Decoding Active vs. Passive Media: The Road Out of Content Marketing Hell

As Mitch Joel delivered his keynote address to more than 1,000 content marketing pros on Wednesday at Content Marketing World, he began with an ominous piece of empathy: “Marketers feel like they’re in hell.”

“One day someone’s telling you to go on Twitter; the next day they say go on Pinterest,” he said. “One day they say tweet a lot; the next day they say don’t tweet a lot.”

Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation and a dynamic speaker, looked out and saw a ballroom full of marketers who were struggling to understand the rapidly evolving mediums through which they needed to reach consumers and clients.

“We’re not in hell. We’re in purgatory,” he explained. “That’s good because it’s not hell, but it’s bad because we don’t have this promise land. Most people stuck in purgatory freeze, they don’t do much.”

The Content Marketing Promise Land

To help marketers reach the promise land, he suggested a radical reconfiguration of how they think about media. Stop segmenting everything into search, social, TV, radio, print, etc., and think about it in terms of active vs. passive media.

In Joel’s view, marketers struggle because they don’t understand the nature of the media medium they’re operating in. There are passive mediums like television, where viewers often just want to unplug, have a drink, and decompress. And then there are active mediums, like Twitter, where the true value comes from actively interacting with the platform.

The problem in the digital age is that marketers using passive media mediums are trying to make it active, and marketers using active mediums are pushing passive media content. Television marketers are annoyingly screaming at viewers to tweet, like, vote, and check-in on GetGlue in fear of falling behind. Marketers on Twitter are pushing self-promotional content that no one on Twitter wants to consume.

Reimagining Marketing

Ultimately, Joel hopes that this marketing re-imagination will help marketers implement appropriate techniques for the mediums they’re using, and stop freaking out that consumers aren’t having conversations with them.

“If you’re creating content that’s as shareable and findable as possible, it’s social,” he said. “And if they share and engage it enough, they might have a conversation with you.”

The promise land just might be a world where brands stop yelling at us to talk to them. It’s not an open bar of milk and honey, but most consumers would probably take it.

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