People have opinions about everything — content is no exception. They have views on how important it is, how it should sound, what it should and shouldn’t say, and how it should look. And, while everyone is entitled to their opinion, not all opinions are based on fact or even experience. Nevertheless, opinions tend to spread and, as a result, misconceptions about content can start to take hold. In this post, I’m going to set the record straight about four content misconceptions that I’ve come across lately that I think need to be cleared up.
- Shorter is always better.
We live in the age of the sound bite, where content is constantly being packaged up for us in small, easily digestible bits. It’s a time when we’re constantly reminded that we need to cater to shrinking attention spans and when expressing yourself in 140 characters or less is becoming the norm.
Make no mistake about it, short-form content is great. It’s quick and easy to consume, which is critical for today’s time-poor readers. But, that doesn’t automatically make long-form content obsolete. People still want meaty, in-depth content that they can sink their teeth into. Just look at the success of sites like Medium, which has built its reputation based on the depth and quality of its long featured articles. In fact, according to Medium’s own analysis, the optimal post should take seven minutes to read, which is the equivalent of about 1,600 words.
So, the next time you think shorter is better, just remember that’s not always the case. Short-form content certainly has its place, but not to the exclusion of everything else. Sometimes you need to go deep and demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, even if that means keeping your reader’s attention for more than just a minute or two.
- Professional and fun are mutually exclusive.
I hear people say it all the time. Since they’re writing for lawyers, or bankers, or doctors, or [insert your profession of choice], they really don’t think they can make their content any fun. Instead, in their mind, it’s got to be formal and by the book or it just won’t be perceived as professional.
While there’s no doubt that your content needs to be appropriate for the audience you’re targeting, don’t forget that it’s entirely possible to make content that’s personable and enjoyable to read, without sacrificing an ounce of professionalism. Remember, your readers are people. No matter what industry they’re in or what their job title is, they’ll typically respond just as well as anyone else to a little humor or creativity in your writing.
Admittedly, there’s a time and place for everything. I’m not saying that you start cracking jokes in your company’s annual report. On the contrary, what I’m suggesting is that it’s OK to break down some of the barriers and to start talking to your audience rather than at them.
- Never give away the secret sauce.
Some people are reluctant to share any meaningful knowledge or expertise in their content. They’re afraid that if they do, they’ll be giving away their company’s secret sauce for free. (By the way, this is a topic that Marcus Sheridan has talked about at length.) Of course, the reality is that ever since the invention of the Internet, people have had access to all kinds of information. That has two important implications. The first is that to get people’s attention, you’ve got to make great information easily accessible to them. The second is that if you don’t, they won’t hesitate to find someone else who will.
The bottom line is that you need to create really useful, valuable content. And that inherently means giving away some of your company’s secret sauce. That’s not something you should be afraid of. The reality is that if you think that your customers won’t need you anymore because of what you’ve written in one blog post or white paper, then you’ve got bigger problems on your hands.
- It’s better to publish something than nothing at all.
Some people have this notion in their mind that it’s better to get a piece of content out the door than it is to wait to get it right. As a result, they might be willing to compromise on quality, letting errors of fact, typos, and other careless mistakes slip into their writing. They do so with the belief that their audience will be forgiving. “So the content isn’t perfect,” they think, “but it’s close enough, so let’s just get it out there.”
The problem with this thinking is that people do take note of imperfections, no matter whether they’re big or small. As we’ve written about before, there’s no such thing as neutral content. Everything you publish is going to impact your brand in one of two ways. It’s either going to help build it or it’s going to help erode it. So take care and remember that quality should always trump quantity when it comes to your content.
There are, of course, other content myths out there. I’ll try to address more of them in a follow-up post in the weeks to come.