Crates representing the concept of content.

A Plea Against Content

Please don’t call it content. It’s a story, a narrative, a digest of valuable information. Content just sounds like some stuff you shoved into a space without much consideration that the stuff should be interesting or helpful.

The word content did not spring from the mind of a writer. Similarly, the word blog is short for web log. A log is usually a register of data in chronological order, such as the captain’s log on a ship. Those logs do contain valuable information, and in some cases, compelling narratives.

A few years back, I was working as an editor (not a content reviewer, mind you) and a company that historically was in the publishing business. It evolved into an information provider. A colleague was walking guests across the floor (used to be called a newsroom) and swept his hand in our direction, pointing out we were the content creators. I cannot help but note that the website of this company still touts its news, data and analysis. See? News, data and analysis are specifics, while content is a bland blob of something.

What exactly is content?

A lot of people don’t know what content is. I once encountered a guy who asserted that social media and content marketing are different things. Note: he is in a different business. I’m still scratching my head if he thinks social media posts go out without any content in them. People are confused because the word content is unclear to them.

For content marketing, it is essentially marketing copy. You are telling your customers what you do, why you do it, why you do it better than the competition and how what you do is valuable. This can come in the form of a special offer, a personal story, an educational article about a product or current event or even beautiful images related to your product or service.

I agree wholeheartedly with the story told here by the Content Marketing Institute about content marketing failures. This entity even claims to be the first to call it “content marketing.” Because some people have heard of that, I will use the term myself, but I really don’t like it. For one client, I recommended we call the blog section of their website “Stories & Videos.” It is specific and it far more inviting for a click than “Pile of Content Here.”

Yes, I call my blog just that, but when you land on the page, I talk about tips and insights. I am sharing perspective, advice and experiences. Will I continue to use the word content? Sure, but begrudgingly so.

Words have jobs to do and they should serve very specific roles.  A word like content is just terribly vague. When I was a kid, my family hosted an exchange student from Spain. One day we walked into CVS and the store was having some kind of inventory blowout. There were stacks of products and big sale signs. My sister remarked, “wow, look at all this stuff.” Our guest was not fluent in English and asked for a definition of stuff. My sister was stumped. Stuff, you know, stuff. It’s stuff you have and put somewhere. It’s stuff. Sounds like content to me.