It’s time to stop obsessing over likes, comments and shares

Whether you’re an online publisher with something to say or a brand with something to sell, creating content that grabs attention has never been as much an imperative and, as great a challenge.

More content has been created in the past five years than in the prior 5,000 years. According to Google, the web is made up of over 136 trillion pages, while only a ‘tiny’ fraction of these – about five billion pages – are indexed for search. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of content already out there.

There’s a whole lot of pages out there

And yet, there’s more content to come. Way more.

95% of Australian businesses plan to publish as much or more content as they did last year, according to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI). Internationally it’s a similar outlook.

In an environment where broadcast reach is diminishing, where people are switching off or being selective about their online advertising, content is one of the few viable levers remaining in the marketing mix. Like best-selling author Seth Godin once said “content marketing is the only marketing left.”

Attention on the other hand, is finite. There are only so many people in the world and only so many hours in the day. As audiences fragment across platforms, organic reach on social and search channels drops precipitously. And while the cost of paid-advertising climbs higher, attention becomes even more elusive.

In any human, natural, or economic system, when there’s too much supply and limited demand, things break. The sad fact is that most content made will simply not generate enough activity to cover the cost of making it. ‘Content shock‘, as it’s been described, is already upon us.

Is content marketing a sustainable strategy?

It’s no coincidence that the surge in content in the past few years has happened as social media has proliferated and become mainstream. Marketers and publishers have seized the opportunity to use this (free) media to connect with new audiences.

Monitoring tools have emerged making it possible to listen to social media, thus helping businesses plug into, and participate in, conversations real-time.

And herein lies the problem.

While monitoring social media provides a cheap form of always-on market feedback, it’s an unreliable source for insights to drive strategy and content ideas.

The biggest downside is that social media behaviour is generally a terrible predictor of user behaviour on your own website. What people like, share and say on social media does not correlate with what people see, engage with or respond to on a publisher’s or brand’s owned site.

Social media behaviour is subject to response bias where what people say or share does not necessarily represent what they’re actually interested in. Complicating this fact, some topics are simply less shareable than others.

For example, when was your last post on social about a medical appointment, insect repellant, toilet paper or a political viewpoint that goes against the consensus view of your peers?

Research shows that social sharing has more to do with cultivating an idealised self rather than expressing an authentic self.

Putting it more bluntly, we can attribute much of the content shock to the vicious circle that is listening to social media as the main decision-maker to create content, publishing more content, and then listening for the response to that content. In the process, we’re simply creating more noise rather than tangible business results.

Chasing conversations on social media leads to sameness and ultimately, to a lack of any real differentiation for brands. The key to marketing success is not knowing more – it’s knowing something that others don’t.

The solution is content intelligence.

Content intelligence is the science of understanding how your audience is consuming your content. And the best predictor of future success is the actual behaviour of your current audience.

At its core, content intelligence attempts to answer fundamental questions like: what’s working? what to create? who should create it? where and when to publish it? what style of writing to use? and how does it impact users?

The great news is that you’re already sitting on the very data you need to be able to answer these very same questions. Data that is exclusive to you and out of reach to your competitors.

It’s in your Google Analytics account and it tells you the actual consumption behaviour – views, time and conversion – that is associated with an individual piece of content.

Your site analytics is the most complete and statistically reliable data source regarding actual audience behaviour.

Recent advances in machine learning are adding a new depth of predictive and cognitive smarts to this valuable data.

It’s now possible to break down consumption behaviours to a very detailed level going well beyond analysis at the URL level.

The ability to parse text for readability, topics, sentiment, emotionality – to scan images for faces, places and objects and likewise to analyse video unlocks enormous possibilities to uncover the winning content tactics that consistently leads to business success.

Content intelligence allows you to gauge the behaviours of your audience over the longer term, revealing the narratives that are resonating with your audience and are attributed to driving desired outcomes.

Whilst the creation of quality content will never be fully automated, the content creation process can be significantly enhanced with the infusion of intelligence based on actual audience data.

The opportunity with any analysis is to think critically about what you plan to create. Shifting the focus away from what’s happening on social media and instead zero-ing on the preferences, behaviours and patterns on your audience with your own content provides the strongest signals for what to do next.

But why does content intelligence even matter?

Because you grow your audience by authentically listening to your customer, not the idealised noise created in social media.

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