The Influencer Trap – How Modern Marketing Becomes Unsustainable

I miss the beginning of 2014. When Mark Schaefer completely shocked the marketing community with Content Shock.

And when it lead to discussions and even fights among marketing bloggers. Discussions that brought the marketing community forward – when everybody had an opinion and stood by it without thinking too much about whether this would anger other bloggers, fellow marketers or influencers. Mark Schaefer’s original article about Content Shock has 393 comments – if you go through all related posts, you will end up with 1000s of comments. Everyone had an opinion, and every said it out loud.

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I miss the autumn of 2014 when Copyblogger killed their Facebook page and wrote a marketing blog post about it. I loved when they did it – and I loved it even more when Jon Loomer called them out.

Strong opinions are what makes the marketing community strong. But we’ve got 2015 now, and it’s getting weak. Opinions seem to be missing. Disagreement seems to be missing.

Maybe it’s just me – or maybe there is just nothing to disagree about anymore. But I doubt that is true.

Because when an industry starts agreeing on everything is where an industry becomes slow – this is the point when the industry passes on innovation and opts for repetition. I don’t want to be a part of that industry.

So, What Happened?

I believe that we’ve simply gone back to writing, rewriting and (re-)publishing the same old content again and again. Becamarketing move forward quoteuse we’ve already been there – revisiting 2011 up until 2013 in my mind I remember we all spent ages writing list posts about 10 Things That Make You A Better Blogger or 7 Tools That Improve Your Content.

And there is not that much wrong with that – no blogger can survive without repeating variations of the same content in the long run. But that shouldn’t be all we do. But back in those days, it was all we did. And today it is again all we do.

If we don’t push the science of online marketing forward once in a while without fear of disagreement, we become irrelevant. If we continue to write about the same old stuff and only the same old stuff – aren’t we already irrelevant?

Once Again Mark Schaefer Influenced Me To Write This

This isn’t the first time Mark Schaefer influenced me to write a post. But this time, it wasn’t through the timed and perfect provocation of thought that I know him for. This time, it was unintentional:


Mark recently published a blog post titled
“Is it better to be honest or nice on the social web?”

Without out intending to do it, he touched on the subject I am writing about today. While the post actually only talks about how to be in professional disagreement without making it personal – Mark highlights all the people he has been in professional disagreement with:

… At one time or another, I have had public, blog-based disagreements with Mitch Joel, Jay Baer, Brian Clark, Joe Pulizzi, Chris Brogan, Jason Falls and many other well-known people on the web. And yet, we can remain friends because we can be civil and respectful, even in the heat of battle. …

Here is the thing – I remember some of these open disagreements, and even though I am happy for them they could remain friends, they weren’t as civil as you may think. For instance, in the initial discussion about Content Shock copyblogger published an article contradicting Mark’s opinion. Here is a screenshot of what happened in the comments (yes, copyblogger actually had comments back then):

A screenshot of Brian's comment - just in case someone wants to say nothing happened.

A screenshot of Brian’s comment – just in case someone wants to say nothing happened.

And here is a transcript of the important part of the discussion:

Brian Clark

Too much content means it is getting harder for good content to reach the right eyes.

That was true in 2006 when I started CB as a complete unknown. And it was true last year when I moved to a new town and started a hyperlocal website that has now become a recognized media outlet in Boulder just one year later.

It’s always true. And it can always be overcome by differentiation, strategy, and execution. But not if people like Mark tell those who don’t know any better that the sky is falling so he can sell his upcoming book.

Let’s all be honest here. Mark is using a tried-and-true content marketing tactic (actually an ancient rhetorical tactic) to draw attention to himself, and ironically proving his theory wrong in the process. And worse, confusing people in the process. That’s why we who know better stand up in the face of this and say he’s wrong.

(In between was a comment by me – look it up if you want to…)

Mark Schaefer

“Let’s be honest here?”

Brian, I welcome intelligent dialogue but I hate the fact that you demean my character and intent through personal attacks. You don’t know me. You have never met me. To the best of my knowledge the first comment you ever left on my blog was the one on the Content Shock post.

I am sincerely disappointed that through your comments you encourage a professional discussion to devolve into statements like this.

The hypocrisy presented here is that you rant about creating great content and when somebody did, you conclude that it must have been done as some ruse to get attention.

And by the way, when people came on to my blog and left comments demeaning you I deleted the comments. We can attack issues without attacking people, right?

I hope you can eventually see your way through to nurturing a respectful dialogue at some point because your readers would benefit from that too. I look forward to getting to know you down the road and I think if you get to know me too, you would refrain from unnecessary attacks on me personally.

