A fact, whether you choose to accept it or not, is that nothing is original. Sometime in your life, you’ll come to the conclusion that “it’s all been done before.” The thing is, that once you realize it, it’s no longer something to fear, it’s something to embrace.
The idea first came to me professionally when Upworthy (and other low quality clickbait nonsense) was king and I stumbled upon the term ‘content shock,’ attributed to Mark Schafer.
Content Shock, Imposter Syndrome, and How an 80s Rap Song Reminded Me to Push the Story Forward
It took me time to go through the stages of grief that my budding career in content marketing was over before it began, and that as the supply of content far outpaces the demand, content shock would hit, and people would see through my ‘ruse’.
Like many creative types, I toe the line on eccentricity (among other things), so in my mind, I was under the impression that everything I created was ‘fake’ and that I was either heading for termination, a Google Penalty, or a copyright lawsuit.
But I forged ahead, continuing to make great, well attributed content for clients.
This all changed when I stumbled across a TED Talk (getting inspiration from a TED Talk—how original) or more importantly, an NPR/TED podcast, the TED Radio Hour, titled “What is Original?”
The talk highlighted ‘the fifth most-sampled song of all time,’ “La Di Da Di,” written by Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick, a song sampled from everyone including the Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg (a cover), Notorious B.I.G. (part of “Hypnotize”), Beyoncé & Kanye West, Spoon, and even Miley Cyrus.
So where am I going with this? Here:
“Sampling isn’t about “hijacking nostalgia wholesale,” says Mark Ronson. It’s about inserting yourself into the narrative of a song while also pushing that story forward.”
Which takes us back to an older quote by Mark Twain,
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
Content Curation: Inserting Yourself into the Narrative and Pushing the Story Forward
When I started, I found ‘curation’ to be a dirty word—because the way I understood it was “copy and paste this article, change the title, add an opening/closing paragraph, and call it a blog/article.” This kind of ‘curation’ (the Upworthy business model), is what pushed me to my content cynicism—highlighted in part by my scathing post, “The Most Shockingly Liberal Use of Marketing I’ve Ever Seen.”
Much like Ronson’s argument that sampling isn’t about hijacking nostalgia wholesale, content curation shouldn’t be about hijacking someone’s hard-earned traffic for your own personal gain. It should be about taking something, making it better, and making it right for your audience and your business.
While I still do not like the term ‘curation’ (even if it is a valuable strategy for your content marketing), I do like a term that has been making its way around the content marketing community: The Skyscraper Technique.
The Skyscraper Technique: Johnny Cash’s Cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”
Many artists—popular or not—perform cover songs, repurposing content for their audience. Industries—such as the entire Punk Goes… Series—have been built upon it. Certain audiences prefer Yellowcard’s cover of Michelle Branch’s early-00’s hit “Everywhere” or a small Canadian band’s pop-punk cover of Taylor Swift’s “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Think of this as curation. A band takes something good and turns it into something tailored for its own audience, and puts it out in a timely manner.
Compare this to Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ popular song, “Hurt.”
Johnny Cash’s version of the song fit his own style so perfectly that people began to mistake the song for the original, so much so that if you type in “Hurt” into the search bar, you will likely see this:
Essentially, the cover ‘improved’ upon the original so much, that it is now the de facto search result.
What is the Skyscraper Technique?
Created by Backlinko’s founder Brian Dean, the skyscraper technique was his company’s proven method of doubling search traffic—and it’s a three-step process that is “taking something great and slapping 20 stories on top of it,” hence the term ‘skyscraper.’
It consists of three steps:
Step 1: Find link-worthy content (what’s atop Google? What has a lot of links back? What’s been shared heavily?)
Step 2: Make something even better (Can you make it longer, more thorough, better designed?)
Step 3: Reach out to the right people (who linked to the original post that you skyscraper-ed? Would they prefer to have something newer, more thorough or better designed)
While I’m not out here to out-skyscraper the skyscraper king, I do recommend you check out his blogs, whitepapers, and courses at Backlinko.com.
Here’s Why It Works
Noted in HubSpot’s blog, Using the Skyscraper Technique to Drive Traffic, the Skyscraper technique works well for a few reasons:
- There’s already demand.By discovering existing successful content, I’ve already established that there’s proven demand in the marketplace for content around the topic I’m considering addressing. From here it’s important to examine whythat individual piece of content was so successful. Did it solve a problem for the readers? Was it particularly entertaining?
- You’re dealing with a primed audience. If you can create something even better than the original resource you come across, you’ll have the potential to really excite the existing audience for that piece. If the topic you select is timely, I recommend simultaneously building out a target list of brands, publications, and influencers who either shared the previous piece or linked to it so you can reach out right away.
- There’s serious ranking potential. Google has likely already indexed the existing resource well. In creating something that’s even better, you have the potential to topple that older piece of content, outrank them, and drive in more traffic — especially if you win those high quality backlinks by reaching out.
Again, Johnny Cash took a popular song, improved upon it, and connected with the right people to distribute/promote it, and now has the top search results—and isn’t that what we all want?
Conclusion: It’s Likely Not Original, but It’s Possible to Make it Better
It all starts with the simple truth, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible.”
Adapt to it.
Go out and make something better.
Let’s Build Websites, Followings, and Skyscrapers
Modern Marketing Partners has long been trusted by companies large and small to create better content and make it work for our clients. Consider our case study the Healthcare Trends Institute, which got up to 10,000 monthly visitors within the first year, brought in hundreds of thousands of media impressions, and generated thousands of leads for Evolution1 (Now WEX Health). See the Case Study.