The Contents of Content

My head is spinning because I just encountered two women in content development–my field!–that impress me with their thinking about the practice.
Writing on A List Apart, Kristina Halvorson of Brain Traffic says:

Who among us is asking the scary, important questions about content, such as “What’s the point?” or “Who cares?” Who’s talking about the time-intensive, complicated, messy content development process? Who’s overseeing the care and feeding of content once it’s out there, clogging up the tubes and dragging down our search engines?
As a community, we’re rather quiet on the matter of content. In fact, we appear to have collectively, silently come to the conclusion that content is really somebody else’s problem–“the client can do it,” “the users will generate it”–so we, the people who make websites, shouldn’t have to worry about it in the first place.

That’s certainly not the conclusion I came to. But I hear her.
Halvorson also references Rachel Lovinger’s Boxes and Arrows post, Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data. Lovinger is a Senior Content Strategist for Avenue A | Razorfish and she prefers to jump from the high board.

A superficial understanding of content isn’t going to cut it anymore. Content strategists in the digital age need to become data philosophers and explore the metaphysics of content, starting with the question “What is content?”

What is content? I love when simple looking questions actually are dense planets, not yet explored. Three years ago I went from being a Senior Copywriter to a Content Director. Halvorson talks in her piece about content strategists needing to be masters of many disciplines. My strength is clearly editorial. Ergo, when I endeavor to answer the question posed, I come from that place.
Lovinger says content is everything. That’s a pretty slick definition. But I’m not sure it helps people get their minds around the real question–How will content help me and my business grow? Answer: good information builds bonds.
In the comments on Halvorson’s post people mention that product focused content is boring to produce and read. I mention this, because there is a marked difference between ad copy and content. I’ve produced a ton of both. Ad copy is what the brand wants to say. Content is what the customer wants to hear.
A brand can talk about its attributes online, and many of them do with little gain. Or a brand can create content around the interests of its customers. I just spent two and a half years interviewing bands and editing an online music magazine for Camel. We never talked about sticks, we talked about rock and roll.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.