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Future and Opportunity of Online Education

Future & Opportunity of
ONLINE EDUCATION

James Maskell | Dorie Clark | Breanne Dyck | Matt Clark | Ron Friedman | Ankur Nagpal | Abe Crystal | Vanessa Van Edwards | Steve Kamb | Sean Platt

Be Unique! How to Break Out of the Content Echo Chamber

What a great story!

Or at least it was the first 10 times you heard it…

The same goes for jokes, facts, and yes—even content.

Once one of your readers reads a blog post, they’re not going to be too interested in reading it again.

If it’s exceptional, they might bookmark it for a future read, but beyond that, they’re looking for something new.

Everyone looks for novelty, especially when it comes to content.

Here’s the thing:

You might be creating new posts on a regular basis, but so are other similar websites. And many of your readers look at those websites as well.

For example, you might read the Mirasee blog (ahem, right?), along with other marketing and entrepreneurship blogs like Quick Sprout, Smart Passive Income, and Groove HQ (to name a few…).

Here’s a question for you:

What happens if we all write about the same topics in a short time period?

While small details might change, the general story and value remains the same. That’s boring for a reader.

And yet, that’s exactly what happens in many niches, and I’m sure you’ve observed it first hand.

This phenomenon is called an “echo chamber.

It applies to many areas, but we’ll focus here on how it applies to content.

We’re going to look at 3 main things:

  1. Why it’s easy to fall into the echo chamber without intending to
  2. The 3 dire consequences of blogging within an echo chamber
  3. (Most importantly) How to create content that is not an echo of someone else’s

By the end, you’ll understand the problem really well, and have a few tweaks to apply to your content approach to make sure that you’re getting the most out of the content you produce.

How Bloggers Fall Into The Echo Chamber

Echo chambers have been around for a long time, but the problem is worse now, than ever before.

And the main reason for that? Content shock.

In case you haven’t heard of the term, content shock describes the insane amount of content that is being generated these days.

content-explosion

In short: there’s too much content.

Here’s a more in-depth article on content shock on Copyblogger.

Businesses feel they have to create even more content if they want a chance to stand out among the billions of other articles.

Any writer will tell you that if you’re producing a ton of content in a short period of time, you have no choice but to create the quickest content you can.

And nothing is quicker than pulling up a few similar articles and regurgitating the information.

The root cause of echoes

The problem goes beyond content shock.

It is really hard to create content that is adored and gets thousands of views and social shares.

You probably know this from experience.

So along came some smart marketers with a way guarantee some views, shares, and all that good stuff.

The plan is simple:

Look at what content is already popular, and then create similar content. If you can improve upon it—even better.

When you do this, you essentially validate the topics you’re going to create content around.

A quick example: Say you run a fitness blog. Your first step would be to go to a tool like BuzzSumo, and search for some popular keywords in your niche. Things like:

  • workout plan
  • fitness routine
  • workout diet
  • beginner’s gym plan

This brings up a list of the most popular articles (based on social shares) in the last year by default:

most-popular-articles

Then, you create content similar to the most popular ones. In this case, you might create something like “8 week no-gym, no-equipment home workout plan bootcamp“.

Finally, you promote it, already knowing your target audience will enjoy it.

It is a good strategy, and works well.

But, as we marketers often do, we ruined it…

What happens when every fitness blogger does this?

You end up with tons of blogs with almost identical sets of content aka the dreaded echo chamber.

If you were the very first echo, you still probably get good results, but as the echo expands, you will struggle.

Once a topic is covered to death, it becomes common knowledge and your promotional efforts fall flat.

Right now, in most niches, bloggers copy the same topic ideas over and over, and create very similar content.

There are 2 main root causes at play here: For some, the first is a lack of knowledge. If you have no other way of coming up with good content ideas, you’re have to rely on tactics like this.

The more common cause is a lack of time or resources.

content-marketing-challenge

Truly original content takes a ton of effort and time to create. I know, I’ve created both types.

