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Content Half-Life & The Half-Life of Relevance | Thought Principles for Content Creation For Brands

How does one choose what kind of content to make? Does all content have an expiration date? How long is content relevant? What can brands do to stay relevant? Well in this blog on content half-life and the half-life of relevance, inspired by a conversation on Mentza, we’re going to explore just these things.

As usual, let’s begin with a thought experiment. It’s the final match of the tournament. The stadium is buzzing with energy. Lights and sounds galore. Chants and anthems, fans and neutrals, coaches and players, the spotlight is on everything. It’s Team A v/s Team B. On paper, Team A is running away with the game, the stats point in their direction. With your eyes, you can see Team B is doing a great job soaking in the pressure, and are simply biding their time, the eye test favors them. In this case, do you believe the stats or your own eyes? There are definitely reasons for both.

Buddha said, and I’m paraphrasing “Do not believe in anything you hear, even if I’ve said it, if it doesn’t agree with your common sense.”

Algorithms and stats fundamentally fail at this one thing: common sense. They are great at specific sense, not common sense.

Now, before diving deeper, a couple of disclaimers and definitions are in order. First off, this blog is largely focused on “organic/social” content, not “advertising/paid” content. Second, there is no algorithm at the end of this. Third, I’d love to get your thoughts on it, this is more of a conversation starter as compared to a sure-shot “THIS IS IT!” blog.

What is Content Half-Life?

According to Greg Swan, the half-life of content or content half-life is the time it takes for pieces of content to reach 50% of their total lifetime engagement. As per a study done in 2020, here’s what the numbers state:

In my opinion, these numbers are cool, but really don’t help paint a picture of anything specific. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that neither does this look at the quality of content, the value of content, the value of audiences, or the relevance of content. But they do give you a good guesstimate (guess + approximate) of something called “engagement”, and over time, measuring growth in engagement is useful.

Engagement by itself is not a useful metric, whereas growth/decline in engagement over time, now this one I can stand behind.

That said, let’s move from something an algorithm can easily measure, to something that an algorithm cannot: Relevance.

What Is the Half-Life of Relevance?

Before I define this term I came up with, i.e, “the half-life of relevance”, it’s time to get a bit nerdy. From what I remember in Chemistry class, half-life measures the rate of decay. Similarly, in my opinion, content decays over time. It starts becoming less relevant due to a bunch of different factors, such as competition, how many people are talking about it, what’s the digital authority of people talking about it, etc. In fact, journalism provides incredible insights into relevance, and I’d recommend going there to seek more clarity, not in the digital space.

Also, in chemistry, half-life periods are measured in cycles. Now, in digital media, we have a lot of metrics to do with time such as three-second views, true views, bounce rate, time spent on-page, and a few other metrics. But unlike content half-life being a function of the platform with time as the variable, the half-life of relevance (at least so we can define it )assumes the time period to be constant across platforms.

Relevance is the period of time your content is relevant to your audiences. Half-life of relevance is the period of time your content is still relevant to your audiences.

Here’s what this might play out to be in the real world. Imagine a world where Marvel is releasing another movie. The hype begins with say a trailer. The trailer itself is mind-blowing. YouTubers are creating reaction videos and breakdown videos. They’re hanging out with the content piece, i.e the trailer. In this situation, Trailer 1 is highly relevant until Trailer 2 comes out. Then trailer 1 becomes less relevant. But, and crucially, it doesn’t become irrelevant. All digital content follows a similar structure. Your content piece will continue to be relevant until something new or different comes up, after which, it becomes less relevant. The more the new and different, the more relevance decreases over time. This is fundamentally true for everything,

Extending this beyond Marvel to other brands, at its core, any content piece should answer one important question: do people want to hang out and spend time with this piece of content. Not what is the value this content adds (as everyone would have you believe), but is this content piece hangout-able.

Therefore, the goal of your content piece, should be to increase the first half-life of relevance, i.e, make the content piece more hangoutable.

What Can Brands Do To Increase Half-Life of Relevance?

At its core, no one wants to hang out with people and brands that are irrelevant, especially on social media. Which brings to the forefront, “What Can My Brand do to Increase Relevance?”

That’s all folks. If you’ve got the time, I’d highly recommend listening to the entire 25-minute Mentza conversation here:

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