How to Compete with Content in 2017
He mentioned an article in The American Marketing Association, published November 2016, that reported a starling statistic about blogging:
“Brand marketers are blogging 800% more, on average, than they were five years ago. However, the average number of shares per post have declined by 89%…”
We’ve known for a while that merely blogging is not, on its own, enough to get results. Now, it would seem, the writing is on the wall.
Content only works these days when it is unique, interesting, and in some way matters.
So what the hell does that mean?
Space — The Only Way to Create Content That Matters
Truly great content requires a lot of things, but one of the key factors is space.
Space comes in a few forms. The first is time.
At 5:05 on The Tropical MBA #372, Tim Urban, the writer behind the occasionally viral blog WaitButWhy.com, speaks about how much greater his results were when he gave posts more time.
“The three most viral posts by far, (I mean not even close), were the three that I had spent more time on. That was a clear signal to me — Look, people aren’t coming here for volume or quantity. They have sites that are publishing 5 things an hour. They’re coming here for quality. Why not go the full distance? Imagine just doing one article every week. That’s my only job, to work on one post that week. How good could they get?”
Wouldn’t it be great to have a portal to the Dragonball Z Time Chamber in our home office — where a day passes like a year — and enjoy all the time-space our content could ever need?
Yes, well, real life doesn’t like that sort of thing. Tim Urban might not have hard deadlines, but many of us do.
Space in the form of time is always needed in some amount, but there are other forms of space that will get the best work from our teams.
Give your content creators the space to take risks.
Not any risk. A defined risk.
In The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss described his process of untangling himself as the bottleneck of his business. A key “technique” he used was defining the size of the decisions his employees could make on his behalf. Say it was $500. That meant if a customer wanted a refund of $400 of dodgy product, that decision never reached Tim’s inbox.
This policy empowerment his team. They used to be incapable of the smallest and most inconsequential decisions, coming to Tim with everything that went even slightly off-script. Now, they made all sorts of profit-impacting decisions with confidence. Tim was freed up to spend his energy on other matters, and the business grew.
Defining the risk of content will depend on what you want to get out of it — your content’s KPIs. Involve your writers and designers in the creative decision making, to a point. If they’d like to try funky cartoons with a message, like Mari Andrew’s Instagram account, let them. Just define how long they can try it for, which channels they can use it in, and what metrics you’ll be looking at to define it’s success or failure.
Don’t do it begrudgingly! If you do, your team will sense it and keep their mouths shut.
Remember, taking risks is essential to content success, because it’s necessary for uniqueness. Reward your creators for creative ideas and being proactive. Don’t punish in any way for poor results. The results are solely your responsibility. Defining acceptable levels of risk and signing off on bigger ideas means the creator has all the space in the world to think riskily.
Thin out the idea-filter in your creators’ minds. Uniqueness is hard enough as it is.
You (and the risk-defining protocols you set up) can be the filter for them,
What do your writers have to research with? Google?
Is it any wonder they struggle to write “stop-in-your-tracks” articles?
By producing content, you’re acting as a publishing house. As such, your content creators are artists and journalists.
Help them with their journalist hat by giving them the resources they need to go the extra mile in their research. Give them access to customers so that they can strike up conversations and dig deep into the things they really want you to cover on your blog that they aren’t getting anywhere else. Give them access to your contacts in the industry. Help them get interviews.
Help them in their artist hat by providing them with the software and even hardware they’ll need to create something interesting. They should not be required to build their own creative studio.
Again, it’s hard enough as it is to go the extra mile in research, and it’s hard to hand over your own money to Wacom to create doodles for your posts that your boss might not even like.
If you want your team to truly discover the thing that’s missing in your industry right now and to create the articles, the images, and the videos that will catapult your company to top-of-mind status in your market…guess what…they’ll need to be properly equipped.
No-Space Content has Already Been Replaced
A good friend of mine, Marek Sanders, began his working life as a journalist.
He painted for me the picture of what it was like in the journalist bullpen. “Writer’s block” was a laughable concept. You had no time for writer’s block. You had a certain volume to produce, and you had to produce it every day. You may have had resources, but there was no space at all to be risky or creative, and certainly no time to flesh something out.
It reminds me of the city horses that were worked to breaking point before the car came in and replaced them.
And guess what — machines can now produce articles, too.
They’re not great, and they are of course very formulaic, but they pass for the sort of articles we’re often presented by news publications.
Our Only Chance to Compete
It’s not easy to give space.
It’s easier to hand a brief, with a deadline for the day after tomorrow, and no extra support.
That’s how I, as a freelance writer, have worked many times in the past.
If you do, however, you’ll get back an article that a machine could have written.
Whether you’re content creators are in-house or freelance, it’s the same deal.
Unique, interesting content that matters. Its’ possible, and it’s not mysterious.
It simply needs the right conditions to be put in place around the folk that create it.
It simply needs space.