I’m worried about content marketing. And social media, for that matter.

I’ve been a content marketing and social media professional for roughly the last six years. I was, and continue to be, excited about the potential of social media and content marketing to change the business world for the better. But these days, I cringe when I go on Facebook or Twitter. I find myself pondering a strange and uncomfortable question:

As human beings, are we ultimately unsuited to social media?

Self righteous indignation has become America’s national pastime. (Schadenfreude is a close second.) I’m not just talking about people complaining on Facebook about bad service. People really enjoy piling on when someone else makes a mistake. And a lot of websites and Facebook pages seem completely devoted to amplifying and broadcasting those mistakes.

Here’s an example: a few weeks ago I saw a status update from a young woman who said something disparaging about people who join the military. It was unfair, unwarranted, disrespectful and showed no gratitude for the sacrifice that the volunteer military makes to help keep us safe.

But ultimately, so what? I doubt more than a handful of people would’ve seen it if it hadn’t been picked up and spread. Of all the people I’ve met in my life who give less of a damn what idiots think of them, serving military personnel and veterans are at or near the top of that list. Regardless, one young woman said something stupid and thousands of people piled on, to the point where I was genuinely worried she might be getting death threats.

Is this really how we want to use a worldwide network of information and connection?

As for content marketing, we may as well replace the word “content” with “linkbait.” Yesterday, I saw a video showing people they were using little paper ketchup cups the wrong way. As I said when I shared it on Facebook, “If you’re creating content for people too stupid to use ketchup, how long are you going to stay in business?”

Marketers are seeing the value of content, but predictably have galloped right past the point of diminishing returns to the point of absurdity and eventually, destruction. How tired are you of headlines like, “This one guy did this one thing and what happened next is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened, and maybe somebody exploded, but actually they didn’t”?

Does anyone really think this is sustainable? Does anyone care?

We do know what is sustainable. We’ve known it in our hearts and in our guts, and we can finally prove it: giving your audience useful, interesting, well-written content that amuses and engages them while at the same time helps solve their business problems.

Why don’t more people do that all the time? Again, there’s a simple answer: because doing it is hard. But it’s the only thing that works if you want to build trust, build a reputation and build relationships.

I hope we can survive the coming backlash. Social media went through a backlash because it never lived up to the hype piled upon it by people who really didn’t know what it was. The same thing is happening with content marketing, and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

If you want to do one thing to help, share good examples of useful, interesting content. The more we do that, the more we can all help prove that quality will win in the end.

Headline writers need to adapt to social media

Today in North Carolina there was an Amber Alert for a one-year-old girl in a stolen car. The headlines in local media were along the lines of, “Search continues for missing High Point girl.”

I first saw the story on my iPhone, and I’m sure many others viewed it on a mobile device. To get the most potentially-important information, namely the description and license plate of the vehicle, you had to click through to read the story. I did, but I wonder how many others did.

The most helpful headline would have been, “Missing child in stolen white Suburban, NC license BJXXXXX.” (I’m not putting the actual plate number here as the girl has, thankfully, been found.) That would have provided useful information to someone who only read the headline.

In content marketing, we talk all the time about how to make our content easily consumable on mobile devices. Businesses are adapting their content for mobile consumption. It’s time for the media to do the same, even if just in cases of urgent need. A teaser headline may get more click throughs, but it may also make it more likely that vital information is ignored.

The hottest new social network: marketers take note

Social media usage statistics for the month of July show that early adopters and influencers are leaving Facebook in favor of a new crop of social networks. These location-based food photo sharing apps place funny quotes on top of the picture, designed to attack people who don’t share the user’s political believes. The hottest one is called SaidNoOneEver. There is no Android app as of yet.

$1 billion for Instagram was a bargain

There’s been a great deal of controversy about Facebook’s purchase of photo sharing site Instagram for $1 billion. As always, people are heralding it as a harbinger of a new social media bubble.

