More than 50 years after he coined the phrase, Marshall McLuhan’s famous aphorism seems to be increasingly relevant, not less so.

With “omnichannel” this and “integrated” that, there’s no shortage of blogs to read or conferences to attend about content and channel strategy. And with good reason: you have more places to plaster your brand’s message than ever before.

But even after you pinpoint what to say and where to say it, if you don’t know how to craft your message, you’re better off not saying anything at all.

So stop. Step away from the keyboard, quit recording, delete the tweet. And let’s look at a few ideas first.

Time is currency (and it’s measured in fractions of seconds).
The average human attention span these days is 8 seconds. (That’s less than a goldfish.) This isn’t an indication of declining intelligence, but of increasing impatience. No one has time to wait for a beleaguered point—especially from a brand.

It’s unnatural to talk to brands.
Whether it’s toilet paper or term life insurance, every brand is eager to hear what people have to say about it. But without an incredible incentive to participate, those pleas to “share your story” just fall flat. There’s even a Tumblr that documents the most cringe-worthy.

Brand loyalty is a myth.
Even in higher education, you can’t take it for granted. Sure, the 110,000 raving lunatics inside Ohio Stadium on a Saturday are devoted to the OSU Buckeyes brand way more than anyone cares about Starbucks or Coca-Cola. But even with a fan base like that, the more engagement you ask for, the less you get. Here’s how it works.

The hurdles of content engagement

  1. Like-able (must be instant)
    No-registration-required, one-step-or-less interactions that take milliseconds—like an up-vote on Reddit, a heart on Periscope, or the trusty “like” button on Facebook.
  2. Shareable (must be instantly compelling)
    To get your content shared, it must show up on the right channel at the right time. But more important, it must have instant appeal. Users share an item not just because it’s interesting or funny, but because it says something about them, too.
  3. Customizable (must be easy and worthwhile)
    The ability to personalize, remix, or otherwise alter content is an amazing way to engage. But only when the process is lightning quick, and yields a result that’s more share-worthy than the original.
  4. User Created (must have a big payoff)
    You don’t see many campaigns with user-generated content these days, and that’s because they rarely work. If you do go this route, there has to be a big, shiny reason for people to engage: A rare gift. Exclusive access. A huge audience.

Assess your content creators

Whether it’s an internal team or an agency you hire, watch out for these warning signs to ensure your content doesn’t fall flat.

  • If the people crafting content for your channels don’t use those channels personally, run away, as fast as you can.
  • If they recommend that you place a video longer than 30 seconds on a social channel, be wary.
  • If they use #hashtags #to #highlight #basic #words #in #un-clever #ways, watch out.
  • If they can’t simplify a complex message so that readers can easily consume it, go elsewhere.

Now for some stuff worth sharing

Nike Women’s #BetterForIt Tumblr
Forget the TV spot. The way Nike has quickly built a huge volume of share-worthy content is good inspiration for anyone.

GE’s Instagram
Everything GE does is insanely complex, but you wouldn’t know it from their social content. The company takes its intricate products and thinking, and simplifies them so that they can be understood in a moment.

Gonzaga’s fan-fueled social campaign
Building on its basketball notoriety and frequent NCAA tournament appearances, the university expanded the focus to include its strong academic offering. The “Unfold” campaign shows how an athletic brand can be an asset for telling a school’s overall brand story.