There Is No Wasted Content

Content Rules - Share or Solve Don't Shill

Chris Brogan is someone who has a lot of ideas to share.

I follow him on all channels because I enjoy seeing photos of him playing with his kids, seeing what products he is loving these days and reading what is on his mind.

But today in his post he set me off.

He writes:

And Never Waste Content Without Offering an ‘Ask’ of Some Kind

If you’re not putting some kind of potential hook to future business into your efforts, you’re not content marketing. You’re writing. And that’s great. But it’s not going to help your business, as such.

While I understand what he is saying, I hate the advice he is giving.

Anyone who starts adding content marketing into their mix, must make sure to have calls to action. If you don’t do this you’ll never gain new customers, donors, fans or whatever it is that you are looking for to help you grow and thrive.

What worries me is a lot of people listen to what Chris says. They are going to read that post and suddenly feel that everything they create must have an ask attached to it. That isn’t the case.

One of the rules that I share with audiences and clients all the time is to “share or solve, don’t shill.” Having an ask in every piece of content would become shilling in a rapid fashion and that is going to turn people off. But, if you share useful information, peeks behind the curtain or answer questions that are being asked you are going to be more attractive to the audience you desire.

Chris knows this. For years he has been creating content that isn’t full of shilling and yet today he is telling his flock to do exactly that.

Yes, if you are a business you need to sell your product. Non-profits need donations and support. Bands need to sell music and merchandise. Authors need to sell books.

Yet, if you feel like sharing a photo, writing a post or recording a video because it is who you are and helps shape the story you are trying to tell, that is valuable content.

Good content comes from your heart or shares another side of you and your business that people might not usually see.

Look at any business that is hailed as successfully using content marketing and you’ll find a mix of content across multiple mediums and lots of it will not have an ask attached.

You must be smart and strategic about the content marketing you choose to do. I’ve watched far too many organizations waste time and money going down a rabbit hole of buzzwords and false science.

Every day people waste time creating content, but there is no wasted content.

  • CC, just like you, I value Mr. Brogan’s ideas. And just like you, I think he is wrong on this one. Solve problems and be of service first. You don’t have to “ask.” Funny, because I’ve heard Mr Brogan speak a couple times, and I believe he used to believe the same thing. Thanks for posting this.

    • I believe a shade of it. Just a different shade. : )

      • As long as you don’t go down the 50 Shades root I’m ok with this conversation.

    • Thanks for chiming in.

  • Share or solve – that’s an excellent mantra to follow.

    • Thank you. All credit goes to the super talented Ann Handley.

  • If you’re a Youtility, the value you provide does the shilling for you.

  • To me, wasted content is content that fails to accomplish its purpose, whatever that purpose may be (and even then, you might be honing your writing skills a bit, or practicing the discipline of taking time to write, both of which are good things.)

    I like the idea of driving action, but a call-to-action style “hook” into my business or sales ask may not be the best way to engage with my potential customer. Providing them with information or confirming my expertise in an area can be just as valuable a hook, though it may be more of a “long game”. When it comes to encouraging action, however, I think providing someone with a link to a related article or another source of information, inviting feedback and conversation with a question, or encouraging them to get in touch extends the relationship without trying to convert their interest too soon.

    Granted, that might be exactly what Chris is talking about… but if you’re new to all this stuff, you might default to thinking a sales pitch or a product link is the only way to add an effective hook to your business.

  • It’s about storytelling. The “ask” should be inherent in the story. It doesn’t have to be a blatant request. Good storytelling inspires people to act.

    • As is clearly evident here, where the commenters have come out of the woodwork without C.C. specifically asking them what they thought. 🙂

    • I like this. : )

    • Bingo!

  • geofflivingston

    Spot on. I really like the use of side rails as the obvious call to action (CTA). The maximizes the surrounding property without sacrificing the integrity of the blog post. I also like using CTAs as natural next steps in engagement. So this is nurturing rather than hard selling, building a larger deeper experience which makes the sale an easier yes.

    • But if you mean side rails like the sidebars of a site that falsely presumes that most people consume your content on-site. That’s what sunk podcasters the first time around.

