Foreword: ‘Content’ is a cold, utilitarian word that evokes images of boardrooms, flipcharts and KPIs. Many writers rightly shudder at the thought of their work being described in this way. However, content is part of the lingua franca of the communications world, so for the purposes of this blog, that’s how we’ll describe writing, editorial, and penmanship of all kinds.
Cast your mind back to the mid-2000s and the early era of digital communications. From the mists of the past, you may begin to recall a mantra chanted by brand advocates and SEO experts with all the zealous devotion of a Buddhist monk entranced somewhere high in the Himalayas: “Content is king! Content is king!”
Content, after all, pushes you up on Google search. Clicks = ad revenue. Pageviews = conversions = revenue. Daily content = a perception of activity = good optics = revenue. The more the better! Well, not necessarily. In fact, if your content strategy boils down to “content for the sake of content”—or put another way, content without strategy—you’re likely to be harming your brand, not helping it.
All filler, no killer
Today, content has become synonymous with ‘filler’. The daily churn of the internet has compelled brands to manufacture blog articles, social media posts and infographics on a near-constant basis with no clear strategy, purely in an effort to stay on top of people’s newsfeeds.
When everyone is writing the same thing in the same ways, there’s very little motivation to read any of it. How many LinkedIn articles do you absent-mindedly scroll past every morning? How many newsletters do you reflexively delete as soon as they appear in your inbox? This content doesn’t go unread because of a lack of exposure or financial backing: it’s because very little of it as actually any good—it’s all missable.
This should not come as a shock. Your readers, like you, are more than just clicks on a website. They are individuals with interests and motivations. In the same way that you probably have very little desire or time to read over a dry blog written in stilted, management-approved language (and don’t for that reason), your readers are equally uninterested in obediently ingesting your corporate news or the thousandth version of the same LinkedIn article about the top 5 ways to do ‘x’. They want to read good content. They want to be stimulated and inspired.
So, what’s the secret?
The truth is that there’s no magic formula for compelling content, but that hasn’t stopped self-proclaimed brand evangelists, SEO wizards and digital ninjas from trying to crack the code: Posts should be ‘scannable’. Lists should be bulleted. A catchy subtitle, maybe two, must always follow a title. Internet users have limited attention spans, so write in short. pointed. sentences!
Keep paragraphs to a line if at all possible.
Some of this works, some of this probably works, and some of it probably doesn’t—every reader has individual preferences and you won’t be able to satisfy them all. Some devour the Sunday Times Magazine, some glance over headlines on The Journal at lunch. Some will read your website for instructions and information, others will read it for insight and opinion. Use your own judgement and pick a style that works for your readership.
Ultimately, this is all secondary. Once you’ve made sure your grammar, spelling and formatting are impeccable and consistent, the only real way to create content that people want to read is simple: you have to embrace authenticity.
Making the change
Authenticity is something that we all recognise, but can be difficult to articulate and describe. Put one way, it’s a refusal to ‘wear the uniform’: authentic people and authentic brands are different, and defiantly so.
We beat the authenticity drum a lot at PR360, and for good reason. People respond to authentic writing just as they do authentic influencers, leaders, athletes and communications campaigns. They’re drawn to it. With virtually unlimited online content to read, watch and listen to, customers, voters and clients respond to voices that are unapologetically original, honest and straightforward.
Authenticity must be reflected in your brand’s writing. Find a tone of voice, or indeed multiple tones of voice if your blog has multiple contributors. (Remember, a drab corporate tone is never interesting.) Don’t be afraid to flout convention (live a little, start a sentence with ‘and’ now and then!), find your own writing style (try writing as you speak), then actually write it. Explore new themes and topics in your industry, challenge old conventions, provide thoughtful commentary on current events, and interview interesting people.
Even if your line of work doesn’t always excite (you might work in accountancy, for example) that doesn’t mean you or your peers have nothing exciting to say. Approach your content from a different angle. Profile the people who work for you. What have their skills and your products achieved in the real world? What’s your CEO’s vision? What’s the one big thing that all your peers get wrong?
While clicks and visitor numbers might impress the powers-that-be at an end-of-year review, they are poor success metrics for content and, indeed, a business. Few people remember the name of the brand or the writer behind yet another top 10 list or clickbait news article.
Intelligent communications campaigns, on the other hand, are slow-burners: they build positive relationships organically over time. Establishing an authentic tone of voice and writing meaningful, insightful content will help you make this connection in a way that churning out disjointed, haphazard content-for-the-sake-of-content won’t.
Declan is PR360's Content and Editorial Manager. He helps clients say as much as possible in as few words as possible. He likes animated political discussions, medieval history, and heavy metal.