I think we can all agree that August exposed the dark side of content overload capitalizing on horrific events, specifically the many news-jacking incidents of the Robin Williams death story to tell a branding lessons, public relations exercises, or a host of other bad coverage decisions. Content surpassed the tipping point on good taste long before Robin Williams’ death, but it’s a sad reminder that we’d all benefit from sticking to some basic rules.
With no formal “content code of conduct” in this digital wild west, I believe it benefits everyone to create articles and posts that avoid blatant self-interest or all-out sensationalism, otherwise, readers will look away out of boredom, indifference, or outright disgust. Sure, quality varies in any profession—whether it’s graphic design or accounting or anything else—but content has gotten pretty sloppy these days. And with branded content increasingly contributing to the bottom-line for companies and publishers, there’s even more potential for a downward spiral.
As someone once said: “Just because you have a pen, it doesn’t mean you should write.” So, if you’re going to produce content, consider these five ideas to help toggle that fine line.
No Knee-Jerk News-jacking: In the race to produce the first or competing angle on a trending topic, the temptation to get in on the action because everyone else is can be a fool’s game. If you have nothing new to add or merely seems an opportune moment to spout expertise or make a vague connection, you’re probably better off keeping quiet. Sitting on a trending topic before hitting those keystrokes allows time for ideas to marinate, the opportunity to leverage real-time media insight, and ultimately produce more thoughtful content if you choose to do so.
Write for Your Audience, Not SEO: Despite my marketing chops, I’m still a former journalist so I generally leave the keyword ninja moves to the pros. That said, I gladly encourage and promote clicks to my articles, but not at the price of quality. I care that three (alliterated) criteria are met when I write: It should educate, enlighten, or entertain (or the miracle of all three). If an article doesn’t do any of these, it’s back to the drawing board. In the end, as the saying goes, “the best SEO is good content.” Amen to that.
Consider the “So What?” Factor: By now we can all agree thousands of posts abound on blogging best practices, do’s and don’ts of emails, or writing the killer LinkedIn profile—you get the idea. Though they all bring their own unique value to the table, most have been done before. The question to ask is: What differentiates my content from everything else out there? I know personally how many times I get all excited to write about a topic only to find out it’s already been done ad nauseam. But I am happy to say I have many ideas rattling around in my brain that will one day make their singular debut, so I move on.
Be Human: Digital content readers tend to be an intelligent, curious bunch and can usually be found hunting the web for good stuff—they have no patience or time for self-promotion or articles with the substance of popcorn. The smarter, more relatable your articles are, the more they will spark a conversation and as a bonus, your personality will also shine through. I’ve also found it serves no purpose to “play Switzerland” by staying neutral on a topic. Taking a stand is what separates you from the sheep and gets your audience engaged and responsive, whether they agree with you or not.
Stoke the Passion: When you write about a topic that piques your own interest and curiosity, that enthusiasm will come out organically. I create lots of content on marketing and technology, but I never write about something that doesn’t interest me. It might result in less-than-stellar readership sometimes, but I’ve learned something myself (and for the small group of readers interested in controversial billboards of 2013, you’re welcome).
The endless tidal wave of content these days is only going up (and up), so don’t be tempted to jump the shark, no matter how high the SEO results might be.