Content Shock: Myth or Disconcerting Reality?

If you follow trends in content marketing, you’ve probably heard the phrase “content shock.”  “Info overload” and “content shock” are terms that have been thrown around a lot in the past few months, after the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, Mark Schaefer, posted an article earlier this year on his personal website. The article highlights how content marketing is leading to an overwhelming amount of information that will damage businesses down the road. At the time of writing, the post has 1,335 Twitter shares, 728 Facebook shares, 487 LinkedIn shares, and 685 comments on the blog page alone. Hundreds of blog posts have also been written in response to Mark Schaefer’s much-discussed article.

What Is Content Shock?

According to Schaefer, content marketing isn’t a lasting trend. He believes humans can only absorb a certain amount of information until they short-circuit. The “shock,” then, is the impending content marketing doom theory: when people’s ability to consume a seemingly endless stream of online content essentially ends, that will also be the end of content marketing as we know it.

Danger-High-Voltage

Predictions are drastic. Schaefer and his supporters believe the cost of creating and curating content will exceed businesses’ ability to pay for it. As a result, only big name brands with endless funds will be able to afford to create content, which will increase the price of entering the market. Small companies will go out of business, and startups will fail due to the difficulty of breaking into the online market.

Schaefer supports his argument by providing statistics, such as the fact that the amount of available web content is actually doubling every 9 to 24 months.

Info Overload: A Brief History

We’ve actually been talking about content shock for decades. Futurist and socialist Alvin Toffler, in his 1970 book Future Shock, coined the phrase “information overload” (also sometimes referred to as “infoxication” or “infobesity”). The premise of the text is that when humans are presented with too much information, they shut down, stop functioning, and fail to make reasonable decisions.

future-shock

Toffler referred to information overload as “the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future. It may well be the most important disease of tomorrow. […] Just as the body cracks under the strain of environmental overstimulation, the ‘mind’ and its decision processes behave erratically when overloaded.”

Are We Living in the Age of Future Shock?

Toffler’s theory boils down to recognizing the simple feeling of being out of control. In the early 70s, Toffler provided statistics about how quickly technology was advancing. As a result, he believed that the average person was already overwhelmed, isolated, and depressed. He surmised that individuals in the age of info overload would feel cut off from human relationships due to a constant, devastating barrage of messages and data.

information-overload

These days, technology naysayers scatter similar statistics: the number of tweets sent per second, the number of YouTube videos created each day, and how many hours per week millennials spend online, among others.

Even as recently as seven years ago, AdAge posted an article about the impending online “attention crash.” The post speculated that human attention has limits, while it seems technology does not. The author of the post even referred to the phenomenon as a crisis and an epidemic. Yikes?

Then again, based on the time Toffler wrote the book (almost half a century ago), we’re already living in the age of future shock – and, according to analysis, we seem to be doing okay.

Info Overload Today

Every controversial idea must have its foil. A lot of very smart people have countered the argument of content shock, even going so far as to argue that most people enjoy being constantly exposed to content.

I personally think Toffler was right – in some ways. We live in an era of constant data and ubiquitous technology. But, this technology doesn’t isolate us; rather, it helps us stay connected to each other. It keeps us in touch with others who share our interests, helps us learn more about the world around us, and reconnects us with old friends. The online world even allows us to learn what other people have said about their favorite restaurants or even which dentist to use. We also have tools to control the amount of data we receive. We can opt out, unsubscribe, mute, unfollow, block, sign out, set status to private, or even hit the “off” button.

emergency off

A study from Northwestern University concluded that “very few Americans feel bogged down or overwhelmed by the volume of news and information at their fingertips and on their screens.” Instead, people “feel empowered and enthusiastic. [They] are able to get their news and information from a diverse set of sources and they seem to like having those options.”

What It All Means for Content Marketing

As it turns out, consumers aren’t complaining about an overload. Content is still king – and context is queen. Readers and viewers want content that talks about their niche. People flock toward content that solves a problem or appeals to their individual interests. While it’s indubitable that the overall amount of content is on the rise, even Schaefer believes niche content will remain manageable.

In addition, online content curation means that consumers have the ability to filter through tons of material, enabling them to find the content with which they want to engage. And, while Schaefer believes information overload will make content marketing unattainable for small businesses, content relies on PR more than money, since content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing. Almost 50% of marketers even struggle to produce enough content.

People still care about content, and content marketers aren’t finished creating new and innovative ways to get their messages across. It comes down to quality content that is relatable, unique, and uses multiple forms of media. We’ve talked about this time and time again on our blog – from reaching out to consumers’ emotions to using good storytelling to get your message across.

Even Schaefer acknowledges that great content is a mix of writing quality, SEO, keyword competition, relevance to local search, and more. As it turns out, a lot of businesses are “asleep at the wheel” right now – that is, failing to create content at all. As it stands, content marketing is still the way to get a leg up on the competition.

Whether or not a “content shock” is coming, it all comes down to this: content marketing is working now, so make hay while the proverbial sun shines. Simply put: consumers don’t care about the amount of content thrown at them as long as it’s content they find interesting and worth their while.

Do you think the content shock theory rings true? How do you perceive the current state of content marketing?

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Tree

Tree is a somewhat nomadic graduate student pursuing an MFA in Poetry and Literary Translation from Drew University. A self-identified “diplobrat,” she spent over 16 years living as an expat in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, and Tanzania. Tree graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature, a minor in Studio Art, and a concentration in Landscape Studies. In between writing poetry for school and content for CEM, she dabbles in goat herding and freelancing. Other interests include reading, watercolor painting, gardening, and traveling.

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