Content is everything, so just do it
Sometimes the blog posts that most inspire me are the ones I disagree with the most. Such is the case for a recent Signal vs. Noise post about content. In particular, I could not disagree more with the following:
I’m sick and tired of hearing about how you should be producing “content” to attract a web following. Treating content as a category on its own is missing the point entirely. Nobody cares about content. Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, hey, I should read some content today.
I get that he’s writing a rant to make a point. Namely, the things that matter most are the concepts expressed by content, not the content itself. But on the Web, nobody finds your concepts if you don’t wrap them in effective content. Everywhere in communication, nobody will take your opinions seriously, let alone be influenced by them, if you don’t write or speak in ways that make sense to them. The point is not how to form opinions, its how to express those opinions in ways that maximize their effectiveness. Otherwise, you might as well write a journal and burn it at the end of every day.
So content is not some trivial thing that you do after you decide what points to express. If you want your opinions to have the desired effect on your target audience, you have to get up every day and say “What content will I produce today?” Rather than responding to his rant with a rant, however, I will reason my way through this. If you’re interested, read on.
Content is everything
Perhaps his point is subtler than it seems. But taking it literally, it is patently false. Everybody cares about content, or at least they should. And rightly so. You see, the Web is comprised almost entirely of content. Every character of every post or tweet is a little bit of content. Even the spaces between the words are content. (Consider the difference between #content #strategy and #contentstrategy.) Every piece of code of every application uses content to do its job. Take search: The URL, the title tag, H1, meta description, subheads, alt tags, anchor text, even the URL of the page you link to, these are all content. All the search algorithm has to go on is content.
The reason we focus on content is people can lose sight of how important it is on the Web in the rush to create compelling messages. How a page is built or a video is encoded affects who sees the message it carries, shares it, and comments on it. It also effects the content of those comments. In our consultations, people who don’t think about these things are not effective, mostly from lack of attention. Sometimes this just means nobody hears the messages they’re trying to communicate. But other times, the content might actually result in negative influence on what they’re trying to do, as though they would be better off not doing anything than creating the pages they create.
A scenario: IBM content strategy
IBM has lots of content efforts going on all the time to try to get the word out about our offerings. If we all just do our thing and stay on brand and on message without some kind of content strategy in place, we fail. Why? Because we unwittingly create lots of duplicate experiences and confuse users and search engines in the process. Users get really mad when they can’t find stuff on your site. The more content you have that looks the same to the casual user, the harder it is for them to determine which page on a particular topic is most relevant to them. If they only have time and attention for one page and you give them 1000, many of them will simply leave in frustration.
If you don’t pay attention to content strategy, some of the more frustrated users might even tweet or blog about their negative experiences with your content. A company’s worst nightmare is a viral post about how it doesn’t have its act together. This is especially true for companies that make products for the Web. The implication is, if they can’t get their content strategy right, how can I trust the products they make to help me publish content on the Web?
So obviously, we care a lot about content strategy at IBM. We try to govern content in a way that makes sense to our customers. That means we have put a lot of thinking into content strategy in every phase of the publishing process. And one of the key decisions we make often is not to publish something because of the risk of negative user experiences with it, including confusion with other content we have published or have planned for.
Perhaps his rant was directed at individual brands. But I say, the point is the same as it is for corporate brands. If you want your voice to be heard and have its desired effect on your audience, ask yourself every morning, “What content will I create today?” And that starts with, “What content will I consume today?” Because your voice only makes sense in the context of all the other credible voices on the Web. And how they craft their content affects the effectiveness of your content. Of course you need interesting things to say, and there’s no algorithm for this. But interesting points are just one component in effective communication. The sooner the blogger gets that point, the sooner he’ll be more effective.