Content Marketers Could Become Their Own Worst Enemy

Content is powerful. It helps websites and companies earn traffic, earn amplification through social media, build trust with an audience, all at a cost far lower than traditional or online paid marketing channels. But, sometime in the next few years, I’m worried that it may become a more challenging, more risky, and less dividend-paying investment.

The problem is (or will be) content fatigue. And we’ve no one to blame but ourselves:

I strongly suspect that the impressions vs. clicks of content seen via social/email/blogs/etc. will, over the next decade, look a lot like ad impressions/CTRs have over the past decade. (source: MarketingZeus)

8,765 hours is all that any of us have in a year. And while the time spent on social media, or mobile gaming, or watching online videos, or consuming infographics, or reading blog posts may go up, it is inherently limited. Every new activity cannibalizes another. Today, it’s still not hard (at least in most fields) to stand out from the competition by producing something remarkable or unique, but given another decade of marketing budgets shifting toward content and we’ll be in a very different content landscape.

The signs are already there.

#1) Facebook has dramatically reduced the ability of brand posts to reach fans (from avgs. ~16% down to ~3%). It’s argued that this action is intended to increase advertising spend, but another big goal could certainly be to reduce clutter in the news feed.

#2) Social Media Trends from Pew & Piper Jaffrey suggest that, at least for younger users, Facebook may have already seen peak usage. For now, those users are moving to other platforms (like <shudder>…Snapchat…</shudder>), but I expect we’ll see graphs in the next few years showing growth rates reaching their peak for multiple networks.

#3) Every year, the Moz industry survey shows the same thing – more and more marketers investing in content creation and content promotion on social channels. We are producing more content, and we’re promoting that content more and more over wider and wider arrays of channels. That’s exactly what marketers should do… but it’s also going to inevitably mean more competition for the same eyeballs. Unlike search results, there’s an unlimited amount of content we can create and, through email/social/blogs expose to our potential customers. The ten link limit won’t help, and the paradox of choice psychology becomes almost inevitable.

#4) Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that earning amplification has become much harder across all of my social networks in the past 18 months. Despite having 2-3X the number of followers/likes/encirclers, I struggle to reach the same number of people or receive the same number of clicks/shares/RTs/etc. Apparently, I’m not alone – apparently, Twitter CTR gets exponentially worse as followers grow.

#5) Some of the heaviest content consumers I know of in the B2B world are, perhaps not surprisingly, those whose work touches on SEO. Our field moves incredibly fast and has a dramatic amount of new, useful information each month. But where can we really go from the 2 days/month on average (according to SEMPO’s recent survey) marketing professionals spending consuming SEO content?

To be clear, the trends I’m sharing above are NOT proof that content fatigue is real yet. At this point, they’re just warning signs. But what I strongly suspect is a world where this will be the case:


Perhaps most frustratingly, the first groups to experience this are the ones marketers are often trying hardest to reach – the influencers. Journalists, bloggers, writers, speakers, and those with large social followings are already plenty tough to access, and if my guesses are right, it’s going to get harder and harder to break through the clutter.

Bottom line: whatever you’re doing in content strategy, production and promotion today had better be so runaway incredible that you can earn and own an audience soon, before the world of content (potentially) goes from the wild west, to an overcrowded, hyper-competitive field where standing out to jaded, fatigued consumers is 10X harder than it is today.

p.s. For more on a similar topic, check out Content Shock from Mark Schaefer (hat tip to Christopher Penn on G+ for the link)