Content marketing has probably been the number one marketing trend over the past five years and it’s still going strong as we head into 2017. For the vast majority of businesses, social media and content marketing have played major roles in growth during recent years as humans in the developed world consume more and more information online.
But is it possible to have reached a limit on content creation and distribution? We know there is already far too much content for any human to consume in their lifetime, so what does this mean for businesses?
First, let’s get some perspective.
- Estimates say 300 hours of YouTube video is uploaded every single minute – that’s 432,000 hours per day and 157,680,000 hours per year. That means it would take you 18 millennia (yes, eighteen thousand years) just to watch all the content posted to YouTube in 2015.
- It’s also believed that around 200 billion tweets are sent each year. Even if you spent just 1 second reading each tweet and you could read them 24 hours per day, it would take you over 6000 years to read them all.
- Think you spend too long on Instagram? It would take you nearly 3,500 years to view all the images ever posted to Instagram, by spending a measly 5 seconds on each one (let alone reading all the hashtags!).
So what does this mean for businesses and their consumers?
Peak content: are we there?
It’s pretty clear to see that people have all the content they could possibly wish to consume, certainly in terms of quantity, and this should give us the first clue as to how this is shaping the future on content marketing.
But, first, let’s have a quick reminder of why businesses use content marketing in the first place.
It comes down to four areas, all with the same overall goal.
1. SEO – maximising the number of people viewing content on your website and the amount of time they spend there means your pages show up higher on relevant Google searches.
2. Web traffic – irrespective of SEO gains, simply directing people to a blog post or video you have created will increase the number of people visiting your website.
3. Brand awareness – even if people don’t hit your site immediately, the fact they’ve seen your brand name in some capacity, most likely on social media, means more people know about you.
4. PR – some viral content even benefits from this mega-multiplier. Some content is so sharable is actually becomes newsworthy in its own right and gets content created about it. Amazeballs.
The overall goal?
Increasing sales (duh?!)
Whether it causes an immediate spike, has a significant lag, or maybe increases volumes of sales from existing customers, content is produced with the goal of making someone aware of the brand and starting the sales cycle. It’s no wonder that businesses joined Joe Public in creating and posting content as the rise of social media and a change in the marketing landscape materialised.
Hitting “peak content”: the signs
Of course, there’s no way of categorically telling if we’ve hit peak content as you sit reading this. Until we can actually take a look back at the volume of content being produced, distributed and consumed, we won’t be able to draw these conclusions. However, there are a number of very strong indicators that we’re reaching, if not, have reached peak content.
1. Mass scheduling tools
Okay, so scheduling tools have been around for years but they’re evolving. Not only this, the ones that not only schedule, but schedule repeatedly are gaining increasing market share. Mass scheduling tools like Edgar and Buffer were once niche social media management tools. Today, thousands of marketers, bloggers, business owners and social media pros are using them. Why? Because each, individual piece of social media content is seen by a fraction of your audience – you have to post it numerous times, exactly what these tools do.
2. The rise of “clickbait”
Clickbait, or “Buzzfeedification” is the art of increasing the likelihood of someone clicking a link by using an enticing headline. With so much content vying for our attention, the only way of getting decent click-through rates on content was to make them almost impossible not to click. The rapid rise of clickbait was one of the clearest indicators that simply sharing content was no longer enough to generate that all important traffic.
3. Content sharing companies
You know those random bits of clickbait that seem handily situated at the bottom of web pages? They used to all be articles from that website. It used to be organic; “posts you might like” or “other posts in this category” but now it’s anything and everything. Companies like Outbrain are actually built on placing clickbaity articles at the bottom of sites in order to keep people there or get people to another site (it depends on who’s paying them!). Why do they exist? Because they know companies have to be seriously aggressive with their marketing in order to get people to read their content.
4. Rehashing of decades old content
You’ll no doubt have come across this. You’re there, minding your own business when you come across yet another sensationalist headline or a video you cannot believe is true. You wipe away the disbelief, you might even go and share that content before you realise it was filmed about 15 years ago. Even old You’ve Been Framed videos end up on YouTube fail videos that get millions of likes. There is so much content out there that people don’t actually need to create it anymore.
