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This article was published on August 23, 2014

Stop giving people the ‘click-flu’: When to start giving a damn about your content

Stop giving people the ‘click-flu’: When to start giving a damn about your content
Jake Athey
Story by

Jake Athey

Jake Athey is the Marketing Manager for Widen Enterprises. Jake Athey is the Marketing Manager for Widen Enterprises.

Jake Athey is the Marketing Manager for Widen Enterprises.

The internet is ballooning with fluff, and bad content marketing is to blame. In our obsession with “engaging” our “audience” in “real-time” with “targeted content” that goes “viral,” we are driving people insane.

The deep feeling of disappointment and nausea that comes when you fall for click-bait and regret your decision? Let’s call it “click-flu.”

Marketers create content because they want people to care about their brand, but giving people click-flu does the opposite. Failing to meet someone’s expectation is a terrible first impression.

The Web is being diluted by crappy content because marketers don’t yet see themselves as publishers. The vaccine for click-flu is high quality publishing. Although word on the street is that people want short, “snackable” content, the data says otherwise.

As BuzzSumo founder Noah Kagan explained in The Huffington Post, long-form articles (3,000 to 10,000 words) actually rack up far more average social media shares than all short-form. There’s also 16 times more content under 1,000 words than there is content over 2,000 words – because you can only spread fluff so thin.

People are more than willing to invest time in content when it isn’t wasting their time (remember those things called books?).

So where are the content marketers going wrong? Why does most content leave our mind retching and wishing we hadn’t clicked? I have a few theories:

Content often pretends like it’s going to discuss an interesting issue

… and then it suddenly becomes self-promotional. It’s like going to a fascinating college lecture, and 15 minutes in, the professor decides to sell his new book instead of teach you anything.


The pressure to publish means that marketers are getting loose with the trigger, and are therefore more likely to shoot themselves in the foot.

Most companies don’t have an editorial process. Particularly at mid-size and large organizations, there needs to be a real publishing workflow. 

For starters, the person who creates the content shouldn’t be editing, approving and distributing the content too. People have a hard time shooting down their own work. There has to be someone willing to say, “No, I definitely wouldn’t share this with anyone. Here’s what’s wrong with it. Go back to the drawing board.”

When a publishing agenda is too ambitious, people can’t afford to shoot anything down. This is precisely why John Stewart lambasts the 24 hour news cycle. They’re under too much pressure to fill time slots, so viewers get cable-flu. 

People making content often don’t get feedback from their audience

The creatives create, the marketers push it out and then the creatives never hear how their work performed. They know that their team liked the infographic because it got approved, but they don’t know how the real world reacted to it.

Without feedback and critique, creatives will continue making junk, or worse, they will miss opportunities to replicate their successes. We only spread click-flu through a lack of self-awareness. I have faith that marketers aren’t trying to annoy, numb and disillusion people.   

Content marketing requires some faith because you have to sell without selling. Content marketers essentially say, “Hey, I want you to invest in making articles, images and videos, then I want you to give it to people for free. Will the content talk about our product. Of course not. What’s the ROI you ask? The hell if I know.” 

Red Bull probably can’t calculate the ROI of dropping a man from space, and good thing it can’t. Data – fear of it, or a fear of lacking it – can get the best of marketers who might otherwise create historic moments.

If the marketers needed exact ROI calculations, Intel wouldn’t bother teaming up with Vice Media to produce The Creators Project, which is commissioning original artwork and pushing the boundaries of expression around the world. 


If you think your brand is too boring and therefore doomed to spread click-flu, you’re missing the point. Sometimes you have to create stories worth talking about.

Crunch some interesting numbers. Challenge your competitor to a dodge ball match (press for all). Do something for your community. Or turn Liechtenstein into a real-life version of a video game, if you must. Remind the world that you still have a pulse, then create content around it. 

Start thinking of yourself as a publisher. Start thinking of content as a vessel of information, not an end in itself. Stop trying to sound exciting then let everyone down.

People will give a damn about your brand when you create content with empathy, remembering what it’s like to get hit with click-flu. Do your part to stop the pandemic.  

Read next: 6 ways content marketing has changed the way we do PR

Image credits: Shutterstock/Pushish DonhongsaModel to Monument/Harley Valentine via The Creators Project