Information Has a Way It Wants To Be Conveyed

I used to hate the word “content.” It’s such a bland, neutral kind of word and concept. The filling. Like a concrete or sludge or generic substance used to fill the thing that actually matters.

The container the content fills up is so much easier to visualize and describe: The newspaper, video, magazine, image, or tweet. Those are real things. The content? We’ll figure that out later. Right now, I need to create 20 Facebook posts and schedule them!

“Content,” I felt, delegitimized real artistry: writing, videography, oration, photography, musicianship, painting, and all the other ways we make “content.” Personally, I was a WRITER, not a “content maker.”


Eventually, though, I came to embrace the word “content.” I even became a “content director” and wasn’t totally ashamed of that title. Like that old aphorism about everything looking like a nail to someone holding a hammer, I found that thinking of myself as a “writer” was pretty limiting because every piece of information sure looked like something that wanted to be conveyed in a very witty, 1,000-word article (even better, it wanted that article to be full of multi-clause sentences, literary references, and a few parenthetical asides).

What I came to understand, though, was that lots of information didn’t really want to be “written” about at all. Some information wants to be a Ted talk. Some information wants to be a tweet. Some information wants to be an animated gif. I’ve seen plenty of people scoff at the idea of emojis and gifs as a communication medium, but it’s remarkable to me how effective they can be as communication tools.

When someone hits me with “not sure if serious Fry,” I know exactly how I’ve failed as a communicator of my argument. Nothing more needs to be said. If the information that wants to be conveyed is condescending skepticism, that particular meme works great.

Thus, I’ve come around to thinking first and foremost about just what “content” we have on our hands here. What is it we’re trying to pass along? Are we trying to make sure people understand how to get out of a plane if it crashes? Well, then those pictorial seat cards sure would seem to work better than a 4,000-word white paper. Even better, a funny little video that holds our attention while conveying information that could save our lives.

In a B2B context, I think we too often think about the container and not enough about the content we’re actually trying to convey. We want to make pdfs because they’re really good for handing over in exchange for email addresses. We want to make videos because that’s what the influencer on LinkedIn says is hot right now and what we see crammed onto our favorite news sites. We want to make social media posts because there’s a calendar the marketing team made up that says we’re supposed to have seven tweets and a Facebook post every day and it’s almost time to go get your kid.

But first we have to start with the content - the information - we’re trying to convey, and let everything flow downhill from there. Do you want to teach someone how to do something? Then a bulleted list of ordered operations sure does work well. Do you want to motivate someone to take action? Then a powerful image might do the trick. Are you trying to convey someone’s personality? Let them talk on camera.

Then, you can use your other communications mediums to feed into that central asset. No doubt, a good pimp message wants to be a tweet. Or a LinkedIn post. Definitely a LinkedIn post.

Sam PfeifleComment