Interrupting the stream with disruptive content

We’re all familiar with disruptive technologies and their potential to change businesses and markets. But what about disruptive content? In this post, I will explain the idea of disruptive content and propose a content hierarchy.

A disruptive technology displaces an earlier technology and upends a market and value network (Wikipedia). Disruptive technology lacks refinement, has bugs, has fringe appeal, and may not have an immediate practical application. Eventually the technology matures, it gains a mainstream audience and threatens the status quo. Recent examples of disruptive technologies include mobile phones, digital cameras and e-books (

What does this have to do with content?

To have a successful content marketing strategy, the content you create or curate needs to stand out from the noise of the vast amount of content available online. To engage an audience, and build a community, your content needs to be compelling and interesting. You want people to come back for more. You need to disrupt their stream of content.

What is disruptive content?

Disruptive content cuts through noise, and jars a particular niche or way of thinking (The New York Egotist). It proposes new ideas, challenges assumptions, and critiques long-held points of view. It upends people’s thinking and/or causes a disjunction in how a sector, organisation or market functions. It can be fringe, and maybe even a bit kooky.

Examples of disruptive content

Some high-order examples that I can think of are:

WikiLeaks – leaked classified or confidential source materials on topics such as war, corruption, spying, censorship, science, government and trade.

Science journals – publication of new research, evidence or inventions that propel knowledge and understanding.

Insider trading – information that, if applied, can disrupt the proper functioning of financial markets.

While I’m not suggesting that it’s possible for all (or many) organisations to create content that is as disruptive as the examples above, I simply mention these to illustrate the idea of disruptive content. That said, these examples are quite mainstream and there are probably better examples of bleeding edge/ fringe content.

I’m working on the concept of a content hierarchy. It’s a work in progress and I’m no graphic designer, but here’s my diagram. There is a continuum of content, with the highest value (disruptive) at the top of the pyramid, and the lowest value (noise) at the bottom. As a content creator or curator, the higher your content is in the pyramid, the more value it will have to your audience/ community, and the more likely they will be to return for more.

The content hierarchy

Disruptive content: high value, unique and idea smashing content. This is the aspiration for content creators and curators. This is where true thought leadership resides. This content will get you many followers.

Exclusive content: this is content you have that no-one else has. It’s the scoop. This can be time-dependant, i.e. it can be news that you break before others pick it up. People will see you as a source of prized and privileged content and want more.

Sustainable content: this is content that evolves thinking. It adds to the debate and incrementally grows knowledge and understanding. While it’s not revolutionary like disruptive content, it is still high value and demonstrates thought leadership.

Parallel content: this is content that is similar to what other people are creating or curating. It is good quality and may have something unique in how it is presented, but your audience could find content of equal value somewhere else.

Noise: this is content that is low value and low quality that only adds to content overload for your audience.

Those are my embryonic ideas on disruptive content and the content hierarchy. I’m interested to develop these ideas and would love to hear your thoughts.


5 thoughts on “Interrupting the stream with disruptive content

  1. best article i have read about disruptive content. i am a former tech journalist and now in digital pr/writing. you nailed it and opened my eyes. thank you. DC

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