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The Gift And Bait Spectrum: Evaluate Your Content

Last week I had an ongoing discussion with Ann Handley from Marketing Profs that started with a Tweet I posted about unsubscribing from their email lists. Ann was quick to respond and was very helpful.

The conversation moved from Twitter to email as she asked me to give her some feedback about why I wanted to unsubscribe from the Marketing Profs email list. The bottom line was that I felt like the emails were too heavy on advertising and I was no longer taking the time to sort out what was actual content and what was purely promotional.

Content: Gifts Verses Bait
Ann was gracious and receptive and I’m thankful she was willing to listen. What resulted from the conversation was something I hadn’t really been able to articulate until this particular conversation: the content we create in social media (or anywhere else for that matter) is either a gift to our audience or bait to sell something to our audience. Our gift verses bait intentions change everything about the way the content is perceived which means it has real business implications for anyone using content as a promotion strategy. It’s a matter of drawing people in verses pushing them out.

My feedback to Ann was that the Marketing Profs emails feel like they’re using content as bait to sell webinars and conferences. Other marketing newsletters I subscribe to (like MediaPost) seem more focused on the content because they prominently display the content and place the ads in less prominent positions. The content feels more like a gift in those cases rather than bait.

Gift And Bait Spectrum: Four Levels Of Content
This whole duologue got me thinking about all of us who use content to earn attention. Earning attention is only one step in the right direction. Both bait and gifts can earn attention. So are there levels of earning attention? Can some earned attention even be bad? I think so. Here are four distinct sections on spectrum of content between gifts and bait:

  1. Gifts: content with no advertising. Seth Godin’s blog is a great example.
  2. Presents: content with some advertising. Chris Brogan’s blog falls into this category. He has ads but they don’t dominate the page and they’re not overbearing nor detracting from the content itself.
  3. Incentives: content with strings attached. With these situations you have to jump through some hoops to get the content. Perhaps you need to fill our a form to download an ebook. At this point you’ve crossed over from inspiration to manipulation.
  4. Bait: content that’s a total lure to sell something to you. Content that’s bait may or may not be helpful but it’s clear that the content exists for the advertising.

The bottom line is that we have to decide how we want people to perceive our content. If we put ourselves in their shoes, would we keep coming back to our own content? Would we question the motives behind the content?

Clearly there are times when promotion is necessary, so the further we push toward the gift end of the content spectrum the closer we are to truly having our audience’s attention and influencing them toward the promotion we’re suggesting.

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  • Nathan Moore

    Bill – Excellent entry. Way to nail down the paradigm shift…. and congrats on your first year.

  • Jason Elkins

    Great post Bill. Many many companies struggle with this. I recently bid on a project that I found through my Facebook network. Good stuff and companies on the forefront of this wave are going to be the ones who win!


  • billseaver

    Thanks Jason. I agree, the early birds will certainly catch the worm. Sounds like you and I are both seeing that happen first hand now.

  • billseaver

    Thanks Michelle. Great to hear some companies are already figuring this out.

    Nathan, thanks for the encouraging comment.

  • Michelle / chelpixie

    Congratulations on your first year!

    This is exactly the way some companies are thinking. Not always hiring a company to do it for them but a person. It’s how I found my job with Vibemetrix. Our CEO was looking for someone to bring him the value and the marketing in one person without spending thousands of dollars on a direct mail marketing campaign when our service is targeted for marketing, PR and SEO types.

    • Sunny

      Please keep thorwing these posts up they help tons.

    • Shanna

      AFAICT you’ve ceorved all the bases with this answer!

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