Content, Trust and the Bob Dylan Conundrum

May 3, 2011 9:00 am

Online and mobile content can’t afford to rest on its laurels

Quality content isn’t simply about words or videos or images. It’s also about engaging people and, more importantly, establishing and maintaining their trust. From the moment they first read, see or hear what you’ve got to say, they need to feel that a personal connection has been forged. And each time they return, they need to know that you’re not taking that connection for granted.

Bob Dylan is currently touring Australia, and the sheer number of tickets sold at over $100 a pop is proof positive that the bond of trust he cultivated long ago is alive and kicking across generations. That trust was built for many on the inherited experience of their parents and grandparents, on the hype and vibe and cult personality of the famously private folk idol. Others have been lucky enough to see Dylan in his younger years, and that trust is rooted in nostalgia, and the memory of seeing someone truly great break the mould.

There are certain things that, whether seeing Dylan play for the first time or the 10th, people expect. They expect to be moved by his lyrics and touched by his wisdom. They expect to be rocked the way they were the first time they heard his more political songs, and wooed the way they were on first hearing his love songs. Most of all, they expect to experience a bit of the magic of those songs that formed his gory years.

Content must connect, not take for granted

During this latest tour, however, many punters were denied that experience. Refusing to allow screens to project his image to the crowds, and facing away from the audience for large parts of the show and failing to perform almost all of his major hits (with the exception of a handful of barely-recognisable renditions) both his Bluesfest appearances and his gigs at the Sydney Entertainment Centre left many feeling their trust had been abused – that Dylan had broken the connection.

And here we have a conundrum.

Does Bob Dylan deserve his audience’s trust and continued support, having earned it all those years ago? Should we make exceptions, allow him to showcase the new direction his music is heading in without paying homage to the songs that made him famous in the first place? After all, he has shown he can create good content – but is that fact alone enough to keep people coming back?

On the one hand, it seems fair that the legend himself can choose to take the show in whichever direction he pleases. But on the other hand, Dylan must know that the bulk of his equity lies in a shared remembering of another time, and that to use that equity to fill a stadium without ever truly delivering is an abuse of the power his fans have bestowed upon him.

Content can create loyalty – and also lose it

The Bob Dylan conundrum contains a lesson for content creation. The bond of trust between producer and consumer needs to be nurtured and worked at, not taken for granted. A blog that engages readers and then slowly descends into blatant product placement and paid promotions is abusing the trust in the very same way. Likewise an online newsletter that garners subscriptions with one sensational article or promotion but fails to follow through with further valuable content. Content needs consistency if any loyalty is to be achieved.

Many fans will remain loyal to Bob Dylan because the lure of his image is bright enough to blind them to the current reality. But, for others who were present at his recent Australian shows, the times really are ‘a changin’. We’re predicting the next time Bobby comes to town there’ll be quite a few enthusiasts who’ll choose to stay home with their record collections and live in the golden age when Dylan’s content first earned their trust.


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Image: Brisbane Times


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