There’s too much noise on the net – and it’s our fault
What’s the one thing we all know about the web?
Other than…”It’s good for cat videos”.
Oh, and…”Man, it’s swallowed half of my life this week #GodDamnYouJohnOliver”
Yes, that it’s “noisy”.
I watch a lot of talks and workshops, and that’s almost always the opening gambit. The sheer volume of information. The Mad Max in the Thunderdome scramble for any scrap of attention.
It’s the “Have you been involved in an accident that’s not your fault?” of modern content marketing. And it’s closely followed by vague whispers of a cure, locked in the vaults of your friendly neighbourhood content agency.
We all know that it’s noisy online. But whose fault is that?
It’s yours. And mine. Writers. Agencies. Companies. Brands. Bloggers. All of us.
Because we are producing a lot of empty, awful noise.
Don’t get me wrong, the web was always going to get crowded. It’s an amazing way to share information with people across the world in mere seconds. And millions of people have used that opportunity to share joy, humour, wisdom and wonder.
But there’s also a lot of junk out there, and some of it is built on our well-thumbed content marketing playbook.
As content marketers, we are creating a sensible, helpful, linear process for making content. But it’s a process in which the content is frequently tacked half-arsedly on the end, like chewing gum jammed under a park bench.
Let’s break it down:
Most great content plans start with research. Investigating and interviewing audiences to discover who they are, what they do, what they value, and what they actually read, listen to, and watch.
Then comes the planning, in which we sketch out what the next few months might mean, and how to slowly build a relationship with that audience.
It’s a methodical process, and it’s so much more re-assuring for that. But we have to make sure that the content that comes out of that process isn’t methodical as well. Because we’ve already got too much of that. And it’s shite.
One of the first rules of content marketing is not to sell directly, but to answer questions that the audience might have. But how many times can we honestly write the same three articles about “How to choose the best ****”? We are barely scraping the surface of what we can talk to our audiences about, and – if we’re even boring ourselves to tears – what hope have they got?
We are the nervous university fresher, awkwardly wandering up to our long-term crush, and discovering that we can only mumble: “What are you studying?”. Forever. Until the end of time.
Why does this happen?
1) Because we rely too much on structure
If we have a process for doing a content project, sometimes we can get waaaay too locked into it.
Take – for example – calendars. There are hundreds of “International Days” peppered throughout the year, and I swear they’ve been put there to help people spot lazy content marketers.
You wouldn’t dream of wandering up to the water-cooler at work and kicking up a thrilling conversation about International Ironing Day, so why would you do it to attract a busy online audience?
“Timely” content is worth its weight in gold. But you don’t discover the timely stuff just by glancing at the small print on your Tom Hiddleston wall calendar.
2) Because we think process is more important than content
I recently watched a Skillshare workshop about effective content creation. One of the main tips of this workshop was that creators should:
a) Identify a popular question
b) Look at the four or five most popular blogs on that topic on Google
c) Copy and re-phrase the best points from these posts, and mush into your own post
I hope that person gets eaten by spider-monkeys.
This is an example of what I like to call the “First Page of Google” problem. If we’re presented with a question that we know little about, our instinct is to build a flimsy response out of stuff on the first page of Google, like a snowman made of whispered waffle.
Yes, in the world of process, that’s a tick in the box marked “Post something on how to recruit students”. But it’s adding nothing of interest to the world. It’s a superfluous echo. It’s noise.
3) Because we know things. And yet we aren’t the ones talking
Yes, organisations are busy. People are busy. But one of the most valuable roles that content plays is to inform. We could be the most knowledgeable and useful people on the planet, but if we pass on all of our blog-writing duties to our hamster, we’re completely wasting that wisdom. And the audience is getting NOTHING.
That’s not to say that the person handling your content creation is useless. Because writing or creating is an art. There is huge value in finding the person in your team who can scoop up all of your insight, filter it, and turn it into a message that resonates with your audience. Or – yes – hiring someone else to do it (call me…).
But if the person who has the most interesting information isn’t involved in sharing that information, you’re missing an opportunity.
In any organisation, there should be a way to pass this information to the people that are sharing it – whether those people are inside or outside your organisation. It may be that the people who know things are directly involved in writing, or it may be that they merely offer their time for interviews or short brain-storming sessions to give the writers a steer.
But if you leave someone with a limited knowledge of your industry in charge of your voice to the world, you’ve only got yourself to blame if it isn’t distinctive.
4) Because we don’t plan
Where do writers and creators where get their ideas? God knows.
Maybe the more pertinent question is: When do they get them? Because they get them at all sorts of random times. And they jot them down, in notebooks, on dictaphones, on moth-eared train tickets, and on their forearms in black biro.
Do the same. If you want a great idea for content, don’t rely on yourself to pick it out of the air ten minutes before deadline.
Constantly observe everything around you. Ask questions. Consider problems, and alternatives. And write those ideas down.
Good content is often personal, timely, and useful. And the key to that is to recall what you – and people like you – are thinking about at certain times. Could you share something about a way you’re tackling a certain problem? Dealing with a personal conundrum? Battling back from an unexpected challenge? Responding to a frequently asked question, or a completely left-field one?
Give yourself a backlog of ideas, so you can develop them, research them, and dump the ones that are dead ends.
5) Because we’re scared
A 400-word blogpost on Being More Like Steve Jobs is a safe option, particularly if it’s squished together from other random posts like Frankenstein’s Clickbait Monster. But safe is only safe because it’s completely, utterly, ludicrously, depressingly anonymous.
Take calculated risks. Whether that’s by changing the way you spread the message, or by being more outspoken in what you say. Because – while it’s always scary to stick your head above the parapet – it’s the only way that anyone will ever see you.
We won’t solve the problem of noise on the internet. It’s always going to get louder and louder out there.
But if we at least ensure that we have something to say, we can at least make it worth picking out our voice in the din.
Need help tackling your content marketing fears? We’re the people to help you with that. Start a conversation with us today.
The header image has been created with a CC 2.0 Flickr image by Kevin Utting.