Twenty years ago when I was a couple of years out of college and dreaming up my first startup, the commercial Internet was just getting off the ground. I worked as a news editor and journalist at a mid-size daily newspaper and had access to the Internet through a Mosaic browser, where I could read the first online newspaper called The Nando Times. All of the market analysis at the time focused on content business models for the web, which is when I first heard the old saw “Content is King”. Twenty years of mind-bending evolution later, we’re still saying the same thing as if learning it for the first time. It’s time to move on.
Yes, content is king. It was 100 years ago. It is today. Why do we need to keep repeating that lesson as if we can’t get beyond 7th grade Algebra? The smart people are now working on Calculus. Let’s wake up and move along.
If your company is still trying to figure out the ROI on content and the fundamentals of good publishing, you’re stuck in the lessons of the last century.
One of the most remarkable events I witnessed, but didn’t appreciate at the time, was the selling off of the newspaper’s printing press. New presses were ordered along with new computers for the newsroom, and we were trained in digital publishing while a crew was dismantling the old press for shipment to China. I had no idea at the time what a watershed moment it was in the history of publishing. Now we have content management systems and most content never even goes to print. But while the technology of content creation and distribution has changed dramatically, the fundamentals are still the same.
To create good content you need smart writers, a good editor, and an audience that you serve by understanding and feeding their interests. The big revolution is that the whole process has been democratized by technology. Anyone can be a writer. Anyone can be an editor. Publishing and distribution is instantaneous. You can reach an audience of millions if your content is good enough. Sure, that revolution has required some significant adjustments, but if your company is still stuck trying to figure out the ROI on content and the fundamentals of good publishing, you’re stuck in the lessons of the last century.
In the old paradigm, content was king because it drew an audience. Having an audience meant you could make money on subscriptions and advertising. Once you wrote and published your content, your job was done and you moved on to the next story.
In the new paradigm, content is still king because it draws an audience, but the real lesson now is engagement. Unless you’re a media company, content is just the opening gambit for dialog. Writing great blog posts and tweeting killer updates does nothing if you can’t turn it into a conversation with your market. How do you dialog with prospects to help them understand what you offer? How do you dialog with leads to help them appreciate your value? How do you dialog with customers to sustain satisfaction and gain referrals? Content is the fuel, but dialog is the fire.
There are many challenging aspects to developing and publishing good content in a world of constantly changing technology, but that’s just blocking and tackling. There should be no debate about the value of creating good content, and in fact the real focus now should be on the strategy for how to leverage content to drive the right conversations with partners and customers at each stage of the relationship. If that’s not where your company is today, you’re losing ground to companies that are learning how to engage more effectively with your customers.