up, I guess.
The internet really shook things up. As search engines got smarter and started finding actual useful articles, savvy marketers learned that writing content with the right keywords got them in front of eyes. I haven’t been around since the early days, I’ve only read snippets of other people’s experience, but my understand is that back in the day, creating content was enough. So few people were doing it that by virtue of doing it, and following a couple of the rules, you got eyes on what you created.
And it worked!
Thus, content marketing was born? I don’t actually know. I’m making it up a little. If not born in that moment, then certainly popularized or recognized as valuable on a more widespread scale.
Drowning in meaningless words
Once people realized they could make content and gain traction with it, they started doing that. Remember the heyday of blogs? Remember LiveJournal?
Companies also jumped on the content train, bursting forth with anything and everything to cash in on those sweet, sweet clicks.
A lot of places skip an important consideration, though. For your content to actually do something, it has to provide value to your audience.
If you write about thing xyz because your competitor wrote about xyz and it get tons of clicks and pageviews, then great! You won! Right?
Not necessarily. You can generate a lot of traffic on an article from people would never buy your goods or services. Just because someone else wrote about it and got lots of views, doesn’t mean you automatically need those views. A lot of businesses see they have a lot of pageviews and call it a day. Successful content!
But you have to consider if those views are valuable. If those people are going and looking at your other stuff, if they’re subscribing or if they’re buying your stuff.
If they read that one thing and then leave never to come back?
Not successful content. Just noise.
Another pitfall is the company that wants to create something valuable that looks great and has good information. They create a beautifully crafted white paper with design and proofreading and everything!
Then nobody downloads it.
Just because something is done well and looks good doesn’t mean it’s valuable to your audience. Your white paper can be pretty as all get out, but it doesn’t mean anyone wants to download it.
Your content needs meaning to be worth something. It needs a purpose. It needs a specific voice. Otherwise you’re just contributing to that flood.
The danger in appealing to the common denominator
Having a specific voice can be dangerous, some might argue. Because if you’re targeting a really specific group about a really specific thing, you don’t get all the clicks. And you need those clicks! Those sweet, sweet clicks.
Or, for TV, riding that line to generic town is a super lucrative way to do business. Have enough of a personality to be considered quirky but don’t do anything that actually pushes the envelope and you’ll end up with content that can be internationally beloved! Congrats!
The consolidation of entertainment so that certain companies own all the huge properties has helped to create much more homogenous content. This means that even as we get more of it, it’s less and less different from each other.
The really big companies don’t care about this. They like the safe bet. They know several million people are going to watch whatever superhero thing and that they will make a profit from it.
That’s a fine goal for a company who only cares about making money for the content it produces.
I find it interesting that several times a year TV shows and movies seem to pop up that take a bunch of people by storm. Not as many people as will see, say, the most recent Marvel creation, but enough to make various outlets sit up and take notice. I’m thinking Russian Doll here and Knives Out, which really took everyone by storm for a few months there.
Now Knives Out is a star studded cast, but it’s an original screenplay! On a middling budget! People lost their shit for this movie! (Myself included.)
Russian Doll spawned a lot of thinkpieces and recommendations and absolutely entranced a ton of people. (Myself included.) It came from a real specific point of view and stayed true to itself. It didn’t care if everyone wanted to watch it. And then…everyone wanted to watch it.
These kinds of examples always make me laugh. Like we all rediscover that we like original work trying to do something new. The seventeenth installment of a franchise can be good, too. But it won’t set your hair on fire like Russian Doll.
What is your purpose?
Whatever kind of content you’re creating, you should ask yourself what your purpose is. It doesn’t have to be views or clicks or monetization. But you should be creating for some reason. (It’s okay if that reason is because it makes you feel good! Your hobby doesn’t have to be a side hustle! It’s okay to create art for art’s sake!)
My purpose for writing this blog is because I want to write. I need a creative outlet, but I don’t have the time or energy to do big writing projects at the moment. And I’ve been thinking about blogging for awhile. I like the idea of exploring thoughts and topics through my writing. If someone visits, I like that they get a picture of my interests and who I am. I don’t need a ton of people to read this. (Although if you are reading this, hi! I like you.) I don’t really care if I show up on search engines. I just want to show people who I am and maybe you can find something here that you connect with or that entertains you.
When companies produce content, they usually want to get some kind of return on it. People buying their stuff, taking the next step on the customer journey, gaining more awareness.And you don’t get that from just slapping together whatever random stuff appeals to you as a human. That purpose and approach works for someone goofing around on a personal blog. Not so much if you need views and conversions.
I’ve seen a couple mentions lately of AI being developed to write content. This is only possible if the robots are writing the same old crap from the same old perspective. It only works if companies want to spew out a heck of a lot of content. I’m guessing that if wielded by a smart person, the AI can produce decent results. I’m also guessing it’s going to make the content problem a whole lot worse.
When you let people be thoughtful and funny and deliberate and voice what they think, you’re not just part of the chattering crowd of content anymore. You’ve made something better than that.
And that is always going to have its value.