How can a site like Instagram possibly be worth that much, and how can it add to Facebook’s share value? But that’s the wrong question. The real question is, “How much is the future worth?”

Facebook is in the same league with Google and Apple as a company that transcends commerce and is defining how we live digitally. Steve Jobs didn’t make decisions based solely on immediate gain, as anyone who has read his biography knows. And I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is making decisions based on share price. (I don’t claim to know anything more about him than anyone else who saw that movie, but I bet they have some interesting board meetings.)

Instagram has changed the way people share and engage around photos, and has brought together photography and mobile in a way that nothing else has. I’ve waited patiently for a good Flickr app for the iPhone. I finally got it with Instagram. I would go so far as to say Instagram is helping define a new visual paradigm for communication.

Facebook has so much money, that, like Google and Apple, they can afford to spend it on buying things that make sense, that are cool, that work, that define the future. Whatever Facebook does with Instagram, they own it now, and no one else will. In Zuckerberg’s mind, I’m sure that sounds like a bargain.

Now, when will Amazon buy Pinterest, and for how much? 2 billion?

Engage on your customers’ terms, not your own.

car lot signI just got a call from my local Subaru dealer. “We notice it’s been four years since you bought your Subaru and we just wanted to check in to see how everything is going.” It doesn’t take much to translate that into, “It’s a slow sales month and we’re going back through our records and calling people who might be ready to buy a new car.”

This is the only time in that four years that anyone from the dealership has contacted me, other than to send oil change coupons or follow up on service visits. Their attempt to “engage” with me felt spammy and one-sided, in no small part because it came out of the blue. I’m sure the strategy is “contact customers who might be ready to buy,” but in practice it becomes “contact customers every four years and start over again.”

By the time the sales process was complete, I had spent a fair amount of time with the salesperson, and we’d developed a bit of a rapport. That vanished the moment I drove off the lot. I can’t remember his name. If I wanted to buy a new car today, I wouldn’t have a clue how to find him. “Hi, I was in here four years ago and bought an Outback from a white guy, kind of young, about yay high, blue shirt. Is he around?”

The fact is, I did buy a new car about four months ago. And I test drove a Subaru. I suspect, knowing me, I probably talked about it online. If Whitey McBlueshirt had stayed connected with me, I might have bought a Subaru WRX from him instead of a VW GTI from another guy who dropped off the face of the Earth as soon as the ink was dry on the contract.

If you engage with your customers in an honest and mutually-beneficial way, they will appreciate it. If you build a relationship, there are many tools available to help you maintain it. If you repackage traditional, hackneyed, one-sided sales techniques with a veneer of “engagement,” all but the most naive will see through you.

image by s myers

Do we need new titles?

a very nice photo of a roseI’ve been tired of the arguments over “social media experts” for a long time. There’s also the recurring meme about people with unusual titles (ninja, guru) and that one bores me as well. If all you have to write about is semantics, dig a little deeper.

But here’s a nomenclature discussion that makes sense to me. The PR firm GolinHarris has tossed out their old title scheme and adopted a new one:

Strategists, who analyze a client’s business;

Creators, who develop new ideas and engage in brand storytelling;

Connectors, who reach target audiences through media and other channels;

Catalysts, who manage client relationships.

(Thanks, and a tip of the blog hat to Publicity Club of New England, where I found out about it.)

I’ve always been a big fan of clarity and saying what you mean. Those titles seem to me to say pretty clearly what those people do (with the possible exception of Catalyst—that one seems a little less descriptive and more like marketing speak).

With the speed at which things are changing in the communications and marketing world, and the different ways we are pursuing those activities, it makes sense to rethink the way we talk about what we do. Two of my three most recent titles didn’t exist five years ago.

The big question, of course, is will this provide clarity and value to clients, or will it confuse people? Regardless, it’s a bold step and one that seems to me to involve more than just semantics.

What do you think of those titles? And do you think we need new ones, or should we let the old ones evolve?

image by suchitra