If this is the professional disagreement that Mark wants – he sure takes it personally.

And while this may not be the most friendly exchange I’ve seen, I miss this kind of disagreement – especially if it’s that easy to remain friends afterward.

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We Are Not Even Having The Discussions We Already Started

Heard anything about content shock lately?

Me neither. Did I miss something – does the problem not exist anymore? Well, actually it is more present than ever. Why do you think everyone is doing podcasts now?

It’s because podcasts allow them to access a different target audience that is not quite as much overloaded with content… yet. But it will be soon. The below graph has been taken directly from Mark’s original post – I hope he doesn’t mind:

Is this not true anymore? If it isn’t… why not?

What changed our opinion about this? Is this not true anymore? Has the amount of content being produced decreased? Shouldn’t we discuss this further?

(That doesn’t mean that Content Shock or Content Overload will be a disaster, but it still is a discussion worthy to be had.)

Do We Want Discussions? (I Do, But Do You?)

Copyblogger didn’t just delete their Facebook page in 2014 – they removed their blog comments. Not the existing ones of course, but the system was closed – no new comments anymore, no discussion.

That is their decision – but it’s part of a trend. Many blogs are removing their commenting systems. Even high-class influencers like Jay Baer with Convince & Convert.

A common excuse for this is spam as confirmed by Copyblogger in an article partly about this here on The Social Ms (in the comment section). Yes, having an open commenting system does open the doors to spam – but is this really the issue?

Copyblogger confirms spam is the reason for removing the comments from their blog.

Copyblogger confirms spam is the reason for removing the comments from their blog.

I’m worried about this trend. It seems that at some point influencers seem to decide they don’t need to make themselves the point of criticism anymore. Kind of like saying: “Now I’m famous – and my word is law, at least here on my blog.”

Ok, that may be a bit harsh – but the online marketing community feeds on discussion and always has. If we take that away, then we take away a big part of what makes this community valuable. Again, think about content shock. This discussion would not have been what it was without everyone discussing furiously in the comments of the various blog posts.

If we are closing more and more discussion channels, we are not helping discussions to take place. In fact, we show that we don’t want open discussions.

The Real Crux – If Marketing Doesn’t Move Forward All The Time It Becomes A Danger To Business In General

Marketing is nothing that is sustainable by design. A company cannot simply decide to implement marketing and expect a positive ROI “just like that.” Since the introduction of modern marketing strategies and especially online marketing – whether it is SEO, Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing, or any other Buzzword floating around – marketing has turned into a fast-moving industry.

I like being part of that. But it also means that if we slow down, we get left behind. Strategies that work today become irrelevant in the future. Strategies that work for one company are not sustainable for the next.

As an example: Try reading and implementing an SEO strategy today that was created in 2010 (or even 2013). It will suck.

If we don’t acknowledge this simple fact by implementing original thought, we all lose. Modern marketing itself will not be a sustainable strategy anymore.

You might now say that marketing doesn’t just consist of the Online Marketing Blogosphere. You would be right, but for at least 5 years, the online marketing blogging community has been what has pushed marketing as an industry forward.

I don’t believe that we should give that up. I think that we should continue to push it forward. I believe that we need to push it forward to a point when we will truly have created something that will last for a long time.

Because currently all we have created will fall apart in an instant once we stop moving forward. We are simply not there yet.

Stop Complaining Jonathan – Feel Free To Shake Us Up

This will be the answer to this post from the marketing community – if we get any reaction at all.

But hey, here on The Social Ms we try. Sure, not every post is very original. Not every post shakes up the marketing community like Mark Schaefers original content shock.

As stated before no marketing blogger can continue to push out original thought all the time. And we also don’t have Marks popularity (or genius) on our side.

But what we do have is independence. We don’t write agreement posts highlighting how great a post by someone else is. If we do write a post that reacts to someone else’s – then it is because we are in disagreement or believe we have something to add.

In fact, this kind of independence is what allows me to write this post.

This kind of independence can also be pretty lonely – and I understand that many cannot cope with this. But for many smaller marketing bloggers disagreement can even be a monetary impossibility: Marketing blogs are not being written for charity – they are either a revenue stream or an investment into a future where they pay off.

Strong opinions by influencers are what made the online marketing community strong. But we’ve got 2015 now. And disagreement seems to be missing.

Meaning: we write what others expect us to write. What we believe influencers expect us to write or potential clients.

That is also part of the problem – because it often prevents original thought from surfacing. New bloggers often fear to disagree, although they should not. But how would you feel if you wrote a thought provoking post and got bullied by the top of the pack in return? Would you dare to do it again? Would you dare to write a post like this if you saw this happen to someone else?

