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Is Content All It's Cracked Up To Be?

"Content is King." You may have heard this phrase before. When Bill Gates coined the adage, way back in 1996, the Internet was in its toddler years— webmail barely existed, there was no instant messaging, half of all users connected to the Internet through AOL, very few people had heard of mp3s, and streaming video was a beautiful dream, to say nothing of social media. What 'ol Bill envisioned was a web where online companies would earn the majority of their revenue not through traditional goods or services, but through the value of their Internet content, which they would sell, much as traditional media and entertainment companies were able to reliably do until, well, the birth of the modern Internet.

What constitutes content? When we talk about content, we mean any information transmitted through a medium— in this case, the internet— so content can range from simple text to images, video, animations, music, or any combination of these elements. Blog posts, streaming video and online image galleries are all typical examples of content.

In the last 15 years we've seen a number of the changes Mr. Gates predicted (such as streaming video), as well as many almost nobody saw coming, such as the sudden, immense importance of social media. And if you ask around about what it takes to have a strong presence online, you'll hear a lot of people tell you "content is king." But what does this really mean? Traditional media and entertainment companies are casting about for a viable way for their content to turn a profit online, and companies birthed in the Internet age aren't doing much better— if you look around, most of the juggernauts (Google / YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) are engaged not in creating content, but distributing the content others have created.

So is content king or not? As the internet has changed, so has the meaning of the adage. With everyone plugged in through mobile devices, and myriads of ways to engage in social media, people are continuously bombarded by a zillion marketing messages; simultaneously, the ability to search has made filtering all this so much easier. People value authenticity above all else online, and will rely on a search or their own intuition to filter the rest.

What this means for your online content is this: your message must fulfill a need. It must be direct, consistent and offer opportunities to engage it. But above all it should be authentic. If you are knowledgeable or passionate about something, share it. If you can answer a question in a helpful way, do it. It may not be easy to see the immediate value in a blog post or tweet or YouTube video, but if people find it helpful or insightful or funny, your readers will take care of the marketing for you.

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