Everyone celebrates the magic of the internet because it removed the obstacles between any of us and all of us.
For the first time, someone with zero resources could reach an audience of billions and change the world.
But every sliver lining has its cloud and content marketers are experiencing the unintended consequences of a barrier-less world...
The internet changes everything by removing some major obstacles that governed the world of communication
You know these so I'll be quick:
1. It removed the barriers to content creation and distribution
It used to cost a lot of money to reach a lot of people. You needed a printing press. Or a radio station. Or a TV network.
Only a very few people could afford these things, so only a very few people benefited from the power of mass communication.
The internet nuked this model. Now all you need to be Charles Foster Kane is a keyboard and some WiFi.
2. It did away with the 'gatekeepers' who control public discourse.
When time on a printing press or in a TV studio was a uniquely precious commodity, we needed people that could decide which voices merited access. These 'editors' discovered the best talent, helped the chosen few hone their voices and filtered out the rest.
The internet gave editors the boot. It said, "Get the hell out of our way; we all have a voice that deserves to be heard, for we are the PEOPLE." (cue that song from Les Mis and get yourself to the nearest barricade).
3. It showed us that you don't need a super-talent to get your message out and be heard
We once thought that only geniuses deserved to be heard, people like Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Art Garfunkel. These were special people who rose to the top and earned their time in the spotlight or their slice of the airwaves. The rest of us were 'average' and, frankly, didn't.
The internet proved that a baby with an infectious giggle or a cat with a copier could become as famous as Lady Gaga.
A Content Marketing beast is born
The astute Econsultancy blog readers among you (and I count you among them) will have noticed by now that these three 'game changers' are the very same things that released the awesome power that is Content Marketing.
Yes, the juggernaut rendering all old-school marketing obsolete is made possible by the big three: free ways to create and distribute ideas; the absence of people paid to protect the rest of us from these ideas; and the liberating notion that we all possess, in our own special way, as valid a voice as Jerry Lewis.
Your inner Nutty Professor is hereby released (I'm hearing 'Gurn Free' to the tune of 'Born Free' right about now, but I'm tired of supplying a soundtrack here: make your own).
So here's the problem:
I miss the barriers.
I'm not so sure I like a world unburdened by these formidable obstacles.
I want them back.
What the Barriers did for us all
I recognise that, throughout history, the Big Three Barriers eliminated countless voices that, had they been heard, could have changed the world.
We have all been denied the genius of a thousand Thoreaus, a million Melvilles and a googolplex of Gandhis.
But the Barriers also served a purpose that could use a bit of serving today:
- The high cost of communication channels made people think twice before dumping their thoughts on to the page. And thinking twice is a fantastic idea. Thinking three or more times is even better.
- The gatekeepers elevated the few and suppressed the many. Yes, because the many generally suck. And, while bad gatekeepers gave us people like Justin Bieber, good ones gave us The New Yorker. And Vladimir Nabokov. And Gillian Welch. Not bad gate-keeping, huh?
- The idea that 'you need special talents to deserve a stage' kept people without these talents off stage. And off-stage is where they belong.
Because you do need special talents to actually reach people: talents like empathy, honesty, intelligence, expertise, style, wit and personality. You don't need all of them in massive quantities but you need at least a bit of a few.
You don't need any talent to publish a blog (you just need Wordpress). But you do need it to publish a blog worth reading.
You don't need to be especially articulate to write an eBook (you just need TextEdit Pro). But you do need to be able to say what you mean with precision and economy to write an eBook anyone will read and share.
You don't need to be visually literate to design an infographic (you just need one of those free online infographerators). But if you want your infographic to move people, you need design chops. And talent. And imagination. And -- god forbid – an idea.
It's time to build your own barriers
All those nasty obstacles are gone. They're not coming back, but if you're going to be the awe-inspiring content marketer you were put on Earth to be, you need to find a way to re-introduce these barriers and put them between your company and your audience.
Pretend every word you publish costs you a Euro.
Pretend the world's nastiest editor is sitting right outside your office and he's delayed his lunch break to read your work.
Pretend Simon Bloody Cowell and his 'judges' are deciding whether to put you into the live show. (For this to be effective you also need to pretend that Simon Cowell himself has talent and that his judges were chosen for their ability to spot it and, here's the hard one, that you give a shit).
Because, here's the thing: communication may not be expensive any more but attention is.
In fact, it's the most expensive commodity on the planet (just edging out those rare earth metals that the Chinese seems to have cornered the market on).
And because Harold Ross is no longer here to tell you that your latest piece needs some serious re-writing, you need to create your own, internal Mr Ross (not even James Thurber or E.B. White called him 'Harold').
And you may not need a super-talent anymore, but unless you can tap into whatever very real talents you do have, and work on them tirelessly, you will never be more than the million bloggers out there who grind out info-gruel and spray yadda-yadda juice into the void.
Now that anyone can speak, everyone is speaking. Your job is to be heard above this deafening din.
Now that there's no one judging your work, you need to judge it all the more harshly. (Shooting from the hip only worked for Jesse James because he practiced.)
Now that every mumbling moron with a Galaxy S is posting for posterity, you need to earn whatever slice of attention you deserve. And 'earning' implies – no, it demands – work.
The Barriers are gone.
Long live the barriers.