We continually see references to content. It’s spoken of as if it’s a tangible quantity, something measurable, a thing you can stock the shelves with.
In the case of the Internet, it would be shelves on the web and social media platforms. Posts and tweets and fan pages. We know we have it because it’s in the spreadsheet and we’ve done some number crunching with the data. But what is it?
Content is ideas. Content is ideas presented in a variety of ways. Content is one person saying to another, “What do you think about this?”
Content is always two-way. If you’re on one side of it, the creator side, it helps a lot if you know who is on the other side. You can be as imperative as you like and stress your call to action repeatedly, but if you’re talking about cricket to fanatical hockey fans, you are wasting your time.
Let’s be honest, no business likes content. It’s just that our customers seem to and so we’re forced to come up with some. But it is so mercurial, so difficult to nail down and define, it makes us crazy. It involves creativity. For heaven’s sake, it’s even artsy sometimes. How the hell do you measure that? How do you replicate it? How do you build efficiencies into it?
I think the first step is to stop thinking about it as content. When we say “content,” I believe we implicitly think in terms of our business goals. Counter intuitive as it may seem, that is probably the worst way to think of it. When we talk in terms of movies, books, cartoons, comics, articles and all the other various forms “content” comes in, we start to think from a consumer point of view. A people point of view.
People don’t always think in terms of their goals. Sometimes they like something simply because it’s “neat.” Neat doesn’t necessarily mean gimmicky. An idea or story can be “neat” because it shows us something we tend to think of one way in a completely new way. That isn’t just neat, it’s informative and it’s stimulating.
Sometimes that is all people want. In fact, I’d say most of the time that is all people want.
Do you actually use the web and social media tools? If so, do you use them in the same way your spouse, kids and friends do? That alone should give you some intuitive sense for what people are online for and what they find engaging.
No one is looking for content. Most people are looking for people and ideas. They’re looking for stories and stories come in a wide range of forms: video, pictures, words and sound.
Content is not king. It’s the rabble. It’s us. And we’re not interested in content.
We like people and stories.
(This was originally posted in a slightly different form five years ago in March of 2010.)