Is Controversy the Cure for Content Shock?
Content marketing occupies a strange place in the grand scheme of things: it’s certainly something that’s going to exist in one form or another for as long as the Internet exists. On the other hand, the form it will take has never been more uncertain.
The idea of content shock is not a new one, but it’s captured nearly as many headlines lately as Peak Oil. Content marketing is playing something of a zero-sum game; the audience doesn’t change much over time, therefore limiting the amount of content that can actually be consumed. With so much content being produced every day, you might suppose that there’s some truth to the idea that we’ll soon have both produced and consumed everything worth producing.
Is There Any Truth to Content Shock?
This is a question without an easy answer. While it makes sense on a certain level, plenty of influencers, including Shel Holtz, have been quick to point out that such predictions about content shock, though they went by different names, have been around for literally centuries. Nothing’s come of it yet.
That said, another part of the doomsayers’ predictions about content shock concerns the ever-increasing difficulty of breaking through all the noise. Even if you don’t buy into the idea that we’ll somehow, eventually, run out of “stuff” to post about on the Internet, it’s a great deal more difficult to deny that the cost of producing content capable of rising above the noise will soon be far greater than the business generated by that content.
Only time will be able to reveal the truth — or lack thereof — of the first part of the content shock theory. As for the second? There may be an answer for that.
Rise Above the Crowd by Embracing Controversy
If you don’t buy into the idea that content itself is a non-renewable resource, you probably have to at least concede that the challenge of providing valuable content has been increasing steadily over the last few years. Even if we’re not going to run out of content, there will always be a premium on top-tier content.
Controversy may be able to provide an unlikely remedy for this problem. Then again, maybe it’s not that unlikely when you consider how popular gossip and scandals are in the media. For example: it says something about our culture that the hateful rants of a television personality — a controversy no matter which side you take — were able to capture the public’s attention more successfully than did a piece of legislation concerning indefinite detention, which was passed by the US senate at precisely the same time that the Duck Dynasty scandal was making headlines.
Granted, the idea of controversy doesn’t have to be synonymous with scandal. It can take many forms, many of which may present important opportunities for marketers who find themselves worried about the diminishing returns of rehashing the same old content time and again, hastening the coming content shock apocalypse. Gordon Campbell did a great job covering this in a blog post – Increase your search engine rankings by using trashy content
Consider, for example, this infographic, which sheds some light on the cost of prescription drugs in the world. It actually ends up defending the pharmaceutical industry in the US in some fairly surprising ways, especially when you consider how contentiously debated America’s health care industry has been in recent years.
Is Controversy Worth It?
You may be asking yourself if courting controversy could possibly be worth it in the long run. It may be hard to believe, but the axiom about “no bad press” actually holds up fairly well. Breaking an unpopular story might feel like a risk, but it’s still going to get people talking about you.
The story is a couple years old by now, it’s a classic example: the Gizmodo iPhone 4 controversy from 2010, where a prototype Apple handheld was left at a bar. Gizmodo snatched it up and posted detailed photographs of it all over the web. The site — and Jason Chen in particular — were roundly condemned for breaking Apple’s famous veil of secrecy, but it’s not difficult to imagine the additional web traffic that Gizmodo enjoyed as a result. Here we are, still talking about it in 2014.
The only caveat here — and it echoes the above sentiment about the difference between “scandal” and “controversy” — is that there’s a difference between good and bad controversy. There are a lot of voices on the Internet screaming for attention, and the urge to break through that noise is an invitation to engage in some perhaps less-than-ethical practices, such as publishing deliberately misleading content to drum up attention, or betraying trade secrets.
Leveraging controversy can be a great way to drum up attention for media campaigns or call attention to important issues that wouldn’t otherwise get their due. Just remember that while controversy can be a great tool in the right hands, it can also end careers.