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Social Media and the Humiliation Effect

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If you publish online get ready for a lesson in humility.

Brands quit publishing content for the exact same reason that many individuals stop publishing content: the brutal reality that nobody cares. As someone who creates and publishes a lot of content online (roughly six blog posts and one podcast every week), there is both a certain humility and instant humiliation that comes along with the process.

The cream rises to the top.

Even in a world where two hundred billion videos get viewed every month, the cream still does rise to the top (as the saying goes). It's just that we seem to have a lot more cream and it's fallen into many different niches. With that cream comes a lot of stuff that falls to the bottom. And, that bottom-feeding content is the vast majority -- especially when it comes to content that is related to business -- of what populates corporately operated content marketing platforms. Not everyone gets the video viral success of "Will It Blend?" and few will get the same impact from their corporate blogs as Dell has had. The other challenge is in maintaining this attention and consistently delivering content that rises to the top.

Content creation can be a humiliating process.

I've spent many evenings tapping away at the keyboard, as the ideas flowed in a fast and furious pace. I've hit the "publish" button thinking to myself, "this could well be my best Blog post to date," only to find out a short while later that nobody cared. The post wasn't picked up, tweeted about, shared, liked on Facebook and only generated a few (if any) comments.

What did I get? Digital tumbleweeds or virtual crickets.

I don't care what Simon & Garfunkel tells you, the sound of silence is not pretty at all. In the pre-social media world, we used to publish our thoughts, but before that stage we had a semblance of validation. The publishers, editors, and fellow content creators gave that validation to us, by agreeing to publish our work in the first place. Even when the work may have been sub-par, sometimes the brand that published the content helped carry it. I'd even argue that the public's reaction to that content mattered significantly less than the fact that it was published. The validation of content came from it being published more than it's appeal to the masses. Now -- in a world where the half-life of a blog post can be less than 12 hours -- you can tell if your work resonates, or if it's digital tumbleweeds.

How to win friends and influence people.

Countless blog posts and seminars have been produced on how to get your content to rise up and be heard. While there are certain "tricks" that can be pulled off (a catchy headline, a cute picture of a puppy, a how-to list, something that will make people laugh, cry, or think), there is still a "secret sauce" that makes some content work.

Having conducted over 300 interviews with industry leaders, one thread of thought is pervasive: the majority of content creators are just as surprised as anyone else when one piece of content works while another is met with digital tumbleweeds. They often feel like their best work is not met with the attention they anticipated and that the content they felt was filler is the stuff that their community ran with.

We are the real-time analytics.

The true humility and humiliation of social media is not what the web analytics tell us: it's what the audience does (or doesn't do) with the content. You can buy audience, links, and clicks, but you can't buy people who care and want to share whatever it is that you are doing.

Ultimately, the humiliation should not stop us, it should drive us. Everyday is a new opportunity to connect and engage, so the brands that give up, don't try, or tinker with their content are completely missing the point.

Some stuff will rise to the top while other stuff will be met with digital tumbleweeds. It's the nature of the beast. The trick is in being able to identify that -- over the long-haul (and yes, it takes a significant amount of time to garner any semblance of traction) -- you need to look at the entire body of work as a benchmark for if your content resonates. It's also wise to use those daily moments of humiliation from digital tumbleweeds as a compass for what resonates and what doesn't.