      • geofflivingston

        I agree, if 100% of your traffic is mobile you are sunk. Most cos I deal with have only a 30-40% mobile web customer profile, and they use responsive design to serve them. And I do think this is where nurturing come into play, which is next steps, not necessarily but possibly including the transaction.

      • Not just mobile: email, google reader, etc. Making the home base the goal of selling is a chance to miss a big opportunity, don’t you think?

        Nurturing is DEFINITELY a great point to make, Geoff. Well said.

    • I agree that it’s desirable to move the CTA to the side, out of the content, so they are distinct items. But, it’s a slippery slope, one I see too many bloggers sliding down, between having the content be predominant and having it be submissive. When the CTAs, ads and other “non-critical” content takes over your site, it’s time to reevaluate.

  • I think the difference between the two perspectives is the difference between Sales and Marketing. What Chris is describing is in fact Selling through Content, while CC you are describing Marketing through Content. When I was in sales the most common mistake I encountered with other sales people was they forgot to ask for the sale. They would do a great presentation, get the prospect excited, answer all the right questions but at no point did they ever actually say – how many do you want or when can we deliver it or even are you going to buy? I’ve sold a bunch of different things in my life – from Kirby Vacuum cleaners to million dollar consulting contracts, I always remember to ask for the sale. Heck I’ve even started presentations with the question – do you want to just sign the contract now? Sure its tongue in cheek but it puts the idea in their head that this is a sale. So I think that is where Chris is coming from – get people in the mindset that while they are reading your content, at some point you are going to ask for the sale.

    • I think that’s really true. I hadn’t thought about it much, but I’ve been making peanut butter cups out of sales and marketing for a while now. Interesting.

      • Great, now you’ve got my sweet tooth kicked into overdrive. Damn you! 🙂

    • I agree. Content for marketing holds great value when it comes to fostering community, thought leadership, and mindshare. Content with a sales ask holds great value for lead gen. Both are essential, as sales and marketing go hand-in-hand. Content for marketing is also relevant for keeping your name and brand in the minds of prospects who are not in the market for your offering today but may be in the future. Who will they think to call first?

    • Fair enough, but the title of Chris’ post had marketing in it, not sales 🙂

    • Julien

      Give this man a book deal!

  • Casse Langford

    “Good content comes from your heart or shares another side of you and your business that people might not usually see.”

    People don’t accept you because you tell them to. They accept you because you prove your worth, and you certainly don’t do that by shouting BUY MY STUFF at packs of strangers. Not well, anyway. And certainly not for the long haul.

    • Exactly.

      Yes, we all have to make money to keep a roof over our heads at the end of the day. I’ve been told I don’t put enough asks in what I create and that is why I’m not more successful.

  • I don’t think “ask” necessarily means “shill,” or even sell. It could be “subscribe to more of my posts in which I share or solve.”

    • True that.

    • Very true.

      As I said having a call to action is important.

      But, not having one does not equal wasted content to me.

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  • I agree. Not every post has to have a call to action at the end. Sharing content can be brand building and adding followers without that. Good to have a balance.

    • I suppose brand building can be helpful, and you’re a great example of that. But how can we measure how that effort leads to action?

      • It is impossible to measure results on every SINGLE thing we do. Yes, it is super important to have results and make sure that the money and time being spent is leading to increase in sales/donations/whatever it is that the company or organization is going for.

        But, we will never be able to measure the ROI on every single tweet, photo and post. Companies who think that way fail.

      • Amen CC… couldn’t have said it better. 🙂

  • abelniak

    I think it was Marketing Over Coffee a few weeks back (or maybe it was a DJ Waldow post), where the conversation turned to holiday emails from companies. Is that content, for the sake of content, with no ask? Ostensibly, a company is thanking me for their business. But they are also spending money to get a share of my eyeball, which isn’t always easy to do. Should they also ‘ask’ or soft sell or somehow make an offer to me? Or – simply thank me for being a customer?

    • I think holiday letters from MOST companies are poopy. I like it when they are the opposite of a selly sell. Great exception.

      • David Meerman Scott

        I agree with poopiness. I deleted all of them without reading.

      • Then how do you know they were poopy?

