Articles Tagged with content

Take good care of content

Way back in 1985, in the infancy of online media, I helped build a kind of web site. I say kind of web site because the internet as we know it had not yet been developed. A colleague and I at British Airways built what we called an electronic brochure in Prestel, the BT videotext system. Like Ceefax and Oracle but far more responsive, we created 7,000 screens, or pages, of information uploaded into this early system.

Much of my contribution was to summarise every air fare charged from the UK to 140 destinations and to describe the features and benefits of the classes of service, eg Economy, Business, First and Concorde. I also published the complete USA Flydrive holiday brochure online and each month changed the Concorde on-board menus. At that time 95% of UK travel agents used Prestel and I seem to recall we achieved some 500,000 page views a month.

Then I obtained another promotion and moved department. Unfortunately, Prestel was ageing even then and was being superseded by more sophisticated computerised travel reservations systems and, ultimately, by the internet.

I suppose one day those 7,000 pages of information were turned off and discarded. They were customised to fit the 40-character x 22-line screens with no photo facilities, primitive graphics and limited colour choices. Compared with the simplicity of technology like WordPress, it could be excruciating work to fit everything on to one screen with no scrolling.

This brings me, after meandering via 140 destinations it seems, to my point that content is invaluable. While learning to use social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ is important now, how long will we use continue to use these? What will we use in two or five years? How will we maintain our changing online presence, develop our brands, port our important content to new formats, evolve our messages and presentation, and keep it all fresh, compelling and useful?

I’ve often wondered what happened to those 7,000 pages when Prestel’s screens went blank. Did they just fade or float off into the ether?

Fresh is the marketing key to followers

There’s nothing new. There’s nothing original.

If social media and micro-blogging are blessings, the curse they bring is of endlessly recycled mediocre ramblings. With the need to feed search engines and provide a continuous supply of articles and content, today’s marketing challenge is how to remain interesting, useful, relevant or entertaining when the option to unfollow, switch off or ignore is so easy to choose.

When every business is scratching around for something original to say, the only realistic option is to relax and find another approach. Most media content – from adverts on television to gags used by comedians – is not new, but to be successful it has to appear fresh. Simply repeating the same unchanged story again and again, as many are doing, is an instant turn-off. It’s like meeting someone at a party who always tells the same joke, which wasn’t that funny the first time round: someone we try to avoid.

Give three people the same speech to read and each one will deliver it differently. Some will read woodenly and make the audience sleepy, others will be mildly interesting, while a few will project the words with the energy and emotion to hold the audience spellbound. That’s what we have to aim for: spectacular delivery.

Technology, tools and content are important, but it’s the manner of delivery that bind them to work together successfully. I’m sure that occasionally the new and original can be found, but much of what we say and read is based on or inspired by what exists already. We can choose to discard it in boredom, trot it out again flatly without enthusiasm or use our creativity to refresh it and relaunch it in a format that enables successful communication.

How do we do that?

By using our personality and creativity to add relevance and interest. What are our customers interested in? What will they find attractive? What will they take notice of? Strip away unnecessary words and details, adapt the story to our clients, our sector, the current climate. Use the tone of voice, language, cultural references with which people identify. The result will be the same story but fresh, relevant, targeted and useful: with more chance of people listening, following and taking notice.

O is for original. Content is satisfaction

While there are considerable arguments for recycling natural resources where viable, I’m not so keen when this is applied to writing. Too much of the content of web sites, newspapers and magazines is recycled.

How much value to visitors is there from a bought-in or free newsfeed on a web site? If I am looking for detailed information on a specific topic or am shopping for a particular item, I don’t want to be distracted by international news stories. If I want news, I get it from a news site. In fact, I usually ignore much of the rubbish at the periphery of web pages and when I do notice it I wonder why it is there before moving on.

If sites add this type of content to earn money from affiliate schemes and other paid incentives, it’s understandable why they do it, although it still doesn’t enrich the visitor experience.

As a writer, I’m biased: I want to see original content every time. But even I realise that I can’t write it all and I don’t want to. On many occasions, I’ve read about the ‘democracy’ created by the internet and this is one instance where there’s an opportunity for all web site owners, whether professional writers or not, to make their own voices heard.

So let’s cut the recycling and see more original content. I’m sure it will satisfy a lot more people.

Robert Zarywacz

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