Content, Eyeballs, and God

Sep 20, 2021

Content is king. Eyeballs are god. God is sovereign.

To put it another way, you need something worth saying. You need people who want to hear it. And at the end of the day, it still isn’t all up to you.

These three realities must be placed at the forefront if we hope to succeed in a content-starved, message-driven, noisy, social media-saturated society.

If we want people to read what we write, buy what we make, listen to what we create, and consume what we produce, we have to rise above the noise and stay there. Whether it’s a personal brand or a corporate identity, we have to create and maintain a platform.

Unfortunately, few individuals or organizations are able to keep all three realities in focus at the same time. Instead, they usually lose focus on one or lean too far toward another and fall into one of three traps.

Trap 1: Mailing It In (Losing Focus On “Content Is King”)

Too many content creators, particularly those who have had past success and have an established audience, forget just how much quality matters. Like the director who knocked it out of the park with the original and then produced an unwatchable sequel, they start mailing it in. Instead of pushing toward greater innovation and more daring insights, they fall back on “what worked last time.”

Consciously or unconsciously, we very easily start to buy into our own hype, assuming that our name or our reputation is enough to carry the product, regardless of its quality.

Twenty years ago, this may have been a workable strategy. Today, there are simply too many talented folks creating too much solid content at too low a price. Start coasting, and you’ll find yourself among the ranks of the one-hit wonders.

To succeed—and especially to succeed over time—you must offer something of enduring value, and you must do so over and over again.

In the content worlds I live in—sports media, publishing, and blogging —I manage this need by following guidelines like these: Tell me something I do not know. Tell me something I can use. Tell me something that triggers a number of sensory responses. These guidelines act as a content filter, sorting out the mundane and homing in on the unique and meaningful.

Regardless of what arena you’re living in, never underestimate the necessity of substantive, impactful messaging.

Trap 2: Genius Complex (Losing Focus On “Eyeballs Are God”)

“If you build it, they will come.” A great line from a great movie, but a terrible content strategy. And yet, so many content creators believe that if they write something eloquent enough, paint something beautiful enough, or film something captivating enough, the rest will take care of itself.

Unfortunately, the “viral” phenomenon has only further embedded this type of thinking in the minds of creators. Every time we see an obscure blogger or singer gain instant fame via social media, we think, “Why not me?” I’ll tell you why not. Because for every witty parenting video that makes its way to the Today Show, there are 10,000 more that are only read by the writer’s blood relatives.

So, if you want to bank on the sheer might of your genius, that’s fine, but keep in mind that this strategy tends to work better in death than in life. If you want your success to look more like Malcolm Gladwell’s or Seth Godin’s and less like Van Gogh’s, you will be well served to remember that in the world of content, eyeballs are god.

You’ve got to build an audience and keep building that audience. Your new customer acquisition process will ultimately be the engine that either drives or stalls your content machine.

Many experts say that you should spend 20% creating your content and 80% marketing it. While I’m not sure I agree with that exact split, the point is worth remembering.

Trap 3: It’s All About Me (Losing Focus On “God Is Supreme”)

“If I work hard enough, long enough, and smart enough, it will all work out.” Sound familiar?

Even if we wouldn’t say it out loud or list it as our mission statement, this is how many of us operate. We often act as if our successes and failures are entirely a result of our efforts, and we rarely involve God in any part of the process. (Unless, of course, the wheels fall off; then we remember the importance of prayer!)

We forget warnings like this, sprinkled throughout the Proverbs: “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (16:9). And, “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail” (19:21).

When all the work is done, the result is ultimately up to God.

Now, I want to offer a note of clarification here. I am not saying that your work doesn’t matter. After all, I just got done telling you the importance of the quality of your content and the savvy of your marketing. What I am saying is that, as a person of faith, I must always remember that He is above all and in charge of all. My job is to be the best steward of the resources and talents He has given me, to honor Him in every stage of my work, and to trust Him with the outcomes.

6 Insights to Steer You Away from the Traps

Holding these three realities in tension requires constant effort and attention. While it is never easy, there are a few insights I’ve found helpful along the way.

  1. Make your content powerful, fresh, and useful. Don’t get lazy. Never get complacent.
  2. Being the favorite is great, but it may not last long. The applause of the masses tends to be fickle, so hold it loosely and don’t let it dampen your drive.
  3. Don’t tie too much of your identity and value in either the message side or the platform side of the coin. Root yourself in the truth that God is good and sovereign.
  4. Treat both your content and your audience as another asset to be stewarded and leveraged. Give yourself away as often and deeply as you can. Be generous. Sure, make money and honor smart IP practices, but keep your heart generous and soft. You’ll never regret this.
  5. Don’t get caught by the gravitational pull of self-interest. We all have some level of self-interest, but not all self-promotion is equally offensive. Some smells worse than others. Your personality, authenticity, self-awareness, timing, and the depth of your generosity determine how abrasive or welcome your promotions are.
  6. For decades, I’ve tried to embody a truth that is vital to this discussion: “It is my job to build the depth and let God build the breadth.” Reach is His job. Have a plan. Market. Brand. Those are all good things. Ultimately, though, try to rest in the goodness and sovereignty of God as it relates to your platform.

P.S. I get emails often from people telling me how much The Five Tasks has changed the way they lead their business and given them a healthier balance in their life. That’s because its lesson is simple: there are only five things that any leader really must focus on. When we get distracted from those things, or try to delegate them, we struggle. In a 7-session class starting next week, I’m going to personally take you through some of the books key insights. Learn about the classes, and sign up here.

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