A recent article on The Drum urged people to stop using the word content – ‘a terrible term’ – and generated some spirited debate amongst the communications community.
The author’s objection? ‘It’s absurdly vague’. Does it mean a tweet or a great work of literature?
The answer of course is both, and everything in between. And that is fine. It is useful, I would argue, to have broad words in our vocabulary.
But my problem with his argument is not just semantics.
The author suggests we should be more specific, calling everything what it is – tweets, videos, articles, websites. But aside from being labourious, this is a limiting approach to communications. It forces us to focus on the medium of delivery, rather than the substance of the content.
If your starting point is ‘let’s do some PR’ or ‘let’s do some social media’, you design the content for the medium, which may not be the way the intended audience wants to receive it.
On the other hand, if we start with the content itself – the ‘topic’, 'matter treated' or ‘the principle substance’ (to take the definition given in the aforementioned article) - we allow ourselves to focus on producing something meaningful, something that engages the right people, something our intended audience might want to read or see.
We can then decide on the appropriate delivery mechanism. This both opens more opportunities and allows us to focus. A single piece of great content could inform media articles, podcasts, speaking opportunities, and social media by presenting it in different ways. Or we may find that what we really want to say isn’t actually suitable for any of those mediums, and we’d be better off just sending it to the small group of people we want to read it.
Of course, not everyone who produces content does it well or uses the word in a meaningful way. Plenty of content is facile or useless, which can indeed undermine the term, and I suspect this is the author’s real objection. But that problem can easily be overcome by using the word ‘content’ in the context of what it is trying to achieve.
So, let’s embrace content, and let’s make it good. Freed from the need to write a popular tweet or a clickable headline, we can actually produce ‘content’ that our intended audience will take time to read and think about. We can produce content designed for the people we want to reach, which respects their knowledge, then builds on that to inform, engage and ultimately drive action. Then we can work out the best way to deliver it to them – which will inevitably be much better targeted than if the starting point was ‘let’s get some media coverage’ or ‘let’s make a video’.
Some content is good, some is bad, but the word itself deserves to stay in the vocabulary of communicators.