Night of the Content Marketing Zombies

The Social Media Idiot

SHARING SCHMARING. According to certain creative directors I’ve heard from, you may be shooting yourselves in the foot, you who’ve bought into the content marketing movement. In their opinion, its tenet of freely disseminating business insights is not only an unsustainable business model, but it’s also contributing to widespread job losses every day.

I wrote extensively about their concerns in last week’s installment of Confessions of A Social Media Idiot. The complaint has some merit, from a zero-sum-game viewpoint at least. Because it does seem logical that if you regularly give away even some of what you have to sell – that thing you make your living on – you may, over time, be digging your own grave, and with your one good foot at that.

Is there a content marketing freebie frenzy?

After all, in a DIY world that’s already democratized by desktop publishing and digital photography, if things keep going they way they are, who’s ever going to hire a graphic designer, especially when there are free, downloadable themes? And that’s not to mention all the Youtube tutorials one can choke down, demystifying everything from Adobe Photoshop to something I’m sure is out there that starts with a “z.” So the concern is somewhat understandable.

But there is ultimately an ugly side to their protectionist philosophy: a kind of lock-yourself-in-a-bomb-shelter, beat-back-the-zombies, hoard-your-trade-secrets manifesto. I can already see the final scene of that movie, in which creatives are huddled in a corner, clinging to something somebody really needs and by-god they’re not getting it until somebody pays.

In the end, I don’t agree with this fear of content marketing for two reasons. First, resistance is futile. The revolution is well underway, and in business, revolution is practically a fixed cost.

More importantly though, it appears to me more logical than just optimistic that there is plenty of opportunity available to each of us if we’re willing to abandon old ways of looking at business development.

And if we do look, what we see, in my opinion, is expanded access to the world, and along with it expanded opportunity. The hyperactive hyperconnection enabled by the Internet, furthered by yet another democratization in the form of social media, has revealed to us communities (LinkedIn: read that “networks”) that are much larger than we thought, with plenty of give-and-take to go around.

Little to lose and much to gain

Reaching out to that expansive and expanding world, we’re connected to more possibility than we could ever hope to find in our current, smaller circles. In addition, the sharing central to content marketing suggests we have much more to gain in credibility and good will than the relatively short-lived advantage over competitors offered by some proprietary technique or insider knowledge.

By contrast, keeping the windows shuttered means I remain stuck inside, locked away from that big beautiful world with only my secrets and a much smaller number of connections to sustain me.

I’ve actually seen a few creative professionals who’ve adopted this attitude, ferreting away formulas or tools only to watch as their golden goose was either discovered by others or became obsolete. Some have become bitter and resentful as a result of the disappointment.

But maybe more critical than any Kumbaya/We Are The World-sounding stuff is the fact that, in the creative business at least, rapid technological advances mean it’s unwise to become too invested in a particular way of doing your job.

I share, and share I like.

I’m not sure I’ve earned the title of content marketing wise guy yet, but here on this blog I’ve shared, among other things, little discoveries that while not revolutionary have nevertheless produced valuable efficiencies in my own operation as an independent content creator and writer.

Most recently these posts have included, 1) an inexpensive app offering very effective OCR (optical character recognition), allowing me to turn copy from non-Internet sources into editable text; 2) a thesaurus that’s a goldmine for vintage American slang; 3) a way of optimizing blog posts for the niche audience on LinkedIn; and 3) a little known tool on Google that lets you locate images on the Internet that match one you already have.

I do so because I reject the idea that an advantage lies in secret knowledge. I believe I’m connecting with a more promising source of opportunity: a network of prospects who resonate with me and with what I have to offer.

And if they resonate with me at all, it won’t be because I’m the sole possessor of the-latest-and-greatest skill or trade secret. To me the advantage lies in demonstrating relevant ability (thus my term “credibility”) combined with sincerity (thus my term “good will”).

Get real. Business people are still people.

As revolutionary as the content marketing approach may appear to some, along with its emphasis on sharing, I believe it’s really nothing new. Just take a stroll through  the farmers’ market and you’ll see what I mean. (The free samples are irresistible, right?)

And not only is it not the unsustainable business model the naysayers say, but it’s a corollary of an older and more widely acknowledged principle of business.

Consider the adage, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” In my younger days I bridled against this truism, because it seemed to endorse the distasteful idea of politics and connections trumping talent and ability.

But as I matured I saw that it merely reflected a reality of human nature: that we tend to trust those we know, and eventually, to do business with those we trust.

I came to realize it’s a principle no more divisive and exclusionary than other social bonds we practice and even celebrate. Admittedly the times they are a changing, and the idea that people can really “know” someone through the Internet may be more comfortable to millennials, but it’s a reality.

Meet them halfway.

Still, I think old school creatives can take comfort in the fact that “what you know” isn’t thrown out the window completely. It’s just that, in a New Age of Options,  expertise seems ubiquitous and trust more limited. So we need to meet potential clients halfway and win their trust while we demonstrate the expertise.

And the bad news for the “trade secrets” way of doing things is that secrets tend to chip away at trust, not nurture it.

Certainly the jury is still out, and while the ideas I’m describing are widely acknowledged among marketing professionals, only time will tell. Still, my interpretation of content marketing is not one of “four billion profit centres trying to sell their services to 4 billion customers,” as one critic has put it.

Rather, I have a greater chance of success finding legitimate prospects among a group of people that, though smaller than 4 billion, actually feels they know me, whether that “knowing” is literal or virtual.