Content Marketing vs Spam

by Joe Mescher on December 7, 2009

spamI’ve been on a tear recently creating new sites (personal, business, and paid projects) and opportunities for people to learn more about social media (like the Vermont Social Media Bootcamp).

But a recent Copyblogger article stopped me cold and made me think long and hard about the difference between content marketing and plain ol’ spam.

Content Marketing is About Teaching People How to Use Something of Value

Before we get too deep into the discussion about content marketing, this is how Wikipedia describes its benefits:

Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action. Content marketing has benefits in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty better than traditional marketing techniques.

In other words, as a content marketer it doesn’t make sense for me to use a traditional ad to entice you to buy — there’s simply too much noise on the Web to compete this way. Instead, I give you something of value for free (like a WordPress Design Tutorial) with the expectation that a small percentage of people who find the tutorial valuable will buy the product being discussed (like the Thesis Theme, in this case).

But when does a marketer cross the line from helpful promoter to shameless huckster?

The temptation to cut corners by posting content with a seductive name (“101 Unauthorized Twitter Secrets for Small Businesses”), that is in truth little more than a solicitation for people to buy a ‘premium version’, is great because so many folks think their competitors are making Internet money hand over fist.

In reality it takes huge amounts of study and hard work to build a clear understanding of your industry and a trustworthy brand that people will identify with.

Here’s a few places people are sharing information on the social Web, which often rank highly on the SERPs, where I’ve noticed some really frightening cases of spam — out of consideration for the offenders, I won’t out anyone in this post:

  • Slideshare
  • Scribd
  • Twitter (links)
  • Posterous
  • Tumblr
  • SEO Optimized Microsites
  • Email Lists

How to Write Killer Content that Passes the Spam Test

Just write better.

That’s the simple explanation for how to make more money, gain more followers, and build armies of raving fans in the face of all the online noise that pollutes the Web. Write the best damn material you can and don’t worry about ‘giving too much away’.

Sometimes I’ve been tempted to write write presentations and papers with the goal of selling something, but you know what? People aren’t stupid and they can see through a sales pitch. But don’t think all the skepticism means there is no room to earn a profit through content marketing.

There is a small percentage of people in our ‘I want it all free’ culture who are willing to pay for the privilege of learning the valuable skills you can offer. Don’t think this is true? Well, guys like Chris Brogan make a tidy living giving information away and charging for specific, customized business speeches and strategies.

Here’s some ways you can deliver value, build profitable relationships, and become an all-star source of value:

  • Create your own ‘How-To’ channel on UStream, then syndicate it on YouTube.
  • Match the content to your audience: If you’re a web designer, show people how killer design increases conversions and sales.
  • Full disclosure: Never try to sneak sales content into a post or other material, people might resent it (for example, I let people know I am an affiliate for the Thesis Theme, but also encourage them to decide whether to buy it on its merits, not hype. That’s why tutorials and how-to information are so successful.).

Don’t forget, the Vermont Social Media Bootcamp is coming. We’ll teach you how to build, deploy, and maintain a profitable social media strategy that includes workbooks, online video and DVDs.


Tech Obsessed Since Age 5 - Meet Joe Mescher

Joe Mescher is a behavioral advertising professional and Digital Marketing Evangelist, a Michigan State Spartan and half of the team responsible for a set of fraternal twins born October 11, 2012. He lives in Burlington, VT.

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