    • I don’t think I received a single holiday card from a company with an ask attached.

      What was the most interesting was the mixture of virtual and physical this year. I definitely saw a shift towards more physical this year which I liked because they stood out and didn’t get lost in my inbox.

    • But what is wrong with a company including an “ask” in a holiday email? If it works for them – for their audience – what’s wrong with that? Who are we to judge?

      *Disclaimer: My 2013 “resolution” is to be less judgmental.*

  • This really provoked an interesting discussion. I do think that quality content will work wonders in the long run in the “shilling” category!

  • I’m guessing we’d all agree that ultimately, it’s not a binary issue. We’re all in the business of moving people (yes, I’m reading Daniel Pink’s latest book – your fault, @chrisbrogan:disqus), and when it comes to content marketing, sometimes we move people in our direction by being a valuable resource (no transaction), sometimes we give a small nudge toward a specific direction, and sometimes we directly suggest a sales transaction. In every case, we are moving people in the direction that is hopefully useful for the reader. Content that is valuable but doesn’t directly lead to a specific transaction is still business-useful if it enshrines us as a go-to person is a specific domain of expertise.

  • Interesting perceptions. I’ve been a fan of Chris Brogan’s for years. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the information he’s shared, bought and liked his book (Trust Agents), and also follow a lot of his channels.

    Lately, however, it seems like Chris has been pretty aggressive with the sales pitches. I realize and respect the fact that everyone has to make a living, but if every message becomes a pitch for someone’s product, he could risk losing a lot of his followers.

  • AK

    Ok gang. Deep breath. Time to step out of the internet fashionista group massage parlor.

  • I think that Chris has been influenced by Brain Clark.

    • It’s Brian, but thanks for the compliment. 😉

      I’m confused by this discussion. It all comes down to execution, which always means: What’s contextually appropriate? What’s right for your audience?

      It’s not reducible to rules. We’ve only tried to teach fundamentals that are applied contextually. A lot of people don’t get that.

      And if your comment was meant as an insult, no worries. Things are fine at our house.

  • There is inherently more value in content that adds value to your day (“share or solve”). A good call-to-action (CTA) should be present but subtle and not viewed as an “ask”. One builds trust, but a hard ask can call the helpful content into question – and that harms trust in the brand.

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  • I’m loving this CC. There’s enough commentary here to build a crowd sourced ebook.

    Often times the CTA is merely the ability to share with others. This frequently can result in what Google and Twitter refer to as an Assisted Conversion. Not easy to measure but often directional.

    In my opinion, the majority of the effort should be placed on producing amazing, beautiful content, and then let the content do the work. #contentrules

  • As many people have said, it comes down to how you view content and how you plan to use it. Certainly, there can be an overt “ask” in a piece of content, but I doubt that works for everything. If the only time people hear from you is when you’re asking them for money, they’re going to stop paying attention.

    I think that quality content, distributed over time, WITHOUT an overt request for a sale, does more than build a brand. It certainly does that, but I think it also sets up the times when you do ask for the sale. If you’ve given, given, given to the community, customer-base, what have you, without ever asking for something in return, on the few occastions you do ask, you’ll likely get more attention.

    I think asking for a sale with every piece of content moves this thing called content marketing from a powerful tool to shape people’s opinions into the world of telemarketing, which is a shame.

  • Interesting discussion. I love it when friends disagree. Ha!

    Why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t it be somewhere in the middle? I love the concept of “share or solve, don’t shill.” I love jaybaer’s ideas around being a Youtility. But what’s wrong with a little “ask” here and there? Who are we to judge what is the right balance? What works for @chrisbrogan:disqus may not work for you … or me. What works for you (or me) may not work for Chris Brogan.

    There is no right or wrong. There is only what works best for *your* audience.

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  • I would have to agree CC. From my perspective, there is a such thing as “intellectual capital” generated from your content, whether it is good or bad.

    If people come back and read your blog (or subscribe etc…) because you posted a great piece of content, you’ve succeeded… on the flip side, if what you produce doesn’t resonate with someone, they will probably forget you in an age of endless choices.

    You don’t need a call-to-action to get those kind of results.

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