But it is true – some of the influencers out there like to bully other peoples’ opinions. I’ve seen this happen more than once, but I won’t name names here.

I’ve noticed another worrying trend in the marketing community – we’ve grown into a community where we like to follow people by influence, not by interest. We like to watch the discussions they have watch them highlight each other, but we don’t break into their scene.

Mark may or may not read this article, but if he does – he will do so because I asked him to on Twitter – not because he is a fan of mine. And that is ok. I’m not on the top list of all other marketing bloggers. I can live with that (barely ;)).

But all of us – influencer or no influencer – should be questioning whether we know where online marketing is headed. Where marketing is headed, where blogging is headed. And if we don’t have an answer to this – maybe we should start looking in different places?

Because someone out there is producing the content, we need to consume.

I used to keep up with all the influencer blogs via Feedly. That is until they started to bore me to death. I guess I’m the only one to blame for this – if they bore me to death why do I still follow them?

And to all the others out there – who do you think is an influencer – a thought leader? Come up with whoever you want. And then think about how to challenge them!

(Mark, Jay Baer, Copyblogger, Jon Loomer, Neil Patel, and all the others … you don’t have to worry – I will continue to follow you, I just hope you will start to challenge me again through your original thought! I still adore you…)

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This article was proofread and edited by myself with the help of Grammarly. If you are blogging in English and cannot afford a professional editor, Try Grammarly Now! It rocks.

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  • Content Marketing Labs

    Jonathan, you can’t imagine how glad we are for reading this article. The issues you addressed here are to a great extent the foundations of our brand. In our first post http://contentmarketinglabs.org/content-marketing-facts, for example, we made a very small analysis of the latest posts of the most influential marketing websites. Despite of the fact that the analysis covered a small universe, we found lots of similarities in the content they were posting. This was just to show that content marketing is deeply suffering from sameness – to our opinion is almost a sick state. We don’t want to say that every brand needs to go in an “experimental” direction – that was our choice. But we must agree with you that our capacity of disagreeing – yes, we agree that we should be able to disagree :) – must be restored. We believe that sameness won’t lead us nowhere – and that exposing and discussing different points of views is what will move us forward. Thanks for writing this article!

    • TheSocialMarketers

      Hi and welcome,

      Thank you for your support – I just read your article and you are right the similarities in this small sample are frightening.

      Although I have to admit that all of us sometimes repeat ourselves. It is simply impossible to always be original when you are required to publish multiple articles every week. But I think we agree that it would already help to be surprised once in a while :)

      Best,
      Jonathan

      • Content Marketing Labs

        Yes sure, we don’t aim at being 100% original 100% of the times either – as you said, it’s just impossible.. But we do think that recognizing the need for surprise, authenticity and innovation is a first step we can towards creating better content – and also towards making our part in moving our industry forward as a whole. Dangerous journey, no clear paths to be followed, but we hope to find a treasure in the end :)

        Best

  • Tasia Gonsalves-Barriero

    Hi Jonathan,

    Real thought provoking piece. I’ll admit there have been a couple of times I wanted to challenge an influencer with a blog post. But that fear always held me back.

    Who knows, I just may take that step of faith and do it rather soon.

    Thanks for highligting these issues. I really if your content.

  • denmark98

    nice article you might like my recent article where I quote mark also. It is called the collapse of engagement https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/collapse-engagement-patrick-kitchell-chief-question-asker

  • http://www.macseoapps.com/ Glenn D. Bearsky

    Now 11+ years old, Mike Grehan’s seminal post “Filthy Linking Rich” ( http://www.e-marketing-news.co.uk/Oct04/RichLinking.html ) is worth a re-read. You could substitute ‘seo’ and ‘links’ for ‘social’ and ‘influence’ and it’d be just as relevant.

    I’m starting to unfollow the SuperStar Influencers – partly because their sheer volume and frequency is getting wearisome. Partly because What-Works-For-Them now doesn’t have anywhere near the ROI to me. And hoping to get sucked upward in their tailwind isn’t a sure thing. I don’t wanna be lemming racing up their cliffs anymore.

    When every word coming from their lips is golden — It just cheapens the currency.

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    I use marketing to communicate with customers. I measure what works and do more of that. Getting known and making friends with other marketers is fun, and informative, but it’s not a contest.

    If taking down a Facebook page, or writing a post “FILLINTHEBLANK marketing is dead” helps someone sell more and move their brand forward, that’s cool, interesting, and maybe I’ll get an idea or two.

    What really matters is how I satisfy my clients, in their markets. Not whether what I do matches what someone else talked about.