What is content?
Writer: Georgina Burke
Editor: Zoe Wildsmith
These days, “content” is everywhere. It’s the buzzword, the mot du jour, the word on everyone’s lips. The modern marketeer’s motto is “Content is king”. But what does it mean? What does it do? And for whom?
In a nutshell, content is information that is useful, relevant, humorous or engaging. Content has a story to tell, or an idea to express.
Let’s be clear; there is a difference between traditional content creation, or copywriting as it would have been known, and the modern sense of content. Or rather, nowadays the word content means so much more than just copywriting.
We now engage with our information in so many new ways, but the principles still remain as pertinent as ever. As content creators, it is essential that we understand our audiences and our channels to get our content to work in the right way.
Content goes beyond the words we are reading, right here, right now. Very often, we are invited to click here for more info, swipe up or down, left or right, to go to the next nugget of content gold. It can make us laugh or cry; it can pique our curiosity and make us want to know more. It can make us remember the past or look ahead to the future with excitement or foreboding – or often both.
Start with the end in mind
Whatever your product, service, message or story, your final destination will be your audience understanding what they are seeing and engaging with it. By engaging, it could mean that they find it relevant or interesting, thought-provoking or mind boggling, informative or just downright funny. They are getting something out of it, and, importantly, they don’t have to work too hard to get it.
Maybe your objective is to explain the rules of a new board game to an eight-year-old and an eighty-year-old at the same time, or you’re coming up with trivia questions suitable for families with children. Perhaps you are producing a scientific report for both academics and policymakers. Or it could be that you are writing an op-ed article for an online newspaper read by the general public as well as peers.
Wherever you’re heading, you need to know your audience and have an understanding of what they need to take away from the content. Get to grips with their language, culture and the circumstances in which they are consuming this information in order to connect with them with authenticity and relevance.
A scientific research paper will have a very different tone of voice to, say, humorous phrases for an adult board game. Fill your content with the wrong terminology or too much jargon, and you can kiss goodbye to your audience. Be consistently authentic and relevant and they will come back for more.
Operating in an international environment brings its own challenges. Creating content that works across borders is tricky, as cultural references and traditions are different, even where a common language is shared. Bringing in collaborators from your target market can help overcome these issues, as they introduce well-known local touchstones and steer you away from linguistic faux pas and figures of speech that can get lost in translation. We love this list of advertising slogans that went wrong when the brands went global.
Accuracy and credibility
Similarly, inaccurate or debatable information can lead you into difficulties. Know your facts and double check them before you publish. If you’re not sure about something, ask someone with expert knowledge or fact-checking experience. Build fact-checking into your content creation process, particularly if you need it to be indisputable, such as in trivia question writing, news article writing or museum display panels.
Getting it wrong can result in your audience losing faith in your credibility as a provider of accurate information. Use reliable sources so that you can publish your content with confidence.
More than words
To paraphrase the words of that phenomenally successful 1980s British girl band Bananarama, it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it. Or in this context, the way you display it. Content is more than just the language you use; visual cues within and around the text will help your audience understand what they’re reading and what they are expected to do.
The use of colour, layout, imagery, font type, headings, bullet points and lists will make your content accessible, simple to navigate – and your audience will know what is expected of them. This is especially applicable where time is of the essence, during a fast-paced board game for example, or if describing a museum object or writing a set of instructions. Equally, a large social-ecological report benefits from thoughtful formatting to aid the reader in digesting the information. Presenting your content in the right way will inform your audience how to read your content and what to do next.
Ultimately, your content is a vehicle for establishing a connection with your audience, no matter who – or where – they are. Great content will demonstrate that you know and understand them, and a sense of trust will follow.
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