To give you a ballpark idea of the cost of a single piece of original content (the kind I’m talking about), top bloggers spend a minimum of $500-1,000 on any outsourced content (in my experience as a freelancer).

Once you start talking about other forms of content like video, I expect that amount is much higher.

Meanwhile, you can hire just about any cheap freelancer to regurgitate other content.

Why put in all that extra work into an idea when it’s so much safer to copy a validated idea?

Well, there are a few important reasons to which I’ll get to soon.

(Important) Just because it’s an echo, doesn’t mean it’s bad

I would like to mention, though, that just because a piece of content is an “echo” of another, doesn’t mean that it’s objectively bad.

You can create some really amazing content that isn’t original.

So even if you have fallen into an echo chamber, it’s more than possible you still have some solid content creation skills, and something to build upon.

The 3 Consequences of the Echo Chamber (a.k.a. why you should care)

I touched upon these consequences already, but let me define them in more concrete terms.

Consequence #1 – Your content won’t make a big impact

The goal of every content creator should be to create “10x content.” That refers to content that is an order of magnitude better than what’s out there.

You can improve upon already popular content, but it’s almost impossible to improve it by 10+ times (in terms of usefulness).

Here’s a great video by Rand Fishkin if you’ve never heard of the term before:

This is important because if your readers already read an article on a similar topic, your content doesn’t help them much, even if it is very good.

If you want your content to have a big impact, it needs to not only solve problems well, but solve those problems no one else has solved.

Consequence #2 – Your short and long term results will suffer

What do I mean by results?

Page views, subscribers, backlinks, sales, etc. Pretty much any common metric that content marketers use.

This seems counter-intuitive at first. After all, if you’re creating content around a topic you know your readers care about, that’s a good thing.

But, as you’ll find (or maybe already found), unless you are one of the very first echoes of the original concept, it’s rare to get any real traction.

Sure, you can promote your content like crazy and get some results, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle.

Obviously, a lack of short term results hinders long term results, but there’s more to it.

When you produce this kind of content, it may be “new” to a large percentage of your readers.

But almost all of your readers visit other websites that create content for them. Over time, they will see that almost all of your content is similar to those other sites.

You lose credibility, trust, and more importantly, a reason for that reader to keep coming back to you.

You’ll struggle to get raving fans if all you do is echo the thoughts of others.

Consequence #3 – It’s hard to sustain motivation

This may or may not be a consequence for you, but it is for me.

For most writers, motivation comes from creating something that helps their readers, and contributes something of value to your community.

If all you do is regurgitate the work of others, you're not adding much value.Click To Tweet

And I say this firsthand, as a writer who used to get paid a lot to do this exact thing that I now hate so much.

I encourage you to take a second and really try to define where you get enjoyment from your content creation.

Escaping the Echo Chamber

Be honest with me for a second:

Have you fallen into an echo chamber?

I know it’s not the easiest thing to admit, but know that if you have, you’re far from alone.

The important thing is to get out of it, and for most writers, it’s not too difficult.

Remember, there are 2 main reasons why marketers and writers fall into this trap:

  1. They don’t know how to produce enough original ideas
  2. They have the knowledge to come up with great ideas, but also need to produce content fast. In most cases, they don’t have sufficient resources for completely original content

Depending on which one is plaguing you, you need to take different steps.

Scenario #1: If you have the knowledge, but not the resources

Some of the top blogs in every niche fall victim to the echo chamber as they struggle to produce as much content as they’d like.

They’ll still get a ton of pageviews in the short term, but it’s a recipe for getting a reputation as a mediocre blog with no differentiating factor from all the other sites in their niche.

In the long term, they risk falling into irrelevance.

However, if someone demands the content creator produce more than they can handle, the creator has no choice: she must simply regurgitate information on other blogs.

I put this scenario first because your options are pretty straightforward.

The first thing you should do is to streamline your content creation process.

Most writers could cut down the time it takes to write an article by a factor of 2 if they created an effective system.

Here are some resources that will help you do that:

Eventually though, you will hit a plateau.

If you still can’t produce enough truly original content, even with an efficient process, it’s decision making time.

