Lies My Content Marketing Expert Told Me

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I enjoy writing my monthly column for Windmill Networking.  The drill usually involves talking to industry experts and doing lots of reading.  As far as the latter goes, here’s a great trick that I learned: tune your Twitter listening to #contentmarketing; you will get a veritable fire hose of relevant information.

There are many fine articles to read.  There’s also often a numbing sameness in the Twitter stream, making it seem like we all went to the identical school of headline writing and use our prescribed tricks on our own content (if I don’t read one more “10 Ways to get your Content Read…” or similar article or tweet, I will be just fine).

The flood of articles shows that it is a fast-paced and rapidly growing field.  While I have learned much, I’ve also seen some things repeated endlessly that I believe are not true, or at least deserve further examination.

So I thought I would take this opportunity to call out some of these Great Lies of Content Marketing (with the caveat that I come from a mostly B2B and tech background, and work with many smaller companies AKA startups; I understand that people in other fields may have different experiences).

Lie #1: Content is King

While it is hard to dispute the importance of great content – and the rise of content as a key weapon in the marketing arsenal – can we really say that it is king?

I doubt that this one article will change anything, because the lie seems to be pretty well entrenched – but I hereby move to dethrone content.   It has become a commodity, something that generally does not command princely sums.  There is just so darn much of it; publishers fret over how to monetize it, and marketers churn out endless amounts, much of it of questionable quality (damned content marketers!).  User-generated content adds to the noise.

So, if the old king is dead, who – or what – is the new ruler?  In my second article I proposed that attention now reigns supreme; what do others think? The word cloud illustration was generated from articles on the topic (my last column focused on the use of imagery in content marketing; word clouds are a great way to combine images with text, and show which words and phrases are most popular; here, I simply copied and pasted the text into Wordle).

The articles were from esteemed sources such as AllThingsD, Business 2 Community, MediaPost and others.   There are a variety of opinions, and there does not seem to be a clear winner to replace content – leading contenders are distribution, context and the reader/audience.

Lie #2:  If it ain’t Viral, it ain’t Worth a @##$%

Many still seem to want to chase the viral Holy Grail and produce that YouTube video or other content that catches on and spreads like wildfire.   Of course, most don’t.

First, as I have blogged, it is well near impossible to predict what will become a hit.  Research has proved this.  There are complex systems involved; people are unpredictable.  That does not mean that you cannot boost the odds of going viral, and that there aren’t common elements to popular content.  It just means that you can never be sure what will rise to the top.

Second, your content probably does not have to go viral for you to call the campaign a success.   Assuming you are interested in some business result and not just trying to entertain a lot of people, the laws of ROI say that the return – in terms of increased traffic, name recognition, Web site registrations, sales, however you measure it – has to be greater than the investment.

Instead, consider the audience you are targeting and make sure that you have ways to monitor the progress and success of campaigns.  You do need to consider what types of content will be interesting enough to become popular amongst your target audience and help you achieve your business results even without any viral effect.

Lie #3: You Should Develop and Use an Editorial Calendar

I have seen many articles that recommend publisher-style editorial calendars to organize social media content creation and posting activities.  After all, companies and their brands are supposed to be publishers these days too, right?

But I believe that the importance of these calendars is overstated.   I am sure there must be some social media and content marketing programs that are run like professional publishing operations and benefit from calendars, but I haven’t seen one.   And I sadly confess that I have been party to more than a few calendars that started with grand ambitions, but seemed to fizzle out somewhere along the way.

To twist the old saying about PowerPoint being the final resting place for info, aren’t editorial calendars where great social media topics go to die?  This is because it is hard to know far in advance what the hot topics in your communities will be, and it is challenging enough to get teams to crank out high quality, impactful and relevant content consistently, let alone do this within the constraints of a rigid topic schedule.

But don’t you need some kind of calendar to organize the team and keep the content flowing?  Not at all.  I believe that the drumbeat should be more like improvisational jazz than an intricately arranged symphony.  Or maybe the more fitting metaphor is comedy – the comparison that is made in this great post on agile content marketing.

Lie #4: You Need to Engage Consumers with Your Content

Marketers seem to crave engagement – and fret when there is not enough.  After all, we want people to enjoy interacting with our content.   This generally means that they are spending quality time with our info and, by association, our brand.

But I submit that engagement is overrated.  It takes time (a precious resource for most people these days) to spend time with content.  Engagement can involve content creation, like blog comments and Twitter replies; as Forrester’s famous Social Technographics surveys show, most people are not active content creators.

