It’s Time For Social Content Creators To Raise Their Game

Just because it’s easy to publish content on the web doesn’t mean you should.  That’s the lesson I learned in just one day this week from three examples of content that seemed to cause more backlash than the inherent value I’m sure they were intended to.

Example 1: On Tuesday, the Harvard Business Review published this post about a made-up metric called Return on Influence. The post was received like this, and this, and this:

Example 2: The Hubspot blog featured this post, the latest and greatest move in the battle to confuse cause with correlation. Those out there that prefer a little more science in their science shared opinions like this one:

Example 3: And finally, an ad campaign and influencer outreach initiative from CPG brand, Ragu, inspired this post from blogger CC Chapman:

In all three of these cases we see examples of content that I can only assume were published with the intent to inform, entertain, or otherwise add value for their customers. This, in turn, should create value for the business in the form of traffic, lead generation, or whatever other objectives the individual publishers were striving for. That’s a basic tenet of content marketing and the reason so many businesses are getting into that game.

Instead, though, we see the opposite happening. We see the reactions generated turn into aggressive criticism. This criticism is not only directed at the ideas presented, but at the content’s creators and publishers as well. Sure, these incidents probably drove traffic, but not the kind of traffic that any business should actively seek out.

At first glance, it may seem easy to call this backlash too harsh. Take Amy Jo Martin, the author of the HBR piece, for example. I’m sure that Amy is a smart and well-intentioned woman…heck, she’s certainly been successful. Why are all these mean social media bullies picking on her, right? It’s just yet another example of how social media makes it so much easier for the consumer to complain, a subject I’ve written about in the past.

But, that’s the easy way out. We must ignore the temptation to let our natural empathy get in the way of what’s actually going on here. We can’t shift the blame to the consumer without instead thinking about how the creator could have avoided it in the first place. And that is really the crux of the issue.

The real-time reactive nature of social business means that you have to raise your game or suffer the consequences. In the past, say when a company had a monthly newsletter to produce, real thought had to be put into that content calendar. Several hundred words in a physically limited publication is valuable real estate, after all. Just because that newsletter is now an endless expanse in the form of the web, though, doesn’t mean those same values should go out the window. The Internet may be a virtual space, but that doesn’t mean that the content you share there is any less real. In fact, it’s more real (and more accessible) than ever. Moreover, this shift creates real implications for your brand and business.

Take the case of the HBR article. When it comes to intellectual respect, it doesn’t get any more legit than Harvard. There is a level of quality to be expected there and fluffy metrics have no place. Every piece of content like this that the HBR publishes hurts their brand that much more.  The Hubspot study has a similar effect. Hubspot is a company that I respect greatly for their products and their rapid growth as a player in the digital marketing space. Their blog is one I read often and refer many other people to because they maintain a level of consistency in the value they create for their customer. This study, however, is misguided at its best, and actually insulting to the reader at its worst. Hubspot’s audience has come to expect more than that, and it reflects poorly on the brand to slap a chart on a page and call it science. Lastly, we have Ragu and their video campaign. Ragu is a company who has the budget for the kinds of consumer insights and other marketing research that most other businesses would dream of. Frankly, they should just know better.

In the same way that innovation, creativity, and genuinely great content are all rewarded with praise and (with any luck) a viral lift, we cannot lose sight of the inverse. In a world where content is so easy to create quickly and publish widely, we need to remember that sometimes it shouldn’t be. Some content just isn’t worthy of that audience. It can be easy to get caught up in a content arms race of sorts, but we should all make a real effort to focus on creating genuine value instead. You know, quality over quantity. Never forget that once it’s out there, it’s out there forever, and whether you’re an individual contributor or a worldwide brand, you own it.



4 thoughts on “It’s Time For Social Content Creators To Raise Their Game

  1. There are a lot of people playing “expert” or “guru” online. Readers have to do their own vetting to determine who is a pretender and who is a contender. The good news is that it’s becoming harder and harder for the charlatans to get traction, as evidenced by the responses to the examples you’ve listed.

  2. ellerylong says:

    My personal fave is “ninja.” Thanks for the comment, Ken.

  3. Kristen says:

    The ‘ninja/guru/experts’ are fading, being replaced by the serious social media game-changers. A blog post isn’t just a blog post, especially on well-regarded, high-traffic sites like HBR and HubSpot. They should ensure their articles are of the utmost quality, and they let these slip between the cracks. Great post.

    • ellerylong says:

      I think you’re right, Kristen, and it’s encouraging. I read pieces from the likes of Brian Solis and Michael Brito and it reminds me that social thinking is maturing at a rapid pace. A lot of people made names for themselves in social when their audiences didn’t know any better. That phenomenon is absolutely shifting and I am happy to just do my best to be a part of it. Cheers!

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