Why conversations are your content

Content is a bit of a marketing industry buzzword at the moment, but there seems to be some confusion as to what it encompasses.

The main thing that everyone associates with the word is copy on a page. While it is true that copy makes up the majority of what content encompasses, it certainly isn’t everything.

Conversation image courtesy of Flickr user Chris Blakeley

Conversation image courtesy of Flickr user Chris Blakeley

We think that content is how you have conversations with your audience (you could refer to them as users, or customers, or visitors etc.). As with any good conversation it isn’t just the words that keep it going; facial expressions, hand gestures, context, body language and even atmospheric conditions all play a part in telling you want you want to know. The same is true of copy on a page, video, images or bits of audio, there’s more going on for people than just the words.

To illustrate this I’m going to resort to metaphors…ready? Here’s the first one.

The top down

Imagine that I’m giving a talk at a conference to many likeminded individuals. I’ll be exploring a concept or talking around a subject and not expecting any comment from the people who are sitting in front of me other than an appreciatory round of applause once I’ve finished.

This isn’t me – it’s the very wonderful Kristina Halvorson from BrainTraffic who is great at conferences. Image courtesy of Flickr user KLPA

This isn’t me – it’s the very wonderful Kristina Halvorson from BrainTraffic who is great at conferences. Image courtesy of Flickr user KLPA

The equivalent of this conversation in content can be seen as videos, press releases, podcasts and general “publish once” types of content. You, as the publisher, do all your work up front and at the point of publishing. You make sure that you’ve got it in the right place, that it’s saying the right things and in an order that makes sense and then that’s it, for now. This blog post is an example of top down publishing.

The sales pitch

Now, imagine I am a very attentive waiter reading you through the specials menu. I want to inform and tantalise you while still being open to questions. You need to be assured that you’re making the right dining choice and I’m guiding you through what is on offer.

Think of this like a sales or registration journey. Your content needs to convey brand principles, inform and instruct while having a route for questions to be answered. The best and most logical outcome is to satisfy your audience needs as easily and confidently as possible. This works particularly well when devising content for newsletters as well as a typical progression through to a sale.

The social

How about a chat between just you and me, or at a party where there are a few people joining in? You speak, I listen, and then someone responds and so on. Eventually we might come to some conclusion or consensus or perhaps we just learn something about each other or tell some stupid jokes to get a laugh.

Chatting at a party. Image courtesy of Flickr user Iain Farrell

Chatting at a party. Image courtesy of Flickr user Iain Farrell

Here’s social media in all its multi-faceted glory. Content is brought in from many, many parts and people will contribute to or just observe what’s being said.

Obviously there are many other types of conversation (and mixtures of these three) that relate to other types of content but these are the most common, especially on the web.

Who is it for?

We’ve found that the main thing to bear in mind is the audience you’re aiming your content at and whether it will be received in the right way. For example, if you’re at a wild party with loads of very excited people dancing to loud music – your content about the plight of a rare species of coral is likely to be totally lost. The same is true of social media, you might find that you struggle to get the response you’re looking for if your audience of followers/likers/connections aren’t right for your product or service.

You will fail, make sure you learn from it.

Banana skin image courtesy of Flickr user Tim Ellis

Banana skin image courtesy of Flickr user Tim Ellis

Don’t be surprised or disheartened if you don’t get it right every time, we’re only human. One of the most important things to do with your content is to learn as you’re going. Yes, the web is full of examples of companies who have got content monumentally wrong, but these are relatively rare. Most of the time, mistakes go unnoticed externally, which is the problem. You, as a content publisher/raconteur/orator/chatter, need to make sure that you know why it didn’t work and how far off the mark it was so that you can try, try and try again.