Will people share it?
Will people share it?

It’s been said that we’re in the midst of a content revolution. Revolutions are exciting but chaotic. We try to make sense of them, pumping out organizational charts, updated vocabulary, and new systems with every paradigm shift. Maybe it’s just my newsfeed, but for this revolution, the system seems to be the story, not the ideas. The content conversation I’m exposed to daily is skewed to the engineering and distribution of content. It’s all ecosystems, newsrooms, and real-time marketing.

Make no mistake, all of this is important. Agencies desperately need to reorganize themselves to consume and create content at the ever-quickening pace of culture. All this restructuring is pointless if we use it to crank out a stream of unnecessary infographics, five blandly optimistic tweets per day, and GIFs that ineffectively crowbar a branded message into the meme of the moment.

Maybe we’re looking at content through crossed eyes. Perhaps we have become so focused on answering the questions about speed and platform that we’ve lost sight of the true purpose of content: to make things that people find interesting.

Over 50 years ago, ad industry iconoclast Howard Gossage said “people don’t read ads–they read what interests them, and sometimes it is an ad.” (Since great ads are content, I wonder if some of this upheaval is a revolution against crap.) The forms may be different, but the qualities and themes that interest people haven’t changed. We just have to make the good stuff faster and put it in new places.

But what is the good stuff? That’s a crucial question. Studies show that measuring persuasion pales in comparison to a much simpler metric: Do people like it? We have an amazing opportunity to move on from the tyranny of quantitative copy testing methodologies that still proliferate in spite of hardcore analysis demonstrating how utterly useless–perhaps harmful–they are. I can’t help but quote David Ogilvy who remixed the mustachioed Scottish poet Andrew Lang when he said “I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.”

Of course, if you cast aside traditional predictive research, then you’re left with the dicey wisdom of experts on the Internet telling you what to do.

Wait, I’m on the Internet!

Ok, so here: I’ll tell you what to do, too. In the interest of pragmatism and originality, here are four little words that I’d recommend you ask instead: will people share it?

That’s it. I know it seems reductive, but in the absence of fast, effective tools that expertly predict which ideas will succeed in culture, we need a diagnostic that helps us make decisions quickly. People are terrible at predicting their own actions; however, they can accurately predict how others will behave. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, you’ll get better answers by predicting how others will behave rather than asking them.

Ultimately, all of this liking and sharing untied from quantitative testing can seem really soft. It’s certainly nothing you can sell up the C-Suite, right? Wrong. There’s a wealth of data available that demonstrates the importance of people talking about your brand. There’s one study, one of the largest of its kind, that goes so far as to suggest that it is the most important thing we as marketers can do. Ironically I cannot reference or link to the data because this is sponsored content, but if you email me, I’ll be happy to share the treasure. Or you can just ask some of the world’s best consultants if making interesting content works.

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