We’re all familiar with democracy. Many countries around the world successfully employ democracy as a form of government.

Democracy is defined as rule of the majority. This means that the most popular choice wins, even if more “correct” choices are available.

What does democracy have to do with content?

Up until recently, not that much.

How the Democratic Process Works Online

Arguably, the era of democratic content began in 2005, with the creation of popular social media site Reddit, which allows users to submit content and vote for content they like. It’s this system of up/down voting that makes this site democratic.

The front page of Reddit features the most popular content on the site at any given time. Content only reaches the front page after receiving thousands of upvotes, often garnering hundreds of comments along the way. Naturally, content that’s made it to the front page receives multiple times more views than content that’s buried deeper in the depths of subreddits.

For content to be successful on Reddit, it has to be deemed the most popular by the rule of the majority, a.k.a. a democratic vote.

Reddit isn’t the only place we see the rule of the majority playing into the success of content. Social media giant Facebook includes factors such as number of likes (or reactions), comments, and shares in its algorithm to determine which posts show up in users’ news feeds.

While likes, comments, and shares aren’t as obvious a form of voting as Reddit’s upvoting, the Facebook algorithm considers them this way. Because of this, users who like, comment, or share content on Facebook are essentially voting for that content to become more popular, and therefore more viewed, on the platform.

Although online the democratic process is mainly found through social media, it affects other content outlets as well. The success of content found on blogs, online newspapers, and even YouTube or Vimeo is at least in part determined by how much it’s shared on social media.

And remember, every share is a vote for the content to succeed.

Democratic Content & Content Creators

The democratization of content obviously affects content creators and marketers. Many of us have already adjusted our content creation process to work with the online democratic process.

How can we continue to create content that’s going to be successful in this day and age?

  • Spend time creating high-quality content. Just putting a few words together with a clickable headline no longer cuts it. With thousands of other content being published daily, only the shining stars stand out. That means taking time to research, quote sources, and even interviewing experts on the topic you’re covering–even if you don’t consider yourself a journalist.
  • Distribute it on the best channels. Don’t assume that your content needs to be distributed through every possible channel to be successful. It’s more important to determine the channels that have an audience the content is going to resonate with, and make sure it gets distributed there.
  • Engage with readers. Building a loyal audience means you’ll get more votes for new content. Responding to comments on your content and engaging with your readers’ content will help create a loyal audience who will be more likely to like, share, comment, upvote, or otherwise vote for your content to be successful online.

Consequences of Democratic Content

It’s easy to think the online democratic process is a good thing. Surely this means the best content will always win popularity, while inferior content sinks to the depths of the web, right?

Not necessarily.

It’s pretty amazing for users to have so much say in what content becomes popular. However, users don’t necessarily have the best judgment all the time. This is why content featuring cats can become more popular than content on world news.

This can be extremely detrimental to true news outlets, such as newspapers. We all know newspapers have suffered some serious blows since the advent of the internet, but now they’re being pushed to publish fluff pieces over content with substance because it brings in more viewers.

For more on how the democratization of the internet affects news, check out this piece from John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight.

Regardless of the consequences, it’s probably safe to say that democratic content is here to stay.