While engagement is important for many types of social media and marketing programs, when it comes to content marketing – which is often about generating demand and nurturing leads through the sales cycle – its benefits are not quite as clear.

Common goals for content marketing can be to get attention, draw people in and advance a business goal.   Whether this happens through some preconceived online engagement scenario or otherwise does not really matter – what does matter is that your content makes an impression and inspires some kind of action, leading to a positive business outcome.  The action could be a click, Facebook ‘like,’ tweet, registration – or it could just as easily be calling a friend about the info, driving down to your store to make a purchase, or placing a phone order.

Lie #5:  Curation is a Cure for the Lazy Blogger Blues

Some articles mistakenly describe content curation (which I explain in detail in an earlier column) as a shortcut, the fast track that lets you build online presence by leveraging OPC (other people’s content).

This simply is not true.  As I wrote in my post Content Curation: Overcoming Challenges, Tapping OpportunitiesEffective curation is a skill; there’s no question it can boost your content output, but doing this in a way that is effective requires time, effort, and knowledge .

Lie #6: The Rise of Social Media Means the End of Interruption Marketing

In my very first post on this blog, I wrote:  content marketing [is] part of the larger trend towards inbound marketing, i.e. tactics designed to pull the customer in rather than bludgeon them with purely outbound efforts like traditional display advertising, Web banner and pop-up ads, direct mail, telemarketing or commercials.  {These trends] are… decreasing the importance of traditional, so-called interruption marketing.

While I still believe that the balance of informational power has shifted to the consumer – and that traditional interruption marketing is declining – the interruption is by no means finished with us.

No, in the battle for our attentions, the interruption has barely just begun.  Just consider your daily social media and info consumption habits.  How much content do you discover through searching, for example, compared with info that gets sent your way through Twitter, Facebook, email etc.?  What rises above the noise in your world?

We no longer go out and find info – info finds us.  It is shared across social media channels or pushed to our devices.  We are seeing the rise of the peer group as news and content editors and distributors.

The power of the interruption will only grow.  Savvy marketers are realizing this, and jumping on board.

Have you begun to realize this as well?

Bob Geller
This monthly Content Marketing and Social Media column is contributed by Bob Geller. Bob is president of Fusion PR, and has a background that combines a solid grounding in technology with a 25 year record of success in sales, marketing, and public relations. Bob joined Fusion in 2000, and has helped build it into a leading independent tech PR agency. He has led client teams that have achieved outstanding results in areas ranging from enterprise tech, to telecom, online, CE, financial and clean tech. Bob also helped launch Social Fluency, a subsidiary of Fusion that develops dynamic social media practices which are integrated with traditional PR efforts. Bob has provided critical commentary to publications such as CMO Magazine, PR Week, PR News, and Bulldog Reporter. He created and manages the influential blog Flack’s Revenge, and has contributed to Cision Navigator, Ragan’s PR Daily, and Handshake 2.0, among others. +Bob Geller
Bob Geller


President of Fusion PR (, news junkie, music lover, dad.
RT @prconversations: Op-Ed by Diane Walsh (@Dianelou79) for @ciprinside: #internalcomms is not at all pink and fluffy - 2 hours ago
Bob Geller


  1. says

    Great common sense observations. As for edit calendars: Trade pubs use them to sell advertising, and the subject for any given week is usually a placeholder that gets fleshed out only when it’s time to assign the story — with perhaps some tweaking based on which advertisers signed up.  

    As for content being king, it may be too high-cost and high-maintenance for that — but high quality content is still a necessary part of the mix.

    Re both points: All my clients are hard-pressed just to get their messaging and editing acts together for “old fashioned” white papers and blog posts to put together and execute an editorial calendar. 

    I actually put together a short e-book on where curation, editing, etc. plays in the “value chain” of content marketing.

    Good stuff; keep keeping us honest!

  2. says

    Funny timing. I just did a webinar, June 20th, on article marketing for I do agree with most of what you say, but I do think content is still King, at least one of the top contenders for the title. But, it does need to initially be grabbing, then quickly turn to interesting and be provided on a regular basis.

    And, I found this post through Twitter, so having your content Shared is important too.

    Great post. Thanks!

  3. says

    So, Bob, are the two of us kindred spirits when it comes to some of these evolving ideas on what is or isn’t effective content (today)…or did my recent PR Conversations post have a bit of influence on this column (just like our email conversations earlier, influenced my thought process for “The communication prociess more important than outcomes”) ?

  4. Bob Geller says

    Judy, I would say Yes and Yes!  That is what great collaboration is about, probably one of the reasons we often cite each other

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