In the best-selling children's book, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," author Judi Barrett joins husband and illustrator Ron Barrett to tell the story of Chewandswallow, a fictitious town that relies on the weather for its daily food supply. For years, everything works normally, until one day a series of storms begin to inundate the town with inedible or dangerously oversized meals that force the townspeople to seek cover and learn how to cook for themselves.
Beyond the book helping my 19-month old daughter fall asleep, there are lessons to be learned from the plight of the people of Chewandswallow. Above all, the thought of giant cheeseburgers and pancakes raining down is enough to get one thinking:
Are we safe from the digital equivalent of such a catastrophic set of circumstances?
The answer is likely "no" and it's clear that today's lingering Internet forecast is "cloudy with a high chance of content pollution." It's real and we must take the situation seriously before we're forced to relocate to a neighboring planet and start the Internet all over again (although, I'm sure Al Gore might appreciate this).
It's no secret that the Internet is filled with hundreds of millions of pages, photos, videos and audio files of low-value content. However, I first heard the term "content pollution" during a dinner with Andrew Bowins, a good friend and former colleague who heads global communications at MasterCard. He's been evangelizing it everywhere he goes.
The way Bowins puts it, "As brands, we have fallen victim to a sense of arrogance of knowing what people want to hear instead of taking a few steps back and understanding why this might not be the best approach."
"We need to listen a lot better," he told me. "Not only will this make us better communicators, but it will bring us closer to people who have meaningful interactions with major brands every day. If we keep feeding uninformed content to those who rely on us - slowly, but surely - they will tune us out."
The facts back Bowins' argument. According to Twitter, the microblogging platform takes in more than 500 million Tweets a day. Facebook boasts 874 million mobile users and 1.19 billion monthly active users. For YouTube, 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute.
All said, there's also the new reality of developing content at a scale in which social media now requires. To be relevant, it's no longer acceptable to be an ad-hoc publisher and expect the masses to flock to one's brand or cause. Just the opposite, relevance is largely defined by one's ongoing presence in the broader online conversation and whether or not an author is adding daily/hourly value beyond a series of pre-defined message points.
So, what's the solution?
"Ultimately it's the idea that matters - not the transmission method," said Bowins. "The content. The story."
It's a valid point and one that all marketers and communicators should adhere to. However, in an era when mobile technology has enabled everyone's ideas to be broadcast in real-time across the globe, we're reaching the point where it's up to the broader PR community to take action and rally around a defined set of standards -- put simply, this will make all of us better and smarter at what we do.
Despite our best intentions, we won't be able to address content pollution without first aligning daily listening and meaningful engagement with how we develop content in the first place. Perhaps it will just take a mass realization that what we're all producing isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread?
Food for thought. Now back to bedtime reading.