I’m writing today because I’m worried about the lack of originality in the content that’s being created. Google makes it easy to look up “How to Start a Blog and Get 100,000 Page Views“, and follow someone else’s path. As a marketer we’re taught “search engine optimization”, which is how to optimize posts and your website to rank higher on Google. This process consist of keyword research, repeating that keyword, and linking to other sites.
Ranking higher for Google is important, if you have to make money, you certainly want to optimize for Google so that people can find you. When it becomes a problem is when you focus too much on optimization and using a known formula, and not enough on good original content. (See: BuzzFeed)
This problem came to my attention based off two movies I watched this week. On Tuesday I went to see Get Out after seeing the great reviews it got and all of my friends telling me it’s a must see. Thankfully I did because it was the best experience I’ve had at the movies since I watched Interstellar in 2014. I typically don’t see horror movies, I didn’t know any of the actors, and the trailer seemed weird to me. I didn’t go see Get Out because it was familiar, or because of ads that showed up on my timeline. I went because it was amazing original content that spread by word of mouth.
On the other hand, I also watched X-Men Apocalypse at home to prepare for the new Wolverine movie that’s coming out. X-Men had a A-list actors, superheros we all know, and the same plot line as most Marvel movies. In other words, X-Men used a known formula. They knew just based on having Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique that people would show up to the theaters. And they did, Apocalypse made $155 million in the United States alone, but the movie was forgettable.
Marvel and X-Men aren’t alone with their unoriginal formulaic approach to movies. In both 2013 and 2014, seven of the top 10 grossing films were either Hollywood sequels or prequels. Hollywood needs to make money, and instead of taking the risk with original content, they are pumping out remakes and superhero movies. The music industry can be thought of in the same light, they know what makes a radio hit, so that’s what the majority of artist strive for. There’s not much variation in the Top 50 songs on Spotify, and that’s not by accident.
Optimizing your work so it’s seen by more people will help you in the short run, but what type of content sticks? I could create a blog around BuzzFeed like list, “7 Ways to Land a Digital Marketing Job”, put in a few gifs, and watch the views rack up. But that’s not the type of article that pushes anyone forward or people tell their friends about, it’s clickbait. My article on college education came from the heart, and it was the type of work I’m proud to put into the world. I promoted the same way as all my blog posts and it spread like crazy because enough people cared to tell someone, and then those people told someone.
My idol Seth Godin says it best:
“When something forces you to remark on it, by definition it is remarkable. This is what your new business strategy should be focusing on, finding ways to make your customers talk about your products to their friends.”
Sure, I could find ways to optimize my posts so that I get more views and get the ego boost. But that’s not the work I, nor you, should set out to create. The goal of all content should be creating remarkable content that comes from the heart. Instead, most of us search for popularity that corrupts our work. I’ll leave you with one last piece from Seth Godin who says it better than I ever could.
You’d think that it’s the most important thing in the world. Homecoming queen, student body president, the most Facebook friends, Oscar winner, how many people are waiting in line at the book signing…
Popular is almost never a measure of impact, or genius, or art. Popular rarely correlates with guts, hard work or a willingness to lead (and be willing to be wrong along the way).
I’ll grant you that being popular (at least on one day in November) is a great way to get elected President. But in general, the search for popular is wildly overrated, because it corrupts our work, eats away at our art and makes it likely we’ll compromise to please the anonymous masses.
Worth considering is the value of losing school elections and other popularity contests. Losing reminds you that the opinion of unaffiliated strangers is worthless. They don’t know you, they’re not interested in what you have to offer and you can discover that their rejection actually means nothing. It will empower you to even bigger things in the future…
When you focus on delighting an audience you care about, you strip the masses of their power. – Seth Godin
Let’s not be part of the problem, but part of the solution. If you’re just a consumer of content, seek out the original work that speaks to you, and make sure to let that person know you enjoyed their piece. I had total strangers reach out to me about my college piece, and those interactions meant more to me than any number of page views ever could. If you create content, try creating from the path less taken, don’t try to use someone else’s formula.
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