The relentless pursuit of content marketing

298 Lives Lost Thanks to Sloppy Risk Management” by one Johnny Spangenberg appeared at the top of my LinkedIn feed Thursday. It referred to the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet shot down over Ukraine earlier that day, arguing that poor risk management – not the impact of a few hundred pounds of ground-to-air missile – were ultimately to blame for the crash.

The story struck a nerve among readers. As of 10:40pm Thursday night, there were 158 comments, the majority of which expressed anger at a how “insensitive,” “sick” or just plain “stupid” it was:

“295 dead and you blame sloppy risk management?”

“This is by far the worst article I’ve read on LinkedIn in years.”

“This is the type of article that will lead to LinkedIn’s demise or at least the demise of allowing anyone to ‘self publish’.”

The last comment is the most telling for me, because it highlights the biggest problem facing LinkedIn’s self-publishing model: the rise of sub-standard content that threatens to turn the platform from a useful business network into an echo chamber for poorly-written self-promotion and vertical marketing.

The problem lies in the mashup of business content marketing and networking platform LinkedIn has evolved into. On Facebook and Twitter, users typically share more stories from mainstream news outlets, browse content, promote their business, and link to funny, odd, useful or idiosyncratic content.

On LinkedIn, the network’s business DNA mixes with its self-publishing model to produce a volatile mix of writers clamoring for attention. This doesn’t necessarily produce insightful, meaningful or well-written content. Often it just demonstrates an ability to cobble together a top-ten list, slap together a contrarian opinion, or spin current events in an attempt to grab readers’ attention and establish the writer’s legitimacy.

This is what appears to have happened with Mr. Spangenberg’s post: a rush to publish combined with a desire for attention and a dose of bad judgment. What compelled him to temporarily ignore the terrible human toll of an airliner blown out of the sky only hours earlier in order to opine on risk management is beyond me. What it shows is the unfortunate trend on LinkedIn towards facile, opportunistic and not very meaningful content.

Another issue is what system is responsible for allowing this content to bubble to the surface. It’s unclear whether algorithms or human intervention are responsible, but either way it doesn’t reflect well on LinkedIn’s ability to curate content.

LinkedIn has the power to fix this problem, but it would mean creating a whole new way to curate content so that vertical marketing and self-promotion are replaced with genuine insight and useful information. That’s not easy when your revenue stream depends in no small part on the number of eyeballs you can collect for advertisers through the volume of content you produce.

However, LinkedIn may not have much choice. In 2014 the long-term viability of social networks depends on the value of content they can produce. Facebook realized that years ago and introduced the EdgeRank algorithm. Twitter took a step in that direction with its recent redesign, which emphasizes the most popular content. It’s not too late for LinkedIn to follow suit.

Poor content is like junk food: it’s cheap, easy to get and satisfies a need. But like junk food it leaves you flabby and unhealthy. LinkedIn needs to get back into shape.

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