First, let me quiet any confusion. I’m not retiring.
But when I was asked what was the last word I would want to leave marketers, my mind naturally turned to my own vocation: creating content.
It’s the popular adage of content marketers to proclaim “We are all publishers now.” I’ve been a print journalist, a blogger and a reporter for Eloqua. My concerns for the future of publishing are not bound by industry; they apply to stories written for the newspaper and posts to the company blog.
The Internet made it possible for almost anyone to become a published writer. The advent of social media only made the roar of competing voices more deafening. It’s understandable that every publisher pays attention to content with maximum spread value. We all want to be read. But as we go about our writing duties, I think it’s important that we seek more than retweets, inbound links and traffic, as sexy as they may be. We should also aim to create content that distributes knowledge; that contributes meaningfully to the marketplace of ideas.
If this were my last post I would want to leave publishers with metrics I believe could guide the process of generating content that fits this bill. In an attempt to prove you don’t have to sacrifice viral techniques in the process, I’ve put them in list form.
When writing an article, whether it’s a list or a Q&A, I’m out to discover something. I’m not just informing readers, but informing myself along the way. I don’t want to simply dump my opinion on the public by dropping it in a sticky format. One of the most fun aspects about my job – and ideally about all of our jobs – is how much I get to learn every day. If I am not discovering something as I generate content, how can I expect readers to learn much from what I produce?
When writing a post I suggest you talk it out. Some of my best posts have come about by discussing the germ of an idea with friends, family or colleagues. Often I am challenged by an opposing viewpoint. Acknowledging the validity of a counter argument doesn’t necessarily invalidate my opinion, but it can certainly change my delivery of it. And the agreement of others can be just as helpful as they can make points I didn’t even think to bring up. Talking out your thoughts with others gives you the ability to refine an article or story before you click the publish button.
This is probably the biggest one. Next time you write an article about an important trend, concept or business ask yourself, “Was I surprised by this?” Many of the most popular blogs out there consistently challenge long-held assumptions or introduce the counter-intuitive. Many of my articles begin with an assumption that I then test by interviewing experts, customers, academics, even people on the street. Usually, I know something is solid when I am genuinely surprised by what I found. If you want to surprise readers, start by surprising yourself.
Is your content fun to read, listen to or watch? It’s amazing to me how often fun is neglected in what we create. Business is serious, yes. But our business is a huge part of who we are. For many of us, our work occupies the majority of our waking hours. I don’t want that time to be bereft of humor, joy and delight. I certainly don’t want to consume content that doesn’t appeal to my right brain as much as it challenges my left. When writing I try and ask myself, “Will this be fun to read? Will the audience be delighted?” If the answer is no, then maybe it’s time to take another crack at it. The important thing is not to forget that I am writing for people, not just suits.
Obviously, these are fuzzy metrics. They require as much introspection as they do community measurement. But if your goal is to do more than generate traffic, if you want to really contribute real value to our work, I think these will be the metrics that matter.
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