The idea of writing ‘content for business’ seems like a prettier definition of what an advertorial is. But that’s not quite what my recent experience tells me.
I have been a writer, a digital writer to be fair, for a good part of the last decade. And in the recent times, my role has matured into that of a content marketer. But writer I still remain. One who still thinks writing blog posts on a Sunday is a great way to spend the weekend. The rest of my week these days are filled with conversations about content creation, content trends, what’s new in digital publishing and what we need to ‘talk’ to our customers about this month.
[We’ve been pro publishing and pro ‘helpful ideas’ since the day 0 and that’s one reason why I think it’s fun to write these not-related-to-business blog posts every once in a while.]
I remember, in one of my earliest edit meetings, we had the paid marketing team stop by our round table to share some thoughts on what we — the creators and publishers — could work on in the coming weeks. The one thing they insisted on was that we shift focus to creating more product-specific content, citing that amplifying such pieces of content can improve our search ranks significantly and bring in more click-throughs. I am sure it was music my business brethren.
To the [new] editorial team — excuse the dramatics — it came across as if the state was trying to take over the church. These sentiments — more like immediate reactions — came from a sacred place where content was held independent and free from the rules of the state. It flourished in its unabashed state and that’s how we’d come to nurture it. But the idea of reining it to a business goal, and for producing hard business outcomes, did not immediately go down well with us.
And while our outrage wasn’t uncalled for, the attitude certainly was, for, we realized our naivetés soon enough. We agreed, after many rounds of discussion, that today’s is a world where, if great writing has to really thrive, you need to accommodate business realities into your content strategy. After all, the business pays for the content [function].
Business expectations are not necessarily hard impositions, or at least, that’s not how content needs to view it. It’s simply asking for a compromise, one that means putting some of the editorial energies into helping achieve some form of business return — financial or otherwise. And this is possibly the healthiest way to look at the situation.
At a different level, we also realized how important it is for content to evolve its editorial model with changing business realities. The biggest publication houses — from The New York Times to the Time Magazine — all have adjusted their editorial models to allow hardcore journalism and paid advertorials to exist in a healthy manner across their content universe. And today, these are the publishers who are financially stable and still writing Pulitzer-winning pieces. I guess, in a capitalist economy, especially when profitable outcomes are expected out of every aspect of a business, every function has to learn to adapt and accommodate hard business realities.
Changing the editorial model for the modern age
It’s a noisy world out there today. It’s a world where everybody creates content. And you are competing with everybody’s stories.
This is a hard fact.
The truth is that publishing is flourishing, but so are the publishers. There is a lot of money in innovative publishing today. The likes of BuzzFeed and Vice have attracted major investments from huge media houses and it’s creating massive fortunes for new age entrepreneurs that are trying to disrupt the way the world consumes information; any information. And it’s working.
As a result, the consumer today is spoilt for choice — for publishing platforms and the content. An average modern day information consumer has access to at least 7 digital platforms at any given point. And each of these platforms churns out content by the hour. The information overload is palpable. But apart from giving in to the turning winds, is there really any other way to make it in this internet-fuelled chaos?
I am not going to go into the quality aspect of these new-age BuzzFeed-y pieces but I do understand that to compete in such a sinewy and dense information universe, I need to mindfully create content (and multiple versions of it too, at times) that can cut through the noise on a publishing platform if it has to even reach its target people [keeping aside the fact that it now has to make money for the brand that’s publishing it]. I can no longer create an SEO-optimized blog post and send it out into the universe hoping it will work for my business. I need to go a level deeper, dig into every platform’s intricacies to create content relevant to the tone and style of the platform itself. And that’s the least of all that I need to do today.
In all optimism, I will say that today’s publishing environment has presented me with an exciting creative challenge and it’s not all that bad. Today, to be able to capture a 2000-word blog post into a 140-character tweet seems like an interesting exercise. My team is instagram-ming customer stories as you read this post. We are working on creating e-books for our clients that will help them better their businesses significantly. We are also working on creating TED talk-worthy videos for the quick consumers on YouTube. And then there’s the leadership who is being guided on how to write posts for Medium and LinkedIn, and it’s all going down now. We use a workflow that helps us plan it all, and that keeps the consistency going across the editorial universe. It’s a wide network of social platforms we are tapping, but that’s just what we got to do to make it out there.
The results are positive so far. The customer engagement is higher than ever. And our search ranks and NPS scores have significantly improved in the last couple of weeks. And, on a side note, the editorial team which was so far working in its own mico-universe today feels more connected to the organization than ever before (or at least that’s what they tell me).
If anything, I have realized that sooner or later, most of the editorial norms will have to change if publishers have to survive in today’s fast-paced, information-heavy universe. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just evolution if you think about it.
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