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Correlation and Causation in Content Marketing

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Statistics tells us that correlation does not imply causation, meaning that between two variables does not necessarily imply that one causes the other.  This logical fallacy is known in Latin as “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” (“with it therefore because of it”) and its relative “post hoc ergo propter hoc” which, in addition to meaning “after it, therefore because of it”, is the name of an awesome episode of “The West Wing.”  These ideas might seem to be focused on statistics and are used frequently in medicine, ecology, and other scientific endeavors, but these logical fallacies can often be found in marketing, particularly when it comes to identifying patters in the social signals within your content.

Here’s one variation of the logical fallacy as it applies to marketing: “I received lots of likes, comments, shares and SEO cred because I wrote great content.” (After it, therefore because it).  Here’s the issue with that – many business receive the highest number of shares and likes on a post that says nothing more than “Happy Easter” or features a picture of an animal. Is that great content? No. Is it entertaining and fleeting and easy? Yes. These interactions aren’t building your relationships or developing your digital presence simply because they received a bunch of likes.  The fact is that posts like this do well because there’s fundamentally nothing worth disagreeing about. People like kittens and puppies. People like happy messages about holidays because it isn’t challenging, it isn’t useful. It just IS. It’s easy.  That isn’t to say that your great content won’t get likes, shares, and responses, but just because it gets a response doesn’t mean it’s great content that will bring in that oh-so valuable SEO credibility. Another variation is the idea that just because you wrote great content, it will automatically be found online and receive likes, comments, shares, and more.

The key in these scenarios is that you can’t force the signals; what you can do as a brand is focus on creating the content.  While it’s important to put your content in situations in which they can be found – share it socially, use it in email, on your website, or as blog content, distribute it through conventional media, etc. – but just because you wrote great content doesn’t mean that it will automatically receive optimal performance, either. You can’t force your customers to like your high quality content any more than you can infer that because you received a bunch of likes that your content must be awesome.

High numbers of social signals can be a contributing factor in your SEO (though to what extent is in question and will change over time), but good content helps create good engagement. Above all, brands need to be story-tellers. Every word of content you write should have a goal: it should have a key demographic, target keywords, thematic focus, and action points, all of which have to be reflective of the core values of your brand or company.

What makes a good story? Something people care about.

Even if your business is the most seemingly dry or mundane topic imaginable, you have stories. Case studies and testimonials. Research and analysis. Value propositions and behind-the-scenes explanations. Tutorials and explanations. Special features and “secret sauce.” These are stories even if they don’t seem to fit into the conventional, fictional image we have in our minds of the “storytelling” connotation.  Tell your brand’s stories. Create useful content. Share them in meaningful ways in the right places.  Don’t fall into the trap of the logical fallacy.