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Would Anyone Miss This? The Difference Between Content and Advertising

Whatever it is you’re making right now, stop for a second, and ask yourself a question. If I didn’t publish this, would anyone miss it? As people who make things to put on social media, this is THE question. As social becomes more and more algorithmically driven, and reach becomes an increasingly precious commodity, it’s the answer to this question at the beginning of your creation process that will guide what you do at every stage going forward.

If your answer is no, that’s ok. You’re making advertising. Advertising is great for a lot of things, but don’t make advertising and think you’re making content. Don’t make advertising and expect to receive organic reach. That Pearl Harbor Day post from the pre-packaged food brand? That’s advertising. Same with the R.I.P Prince tweet from the clothing store. If you’re trying to sell something that isn’t a concert ticket or the new season of Game of Thrones, that’s probably advertising too. If its non-existence wouldn’t cause people to ask for it, it’s advertising.

People are SICK of brands confusing advertising and content.


If the answer is yes, congratulations. You’re making content. You’re executing a permission marketing strategy. This is “the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” This is the holy grail of what we do as content marketers. If Tim Ferris stopped producing his podcast, I’d ask him why. If Harry’s quit publishing their Five O’ Clock magazine, I’d notice, and I’d be disappointed. My friend Kevin McCarty, a cycling enthusiast, would miss Instagram content from Public Bikes. Ian Sadler, hopes Pepsi never stops making their series of Uncle Drew commercials. These are all examples of brands using great content to earn our attention. They don’t have to pay to distribute it, they’ve taught us to crave it, and consistently search for it. I’m sure you can think of some branded content examples you’d miss.In the early days of social, it was difficult to do much that wasn’t permission marketing. You received the go-ahead from a person to feed them content in the form of a follow, or a like, or a friend request. At the time, reach and impressions were simple. Your content was distributed to 100% of your followers. Things are more complicated now, and the algorithmic approach to who sees what has created a divide between permission and interruption marketing. Facebook’s “News Feed Values” document outlines a philosophy that will make this divide even deeper, marking a clear separation between brands who are interrupting and brands who are truly engaging.

This is about expectations. Stop complaining that your reach is falling if you’re publishing advertising. When has advertising been free? This is about the misuse of the word “earned media.” If your audience won’t miss what you’re making, you haven’t actually earned anything.

This is about drawing a line in the sand dude. Advertising over here, content over here. We need totally unique philosophies and strategies on each side.

There are two ways to achieve your reach on social. You can either earn it with spectacularly engaging content, or you can pay for it with your advertising budget. One or the other. Don’t confuse the two, or expect success when you’ve got neither one.

Build something people wait on the edge of their seat for. Build something your audience craves. OR purchase your impressions, those are your only options.

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