Discover more from Hot Takes
Prepare for the coming content backlash
You need to condition the world now you aren't part of the throwaway, AI, paint-by-numbers content factory. Or risk being tuned out forever...
Fast food is popular because it's convenient, it's cheap, and it tastes good. But the real cost of eating fast food never appears on the menu.
There is an undercurrent of backlash brewing in our world. Backlash against the quickening pace of disposable, cheap, throwaway content. I think this is separate from the subprime attention bubble I described previously, that’s about doing whatever it takes to get fast/cheap attention (usually through exploitive measures). This is a different kind of risk, and one easy for well-intentioned people to miss.
Things are concurrently getting louder and faster as we move closer to a true real-time web. And with it, there are those who churn out ideas because they feel they must keep pace with every insignificant occurrence at the impossible velocity of real-time. So ‘more for the sake of more’ is always better. And while the real-time web is useful and certainly has a function – what many treat it as is a disposable content environment. Basically the digital equivalent of a fast food restaurant. But you aren’t McDonald’s and you never will be. Far better to become the high quality, creative neighborhood café or bistro.
While stream-based platforms are fun to play around in, experiment, and draw subscribers to your site or customers to your brand – you must go counter to what they reward in the short term if you want to develop a sustainable destination in the long term. Sustainable as in any given network that’s popular today disappears, but you still exist.
Your opportunity from the perspective of a media producer of any variety is to ignore the ever-quickening pace of real-time and resist the urge to sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity. As bite-sized content grows in supply the demand for deeper work goes up, since it becomes a more scarce resource. Not everyone needs or wants what they consume to be reduced to sound bites (people are listening to multi-hour podcasts on politics, tech, science and more, there’s clear demand here). The internet was supposed to expand our mental ram past cable. Nor should you care about the goldfish audience if you wish to attract people with a deep interest in your subject matter. Those with a true interest want in-depth material that takes them out of the goldfish attention bowl. And do you really want to attract anyone else? That audience is low quality, will never purchase from you, commit to your cause, or really care all that much. They’re nihilistic and empty.
Think about a subject you know intimately or are passionate about – it doesn’t matter what it is. It could be something like gardening or music or Russian literature. If you’re truly interested in that subject – the disposable, shallow stuff doesn’t really have much meaning and can actually turn you off. But deep, careful thinking on the subject will prove unmissable and you’ll come back for what’s next. I know it’s like that for me with subjects like marketing and music, of which I’m irrationally passionate about: I skip it if it’s not carefully crafted and find myself unsubscribing or unfollowing folk who are clearly just ticking a box. I don’t think they mean anything bad, I’m just busy. On the other hand, if it’s from someone whose thinking I trust, before I even click, I know I’m going to soak up every part because they’re a proven source. I probably already own their coffee mug or subscribe to their Patreon, too. There’s a reason these things go together. An unspoken aspect of the previous paragraph many haven’t wrangled with yet is it’s frequently professional media ticking a box, and independent media (that doesn’t even make much revenue) that cares.
True influence/authority are not products of speed, but of making each communication significant. They are also key elements for businesses, bloggers and marketers in a world drowning in information. Here’s why: each day, in every niche, there is fierce, cutthroat competition for attention. While there are increasing numbers sharing greater volumes of ideas in various channels and platforms competing for fleeting attention spans — now armed with AI — many view the landscape with the philosophy that more is better. If you think like that, you’re wrong.
The coming backlash is against the noise. Any shiny new tools are fun, and people subscribe to new streams and users in a carefree manner as they join new networks, connect with people and see excitement surrounding them. Yet attention is finite, and slowly every user realizes it is not about getting every new thing right now to scarf down information like Kirby, it is about finding and connecting with what is meaningful.
My observation is that the real-time web, while fast paced, is also self-correcting and long-term does reward better ideas, not simply the fastest/newest. While the early adopter crowd might have you believe longer-form or in-depth content is dead/dying, I look at the amount of time people spend on quality, niche-focused media brands with high degrees of trust and think they’re deeply wrong.
Some additional thoughts for:
Creators: obvious statement of the year: things like blogs, podcasts or vlogs are no longer the shiny new thing. Guess what: this is great news! Why? These things have gone mainstream, and the news couldn’t be better for those using them. New media formats are maturing, and with maturity means a fading into the background. We don’t really talk about email and how innovative it is anymore do we? Not really, it has become invisible – but it is still the largest and most important social network on the web (yes, email is a social network). As Clay Shirky sagely notes, “it is only when things become invisible do they become interesting.” With the cheap and fast messages going into Twitter, trusted blogs are being viewed as that much more authoritative. And, a secret of microblogging is that so much of it is made up of linking to longer-format content.
Marketers: being louder is not the answer, being more significant is. If every communication you put out has significance, you’ll be seen as a source of signal in a world otherwise drowning in noise. Apple has the ear of the tech and business world when they put out news for the simple reason that for so long, they only took the time to communicate significant things. Funny thing about Apple – the media now make a big deal out of everything, even little things, simply because they’ve been trained to for this brand. New charging cable launches are national headlines. Apple didn’t get to that point initially by drowning the world in their messages.
Businesses: don’t ship for the sake of shipping. Think carefully about what you want to draw attention to and attempt to bring center-stage. Realize there are essentially infinite channels and infinite choices of where consumers are going to get their information/entertainment, and you just don’t have enough advertising dollars to interrupt everyone with your advertising messages any longer. But, if you are careful with what you decide to bring to market and continue to put out the right products/services with the right messages, you can build anticipation for what’s next. DtC brands doing things like ‘product drops’ are masterful at this and the best ones frequently sell out.
If you are communicating purely for the sake of adding something, but without significance, you are cheapening future messages because you will be viewed as publishing for the sake of publishing, not because you actually have something to say. The art of holding back is a difficult skill to learn, but if your goals are to be seen as an ultra-high source of signal, you must. In time, this will payoff as you will be trusted, and when you do have something to say, it will resonate that much stronger.
Hot Takes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.