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Content Strategy

Churning Content Without a Plan is Gambling

Recently, I have been writing about content consumption a lot. A comment by Therese Torris drew my attention to the causes of the avalanche of content we are struggling to live with. It might appear as though our content environment rewards the churning of low-cost branded content. She calls this “Content Inflation”. However, we can point out an alternative route. Organizations who produce a high volume of low-cost content haven’t had the chance of seeing the benefits of carefully planned and executed publishing.

When you work in digital media, you face a constant temptation to scorn strategy and ride the wave of chance instead. First of all, the Internet is always hungry, and any time spent planning is time you could have spent posting. — Project Argo’s “Wrap-up: Strategy and planning”  (via Contents Magazine).

“Riding the wave of chance” is a lot like gambling with your company’s money. If you post a mass of content, some of it is bound to be relevant. When the costs and the risk of downside seem low, gambling seems acceptable. Unfortunately, the costs and risks of this gamble are higher than you imagine.

Costs of Content

You can’t apply industrial-age economics to content production. Content doesn’t get cheaper as the volume goes up. Unlike Ford’s automobiles, the cost of quality content goes up with the volume because content production involves skilled labour and very few economies of scale. Plenty of organisations try to work around this hard fact using various forms of automation. Content farmers such as Demand Media come to mind first. But there are others such as Best Spinner.
While automated tools can be useful, letting general trending topics or ill-chosen metrics replace a strong editorial strategy will drive the relevance of your content down. Licensed or crowd-sourced content will rarely be tailored for your audience’s needs, the tone of voice they are most accustomed to, etc. Every mismatch drives relevance down and reduces your chances of the gamble ever paying off.
Even if achieving “critical mass” lures people onto your site, the irrelevant content will make them flee. You can not externalize the cost of an editor to your audience. They won’t do the hard work of sifting through masses of content to get what they want. The time and attention of your audience are scarce. We are bombarded with content and our patience is lower than ever. Our earlier discussions here made that fact clear. If they can’t find what they are looking for, you’ll miss a sale, or get a support e-mail or a phone call to deal with.
Once an automobile is shipped, the cost of ownership is transferred to the new owner. Content, however, remains your responsibility beyond publication. On the one hand, to store, archive and back up content still has a cost — even though it is decreasing. On the other, keeping an inventory of your content and re-evaluating it regularly is resource intensive. Taking good care of your content is necessary, though, because old content can expose you to legal threats and give you a bad name easily. When it doesn’t convey the right message with the right tone anymore or becomes outdated, someone has to fix it. When it no longer complies with company or state regulations, someone has to fix it. Or take it off your website.

Maximize Benefits, Minimize Costs

Content isn’t promotional material. Think about it this way: when you choose software, does the breadth and quality of the documentation matter? Why would it be different for your own business? Content is more than bait to amass Google juice and stay “top-of-mind”. These are but small benefits which arise naturally when you publish. Aim higher!
When content is part of your product line, your audience’s confidence and loyalty get bigger. The shift is subtle but it will have a major impact. To treat content as a product means that:

  • it has a serious cost and should get a proper budget
  • it has a life-cycle which goes beyond publication
  • it has to be promoted and monitored to see whether or not it answers the needs of the “market”.

By treating your content as a product, you can use the tools business people know and love to reduce costs and risks while making the benefits higher. Publishing will no longer be a wasteful gamble but a part of your business which allows the other parts to shine brighter.
Content and link farmers won’t change. We’ll just have to give up on them. At their scale, their businesses work well-enough still. Legit brands, small businesses and freelancers shouldn’t follow their lead, however. Not because we drown in content, but because it isn’t the smartest and most effective way to attract attention to our businesses or passions. It is in our interest to get serious about content.
Image credit: Roulette Wheel by dahlstroms. Creative Commons Attribution.
I wrote “Churning Content Without a Plan is Gambling” on Paper.li’s blog, it was originally published on February 17, 2012. Reproduced here with permission.