If you’re in charge of content scheduling: stop publishing so much content.

If you create really amazing content, your readers won’t forget about you even if you only publish once a month. This has been proven by bloggers like Brian Dean.

By publishing less content, you can invest more time and money (if you hire out at all) into each piece, which allows you to produce truly original content.

It’s not a sexy answer, but that’s what it comes down to.

Are you willing to take some risk in the short term for almost guaranteed better results in the long term?

If so, go for quality over quantity every time.

In the case that you’re not in charge of content scheduling, you’re in a tricky situation. Start by showing this article to whoever is in charge.

Then, explain and show them why your current schedule is forcing you to create content that is simply echoes of others. Finally, cross your fingers that he is smart enough to take a different path.

Scenario #2: If you don’t know how else to get great content ideas, do this instead…

What if you’re relatively new to content marketing?

Obviously, it’s not fair to expect you to be an expert at coming up with great ideas that resonate with your target audience.

That’s why tactics like creating content based off of other existing popular content are so attractive. You know you’ll produce something that at least some of your target audience is interested in.

I’m not saying abandon those tactics altogether, just don’t use them as a crutch.

More importantly, you need to dedicate the time and effort to learn how to generate better content ideas.

Don’t approach idea generation backwards: Most writers start with the question:

What content can I create that will be popular?

This leads them to searching out content marketing tactics and blindly applying them.

bad-content-tactic

Take expert roundups for example, something covered well in the past on the Mirasee blog.

This tactic works incredibly well in some niches, but terribly in others.

Even if you understand when to use a particular tactic (most writers do not), if your sole idea generation method is trying to find a tactic to use, you’re in trouble.

Why?

Because some great ideas that you might have (and that your readers would love) will never be mentioned in a content marketing blog post.

For example, Jon Morrow wrote a now-famous post: “How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World“.

There’s never going to be a marketing blog post advising you to get in a car accident, quit your job, and move across the world in order to write a single piece of content.

And yet, if you look around, the content getting tens of thousands of views (or many more), are the ones that don’t fit into those cookie cutter patterns.

Not every single one will be a home run, but some may be.

Bottom line:

It’s fine to read about content creation tactics, and use them when appropriate, but if you rely on them for everything, you will have trouble coming up with many great ideas. Even worse, you’ll miss out on some that you could have come up with by yourself.

Beyond tactics, what else can you do?

Become your audience: It’s not an understatement to say that empathy is the most important skill a content creator can have.

When you understand what your target audience likes, dislikes, and struggles with, it’s easy to come up with great content ideas. Most importantly, you know how they think.

Once you truly understand your audience, all you need to do is ask yourself:

“If I was my target reader, what would I be dying to read?”

Empathy takes practice, but there are a few ways to speed things up. Namely, you can create reader profiles using demographic and psychographic information to understand your readers better.

Here are some more resources that will walk you through the basics:

Ultimately, though, you need to become a part of your audience.

This is why so many successful entrepreneurs recommend you serve an audience you’re already a part of.

For example, if you love coffee, you already know what many people like and don’t like when it comes to coffee. You know their problems, and can go on to solve them with your content.

But sometimes you have to write for an audience you’re not a part of. The solution is to actively try to become part of it, and do the best you can in the meantime by using those reader profiles I just mentioned.

Go join and participate in forums and groups. Read other blogs, and even go to in-person events if possible.

What Kind of Content Are You Creating?

If you want to succeed with content marketing, there is only one thing you need to do: make a positive impact in your readers’ lives.

The bigger the impact, the faster your audience grows and more will convert into customers.

But if you’re simply “echoing” the content that others are creating, you’ll never make a big impact.

It’s hard to produce content based on original ideas, but if you truly care about making a difference for your audience, and doing the best work you’re capable of, you must do it.

To close off, I have 2 questions for you, I’d love it if you’d leave your answers in a comment below:

  1. Do you think you’ve fallen into an echo chamber? (if not now, then in the past?)
  2. If not, what’s the best piece of truly original content that you’ve produced?

10 Rules of
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