content marketing and content shockThe concept of “content shock” has been getting a lot of press the past few days, with everyone from Social Media Today to Content Marketing Institute to more mainstream publications weighing in. Let’s take a look at the issue and see if we can separate substance from hype.

The conversation started with Mark Schaefer’s blog post earlier this month, Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy, in which he says that most businesses will not be able to sustain content marketing in a way that provides a meaningful return. As the avalanche of content continues to grow, an ever smaller percentage of it will be read and have an impact. (Because the audience is remaining largely unchanged.) There’s only so much content we can consume. And the cost of producing the content will become greater than the value of business that content generates. 

So which content will get consumed? According to Schaefer, you’ll need deep pockets, the ability to hurdle high barriers to entry (getting noticed in the first place), and the potential for a large enough return to make the much larger-than-before investment required worthwhile.

So is he right? Will the oh-so-democratic world of content marketing become yet another Super Bowl ad, unattainable to all but the largest marketers?

Shel Holtz argues that Schaefer is wrong about content shock.  He also points out that the same concept has been around for a while in the internet age – and well before. And as dire as the warnings have been – from oral tradition to written books to pamphleteers and newspapers to radio to broadcast TV to cable TV to – content continues to be consumed.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t some underlying truth to Schaefer’s point. It always gets harder to get heard when there’s more noise and more competition. (Ask the TV networks. Even when people don’t care about anything else on their 500 channels, just the channel surfing means they aren’t watching ABC, NBC, or CBS.)

But, as Holtz argues, we mostly consume niche content. Am I the only person on the planet who consumes TV, magazines and blogs about cycling, fly fishing, and ukuleles? (OK, there’s not a whole lot of ukulele on TV …) Probably not, but it’s a pretty small sub-group of three pretty tightly defined niches. And that is how most people consume content. Your average New York Times reader probably didn’t care when the Wall Street Journal added a weekend addition. Sure, there’s more content out there, but it’s not content that interests – or distracts – her.

Most importantly, there’s less “filter failure,” the Clay Shirky concept that Holtz cites.

What does this mean for content marketers?

  • Forget the big data view on all of this. More content across the globe isn’t your direct concern. Pay attention to your industry and your audience. 
  • Unless you have an audience to yourself, consider creating less content and devoting resources to making that content great. 
  • Create content that your audience cares about.
  • Strengthen your play by supporting your content with distribution. There’s no point in worrying about getting filtered out of someone’s feed if you aren’t getting noticed in the first place.