Add all this to the fact that the human race is producing more content than we could ever consume, especially when you consider people watch the same thing over and over again (Gangnam Style has almost 2.5 billion views on Youtube (and, yes, that is a link to the video)), you can see why we might actually have reached peak content.
And this is actually the important thing:
It’s not just the channel through which the content is consumed that has changed!
Beyond the fact that new channels have been made available for marketers to exploit; the nature in which consumers engage with brands and make decisions has changed entirely. Brands cannot simply advertise to customers the way they used to – they can only generate significant exposure by creating something interesting and engaging that audiences choose to like, comment upon and share. Couple this with the fact that what consumers are seeing online now plays a huge role in influencing their buying decisions and you have the key drivers in the explosion in content marketing, otherwise, you could just rely on adverts.
But there’s been far too much content out there for ages, why are we talking about peak content now?
This is a great question and let’s get one thing absolutely clear:
Talking about ‘peak content’ isn’t about trying to say that content marketing is dead or even dying. Content marketing, as long as the internet is about, will always be significant. Every event in the news, every technology milestone creates a want for fresh content – it will never die.
The question is more, “for most businesses, is it still worth ploughing resources into content marketing? Is there still as much to gain?”
The truth is that it is becoming much harder to generate return from simple, one-dimensional, content marketing, especially in competitive, more tech-savvy industries. Here are three reasons why:
1. Ensuring a page ranks for certain keywords, even long tail keywords, is increasingly difficult. This is caused not only by keyword competition but Google’s increasingly smart ranking algorithms. You can’t just make pages rank with on-page SEO techniques and getting a few dodgy backlinks. Only exceptionally written and created content stands a chance to generate the natural, contextual backlinks you’re going to need to rank well.
2. We’ve seen it all before. There once was a time you could post a picture of a kitten, a meme from Lord of the Rings or a half-decent infographic and get a load of likes and shares. Don’t get me wrong, those days were great. But, unfortunately, it’s not 2010 anymore. Graphics and videos have to be smarter, they have to be original and they have to be relevant.
3. Competition for attention is at an all-time high. Wowzers, this is true. With so many social platforms and value-adding content sites like Buzzfeed, having commercial material seen by your target audience is incredibly difficult. On top of all this, platforms like Facebook are tightening their grip on companies by ever reducing the organic reach of their posts in order to maximise revenues.
But here’s the good news (x3):
Platforms like Facebook are still fantastic at categorising and profiling users based on demographic and behaviour meaning you can pretty much pinpoint your audience. Even though it will cost you a few quid, it might just be worth paying for that targeted exposure.
Excellent, relevant and timely content will always be of interest to your audience. I would only regard it as ‘peak content’ in terms of quantity – not quality. High-quality material still succeeds in the form of blogs, videos and social media updates and achieves everything good content has done over the years. The key is simply in making that great content – better than what is already out there.
Content isn’t everything. The truly revolutionary element of social media enables businesses to locate and communicate with individuals on an individual basis. We’ve continually emphasised the importance and significance of social media interaction and it is through this that business can, in fact, bypass the need to create world class content in order to influence people’s decisions.
So what’s the bottom line?
Have we reached peak content? (…and does it matter?)
In terms of hitting the peak return on investment on sheer quantity of content output, yes, we certainly have. In fact, we were probably there 18 months ago. There is now a shift away from churning out content to really focusing on quality; however that content manifests itself. Sure, this is nothing new in the world of digital marketing but we’re talking about the mass market, here; the small and micro business too.
Does it matter?
Only if your marketing strategy is reliant upon publishing low-quality content in order to generate loads of sales and enquiries. Hopefully it isn’t. The truth is that social media actually provides numerous channels through which to ‘market’ to your audience besides content, many of which are still largely untapped;
Think about all the lead generation opportunities that lie on LinkedIn for B2B businesses,
Think about all the people out there on Twitter you can approach based on what they talk about.
Once companies begin to realise the potential of going out, finding and communicating with their audiences, they’ll need to place much less emphasis and, therefore, resources into creating content. It could well be this kind of attitude shift that causes the rapid downward spiral in content creation. If that means losing the bottom 25% of content creation (the rubbish) then social media and the internet will actually be a far more interesting and useful place to hang out.
What do you think? Where is content marketing heading? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!