The Content Marketer’s Dilemma: Attention vs. Control

Attention is a necessary ingredient that allows companies to make money.

If there’s no customers paying attention, there’s no business.

Another ingredient is control.

Control is a key lever for companies that rely on content marketing to acquire and retain customers. It enables companies to work on their own terms—customise the user experience, get the audience to subscribe to a newsletter, or, even better, make a sale. [1]

Both attention and some control are needed to generate revenue.

You can’t make money if nobody pays attention to what you do and sell. And you can’t do much if you don’t have enough control over your content.

But as social media is getting so much attention, a major challenge for marketers is finding the right balance between attention and control.

A Tension Between Attention and Control

When you see a company switching from a privately hosted blog to sharing content exclusively on Medium or Facebook, they’re making the decision to lose some control in order to get more attention.

Same when a TV channel shares its TV shows for free on YouTube.

Why are they doing this?

Today, platforms like Medium, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube are getting the majority of people’s attention.

This is the result of users changing their behaviour and habits. Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, explained this to journalist Cameron Albert-Deitch:

“I think, at most, there are now two or three sites people make a habit of visiting, and the rest of their media consumption is driven by their social streams.”

As social media get most of people’s attention on the internet, marketers are sacrifying some control to get a share of people’s attention on social media.

The Danger of Losing Control

This is a big trade off.

Using social media doesn’t even guarantee attention, since the filter algorithms—like Facebook’s News Feed—are empowered to show what seems the most relevant to the users. If your content doesn’t meet the arbitrary criteria, users won’t see it.

Actually, most companies pay for Facebook or LinkedIn Ads to get the reach they used to have. After all, “selling” attention is how Facebook makes money.

Contently summaries the issue well:

“Modern publishers will eventually come to a crossroads. If they want to maximize growth, they need to be where their audience is, staying on top of the social media world’s ever-shifting power struggle. If they want to control their user experience and avoid paying for traffic, they’ll have to invest in their own web presence.”

As a marketer, you end up stuck in a dilemma:

Should you get more attention and give up on control? Or should you keep your control risking to have nobody hearing your voice?

Notes about the Content Marketer’s Dilemma:

[1] A good definition of content marketing. It’s a popular term that needs a strong definition to make sure you’re not falling into the hype trap:

“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

A content marketing strategy can leverage all story channels (print, online, in-person, mobile, social, etc.), be employed at any and all stages of the buying process, from attention-oriented strategies to retention and loyalty strategies, and include multiple buying groups.

Content marketing is comparable to what media companies do as their core business, except that in place of paid content or sponsorship as a measure of success, brands define success by ultimately selling more products or services.”

Here are 13 mini case studies about how venture capital firms do content marketing.