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procrustes1

Procrustes, if you have never read the Greek myth, was this sadistic innkeeper that Theseus meets who took the phrase “one size fits all” with murderous literality. If you were too big for his bed, he’d cut off your legs.  If you were too small he’d stretch you out on a rack.  Pretty horrible story to put in a book for kids.   (Thanks for all the nightmares D’Aulaires.)

As a metaphor, maybe it works for content creation — not only is it unclear to brand marketers how much content is the right amount to post, and the rules seem to be changing, but it also feels like getting it wrong can be disastrous.

So how much content should brands be creating on a regular basis to build and attract an audience?

We get asked this all the time, and no one has a good answer.

Some say it is the wrong question.

(Rule of thumb, when people say something is the wrong question often that means it is actually the right question, but no one knows how to answer it).

Of late, many content marketing thought leaders, like our friend Robert Rose at the Content Marketing Institute, have been arguing that brands are simply creating too much content and fatiguing their audiences.   That even when the content is pretty good, it won’t be heard above the noise.

They have a point.

At the same time, we hear seemingly contradictory advice from Social Media gurus like Jay Baer who advocate for quantity over quality , at least when it comes to satisfying the fickle whims of social network algorithms.

We don’t know the magic number for posting frequency, but we do have a different way of thinking about the problem.

Instead of thinking you have one earned, unpaid audience for your content, what if you have three?

There are:

1) Humans who consume your content

2) Social network algorithms who decide if your content is engaging

AND

3) Search engine spiders who decide if your content is relevant, and engaging.

These are your audiences, and you can write for one of them directly, or for all three.

Humans can be reached reliably and directly through email but they really don’t want to be bothered with noise.  Humans would prefer that if you do get their attention, that you create very special, highly produced content that shows significant effort and thought.

If your brand is going to interrupt a human, you pretty much have a tacit obligation to make it worth their time.    Even if your brand team is regularly developing brilliant ideas each day (and creating this content can sometimes be expensive in terms of time and effort) you will tire out human attention.  For humans, quality always trumps quantity.

Social networks, on the other hand, encourage us to speak our minds regularly. Their algorithms are complex and interesting.

I highly recommend this incredibly helpful and entertaining video by The Game Theorists to understand how they work.   But to sum up: Facebook/YouTube prefer regular and *recent* engagement with audiences.  Too frequent engagements can actually reduce the overall engagement with any particular piece content which  lowers overall engagement scores. For social you actually have to get the quantity just right.

Search, finally, is an educated gamble.   To do SEO right, you are essentially buying lottery tickets by guessing/researching the words you hope your customers care about. At one time, you could improve your chances of winning by simply buying more tickets.  And if you don’t buy any tickets, you certainly can’t win, so quantity has to be some part of a search strategy.

But on the other hand, search is increasingly penalizing companies for creating content that Google perceives as thin, as Rand Fishkin points out:

“Google’s entire Panda algorithm is designed to penalize thin or low-quality content and it even penalizes good sites that have lots of quality content if they’re also producing a lot of bad stuff. Just yesterday, in fact, an SEO emailed me asking about why his content wasn’t being indexed. After looking at some examples, it was clear that his methodology favored quantity over quality, and Google had determined those pages weren’t worthy of being in their index.”

So those tickets are getting more and more expensive.

So how do brands can win across all three audiences/channels, and what is the magic frequency?

We have three suggestions:

1) HUMANS: They are what really matter, so treat them nicely.

The direct human channels, like your email newsletter, are unimpeded by filtering intermediaries like social and search algorithms, except potentially spam filters.  These will be your most powerful and engaging paths to your content, your reliable reach.   So your content should be solely focused on human consumption — it should be remarkable, and likely to delight your audience.

Don’t send people content every day unless you are creating something exceptional to share with them, every day.  If you can accomplish this even once a week, that is a great goal.

2) SEARCH: Limit your investment in SEO focused content exclusively to your Mid-Funnel/Gateway Content. 

Create high quality content for Search only for the keywords that are likely to show a very strong intent to buy…ie. the Mid Funnel content.  While you might win the search lottery for things that don’t have much to do with your business, those visitors are probably unlikely to convert into customers. You might just create only four or five pieces of SEO focused content for each product line, targeted to the customer’s main pain points. And then retarget to that content once your customers have left.

3) SOCIAL: Try patronage: attract a social audience using influencers.

You want your brand to be big in social? Well experts like Jay Baer are  increasingly pessimistic that spending money and time building Facebook likes for your company will be money well spent; social networks  are expecting brands to pay for content distribution, even to their “own” audiences. (I put quotes there because brands don’t really own their audiences on, say, Facebook or Twitter. They just think they do.)

Since your customers are on social networks, you still need to try to reach them.  There are plenty of individuals who have made it their profession to maintain and cultivate an engaged social audience, so why not use them to  cut through the social gatekeepers and bring you engaged social traffic?

In order to unlock those audiences, you may need to compensate these creators not just for creating the content, but also for moving their audiences to content they create on your behalf.

Now you are still getting a paid audience (as opposed to an earned audience) — through the author channel instead of from, say, Facebook.

But on the positive side that audience will be more trusting, targeted and engaged. In fact, they may even appreciate that your brand is providing patronage to their favorite content creator.


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