We Treat Content Like a Commodity
Delivering great content requires some kind of investment: user research, strategic planning, meaningful metadata, web writing skills, and editorial oversight. It requires real people and real resources to get it right, and it’s not easy. That’s why so many of our organizations are constantly looking for shortcuts to getting the content done. When we take that attitude, we start to see content as piles and piles of stuff that can be acquired at will. Here are some examples.
Let’s Go Get Some Content
To some, automatic aggregation of content (via RSS feeds or back-end algorithms) seems like a smart, painless alternative to the complicated, time-intensive, ongoing content creation process.
Similarly, the idea that we can pay to publish syndicated content under our own brand umbrella is wholly appealing. Sign on the dotted line, and fresh content will be delivered daily to your customers, courtesy of Custom Publisher Number Nine.
These aren’t inherently bad ideas. In fact, working with content that’s produced outside of your organization might be the right decision. But don’t mistake these tactics as your answers to a long-term content strategy. Quality, relevant content can’t be spotted by an algorithm. You can’t just license it and then walk away. You need people to create or curate it.
Let’s Publish as Much Content as we Possibly Can
There was once a client who was very interested in producing massive amounts of content on his website. His idea was that the more content he had:
- The better his search engine rankings would be
- The more value he would provide to his online audiences
- The more chance he had of creating “competitive differentiation” in his industry
Yes, content can do a lot. However, the website this client was hell-bent on creating would incur much greater costs than he could ever anticipate—in time, money, brand value, and customer satisfaction.
The more content you have, the harder it is to keep up with: it ages quickly, breaks our navigation systems, and starts piling up in ways we never expected. Suddenly, we find our users are struggling to complete the tasks they came to do—gather information, make a decision, get help, share relevant content with friends. A user doesn’t want endless options. He wants the content he needs, when and where he needs it.
Let’s Get Users to Generate the Content for us
Although “user-generated content” may sound like “content you don’t have to create,” unfortunately there’s a catch: You can’t always depend on your audience to deliver the goods.
Let’s say you own a technology company, and you’re looking for ways to save money on phone-based customer support. Your website support section has been sorely neglected for years. You decide to launch a forum so that your customers can help solve each other’s problems—a low-cost and, you believe, low-maintenance solution.
The forum launches. A few customers show up and pose questions. Other customers don’t answer the questions, so your intern does. More questions trickle in. But with so few posts, and so few visitors, the forum feels like an empty restaurant, or a lame party that no one attended. Within a few months, the “last post” dates are looking old and tired. And your phone support costs haven’t decreased by a cent.
What went wrong? Beyond the forum launch, there wasn’t a plan. No one considered how to advertise or seed the forum, let alone drive user adoption.
If you’re considering ways in which user-generated content can help you achieve business objectives and meet your end users’ goals, be very realistic about the fact that it’s hard work to make it work well. It can happen. But it’s neither cheap nor automatic.
Speaking of cheap...
Let’s buy Content for $4
In 2009, Elizabeth Saloka wrote a Brain Traffic blog post titled, “Bangalore, We Have a Problem,” that sums things up quite nicely:
- I’ve just stumbled on a company called Niche Writers India that offers web content for $4. Four. Dollars. That’s, like, a sandwich. A gas station sandwich.
- Since when did web content become a cheap commodity? We’re not talking about zipper togs and baby socks! We’re talking about communication. Often, very technical and advanced communication.
- A sample of what you can expect for your four dollars:
- “Niche Writers India is the core when it comes to writing and this is what our clients feel about our content writing services expanding to various domains and collaterals. We have bubbling, energetic and youthful warp and woof of writers!”
- ... Niche Writers India, though not in the manner it intends, makes a compelling case for the value of a good web writer. Hopefully after seeing this site, would-be value shoppers will decide to invest (more than $4) in their content.*
Of course, if you’re comparison shopping based on price alone, you may think it’s no big deal to sacrifice some degree of quality in order to save money. Don’t do that. To truly differentiate yourself online, you must offer content that specifically and authentically embodies your brand. Your content must help your audience do something—better, smarter, and with greater ease.
Content that works for your business and that matters to your users is not a commodity. Done well, content can engage your users, answer their questions, and motivate them to take action. Done poorly, it will cause you to lose your audiences’ attention and trust.