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Content marketing has become hollow signaling

Liked Media, Messages, and Meaning: Is it time to rethink content marketing? by Tara McMullinTara McMullin (explorewhatworks.com)

At one time, Medium was the place I visited to discover new ideas and fresh writers.
I don’t know what it’s like on other people’s feeds, of course. But when I visit the feed of articles that Medium suggests to me today, I’m not just underwhelmed. I’m often appalled.

While there is a straightforward meaning to the message contained by the medium, the medium itself contributes another message. That second message, and for McLuhan, the more influential of the two, is character.
The medium conveys both the straightforward message and a certain character that informs how we relate to it.

Williams dreamed of making Medium synonymous with quality, depth, and thoughtfulness. But the message Medium delivers today colors many of its posts as clickbaity and attention-seeking.

Articles like the ones I listed above…aren’t meant to be examined in detail, either. They’re designed to create a certain effect: i.e., conveying the appearance of expertise, usefulness, and/or value.

Yes! This puts a finger on what bothers me about so much headline writing, and so many articles: I can tell from the title of the post that it will be substanceless. Somehow, there will be a 1000+ word article composed of nothingness, from which I’ll learn and recall precisely nothing.

So much online writing circles around the same type of mildly repellant business productivity and creativity advice — all selling the get rich quick mentality with a recipe for success. In a capitalist world, that story has draw — we are all busting our asses and getting nowhere. Yet it’s terminally empty; a few words of advice cannot change a system, and probably also can’t help most people get ahead in that system.

The internet has become a diluted sea of bland 101 content, quoting the same sources, adding the same vapid life stories to try to force personal connection. Everyone desperately signalling, a twisted capitalist version of mating signals: pick me! Pick me! The textual equivalent of a ruff of fluorescent feathers, the payoff receiving work rather than passing on genes: individual survival, not reproduction. It reminds me of the proposal to eliminate mosquitoes by releasing sterile males into the wild to breed with the females, burning out their reproductive lifespans. We’re distracted by the overwhelming drone of valueless, impersonal writing: junk food of the mind.

So now, writers need to learn how to signal the opposite to discerning readers: to promise something worthwhile and convince people to read without looking like content mill pablum. To demonstrate respect for readers’ time, to offer real connection, to write and share something worth the reading. This is the slow path, the path of patience, requiring a long-term commitment to the practice of writing and thinking.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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