September 25, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

If Good Content Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It

If Good Content Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It

To paraphrase Tom Hanks from the movie “A League of Their Own,” doing content right is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it (right).  It’s the hard that makes it profitable.

Data itself has no value. When data is given context, it becomes information, which has some value. When information is placed where it can be found, used and reused it becomes content. When content is used and synthesized, it becomes knowledge and can be either very dangerous or a very profitable. When communities can create content and add value to existing knowledge, it becomes more powerful. Yet content is frequently the most squandered and undervalued of all naturally occurring business resources.

A key part of knowledge sharing is having something usable to share. If you are a customer trying to get something working, or an employee trying to figure out a policy, you need easy to find and read content.

A recent conversation with my friend Dan Keldsen, President of Information Architected in Cambridge, MA reminded me that there are still a lot of big, profitable companies with no idea how valuable content can truly be. And why not, it seems to be human nature. Everyone knows the importance of good content, yet the least valued people are the creators of content – even in community, non-profit organizations. Perhaps it’s because virtually everyone who can write believes they write effective content. In fact, the ability to write the way your readers need to consume and synthesize information and place the right content where they can find it (which means integrating web analytics data and learning styles into best writing practices) is an art. It also means creating new rules at times, regardless how your high school English teacher would do it.

The most effective online writers react to changes in user behavior. They sculpt their content to meet the evolving needs of the user. That means as long as the company grows new customers, their work never ends. Explaining this to someone in business is like explaining the colors of a rainbow to a dog that has no frame of reference for the colors.

In a “past life,” I led a knowledgebase project for a growing telecom company. Before I got there, only ten people added content. I worked with web analytics, engineers, content management people, sales, support and even admin assistants to determine the new structure of content. With support from the CEO down and everyone at the bottom up, almost all of the 550 people shared what they knew about our products. We rolled (non-sensitive) content live on the web and developed communities around products. We looked for trends in searches on our web site for proactive customer support – writing documents when we found and confirmed issues. Our first year savings was $26 million. The second year included a new revenue stream of $50 million. How many new customers would you need to get that much return?

Taking unused data (raw search data; pooling knowledge from employees and customers) and placing it in a way our web users could use it drove data to dollars. THAT is the power of content.

To a great extent, we have been taught in school more about protecting personal knowledge than team sharing and excellence. The other part of this equation was to leverage the culture and behaviors that existed – and show how their needs (and successes) will be helped by sharing their knowledge. While the exact method differed slightly from group to group, the company culture shared more than 250,000 documents.

This is nothing short of reusing what once was a contextual waste product. Donut holes were the middle of a donut, thrown away at one point. Now it’s a money-maker. Chili was old hamburgers, once tossed away. Now it’s a money-maker. What bits of data and content are locked in the silos of your company just waiting to be your next case study success?

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    Michelle Tripp

    Great thoughts, Wayne! I loved your analogy that highlighted repurposing what was once thought to be useless. Content is so valuable, even content previously thought to be superfluous or not interesting. It's great that you're pointing out how powerful it can be when leveraged… and the importance of doing it right…. giving it context. Thanks for a really insightful post!

    Dan Keldsen

    Wayne – great catching up recently, and as usual, wonderful summary and exposition on subjects we both value – content and innovation. No surprise – we've been swimming in these waters a long time, eh?

    So much opportunity to do far more on both fronts – and finally, given the impacts of SharePoint and Google – digital content is becoming recognized as the massively powerful business opportunity for companies large and small – not just for e-commerce applications, but for employees, suppliers, partners, and more.

    Still a lot of maturity to run through for most companies, but Level 1 awareness of the potential is sinking in, and causing people to want to run much faster and farther than I've seen in years. Exciting times for those who are putting in the investment of skills and tech to take advantage of the still fairly early days of digital content.

    Interesting twist on re-use – The P (Put to other uses) in SCAMPER (a creative problem solving technique, for those who don't use it – deceptively simple, extremely powerful – I know Wayne knows this well, given his DI background) – is one of those areas that people really seem to have a hard time focusing on.

    It's often that we try to create something from nothing, and waste valuable cycles creating solutions to problems that nobody particularly cares about, when we could much more easily Observe what people are doing/saying, Orient our mindset to meet their (the user/customer) needs head on, Decide on how best to improve/tweak (or if needed, outright overhaul/innovate) to address the need, and then Act (and deliver) the proposed solution, and see what the reaction is.

    Repeat and refine as needed.

    I'm describing OODA loops above – fascinating back story for those who are interested (Based on John "40 Second" Boyd ). For more on loops, collaboration and re-use at… – apparently that presentation has caught on, with over 10,000 views since I posted it.

    Of course the realization that content and reader/usage analytics is possible is a major mental barrier to entry, as until the digital age snuck up on us, while some people (smart marketers/advertisers) would test copy and see what behaviors were driven, the vast majority of people who write (not well, to your point), have no idea that writing style is not just a personal choice, but needs to be targeted to the context of those who are going to consume it.

    But once that alignment is found… and monitored/adjusted over time… it's a tremendous competitive advantage, and hits both the the top-line (revenue) and bottom-line (cost) which is where you start to unleash real, sustainable growth over competitors (rather than the pure cost reduction focus that many take).

    Great post – keep up the good work!

    Cheers from the road,


    Dan and Michelle,

    Thank you both for your kind words and the insights that I have come to truly appreciate.

    "Contextually Yours" 😉


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