In this article I argue that being a content writer in the age of semantic technologies is very much like riding a tandem bicycle with your writer’s alter-ego, the Web-weaver in you, who understands the power of structured data and content and at the same time works in concert with the word-weaver in you 🙂
“A teenager’s first poem, the blissful release of a long-kept secret, a fine sketch drawn by a palsied hand, a blog post in a regime that hates the sound of its people’s voices — none of these people sat down to write content. […] Did we use the word “content” without quotes? We feel so dirty. “
Clues 17 and 18 from newclues.cluetrain.com
Not only as content writers, but also as digital marketers, it is high time we accepted the new rules of the game:
Rule No. 1: Content gets increasingly intelligent.
Rule No. 2: Imagination and integrity are a must in any marketing communication – in content writing, very much so!
With intelligence, imagination and integrity in the back of our minds, we are to stop shying away from saying content, in a universe built of (or soon to be built of) intelligent content [https://simplea.com/Articles/What-is-Intelligent-Content] and start crafting content that deserves each and every 0 and 1 used for it to go inscribed on the Web, on someone else’s screen – ultimately, to their heart.
Content Done Wrong
In a revealing talk about structured data, content and the single most radical change in search technology (spoiler: the Google Knowledge Graph), Aaron Bradley shared things with me which can serve us as a compass to find our place in the ecosystem. From his valuable thoughts about data and content as fuel for applications, about creating hooks vs. meeting the needs, interest and desires of our users and also about the transformation of flat text into a piece of intelligent content; what I find relevant for my point here, is the importance of structured data in content. In Aaron’s own words:
“The more structured the content, the more meaning in it, the more places that it’s going to appear. And a lot of the traditional kind of SEO thinking has been around restricting the flow of information: I want to bring users back, I don’t want to have that duplicate content thing. And that is absolutely legitimate from a search engine indexing point of view, but you should want to expose your content on as many places as possible.
By approaching content as intelligent content, you have that capability.”
In view of the above, I think that being a content writer in the age of semantic technologies in the first place means understanding the role structured data increasingly plays in our (writer’s) lives. We are to to embrace the idea of thinking about the fields of information retrieval, extraction, knowledge management, machine learning, AI. As David Amerland wrote in his article Reading Between the Lines of Data – https://davidamerland.com/seo-blog/1297-reading-between-the-lines-of-data.html –
Semantic data is important to marketers who must produce content to resonate with audience needs and audience intent.
Long story short, fluffy content, churned out just to fill a page or any other space that “needs content” no longer cuts it.
Thought and consideration do.
We are back to normal where we are to think hard and with love about what we can give as value if we want value in return.
As author Peter Brantley wrote in his The Curation of Obscurity – https://book.pressbooks.com/chapter/curation-of-obscurity-peter-brantley
“Despite the felicity of media-agnostic machine-mediated information creation and access, text remains an attractive format for idea production and consumption”
All of that to say, that being a content writer in the age of semantic technologies also means constantly reminding ourselves (despite the new new shiny plugin or content creation tool) that a good body of text will always be about good writing and thinking.
The Persistence of the Word
“The hardest technology to erase from our minds is the first of all: writing.[…] With words we begin to leave traces behind us like breadcrumbs: memories in symbols for others to follow. Ants deploy their pheromones, trails of chemical information; Theseus unwound Ariadne’s thread. Now people leave paper trails. Writing comes into being to retain information across time and space”
Cit. The Information, James Gleick, p. 28-31
I have my book The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick opened exactly on that chapter on the day I stole some me-time to write this. And I am using this synchronicity to use the chapter’s title for a heading to this paragraph, elaborating on the second thought: the nature of good text will always save us.
When we talk about the persistence of the word, I suggest that we stay aware of the effect of semantic technology on the technology of writing, but never get engrossed in technology and mechanistic ways of trying to “crack” readership. We are to keep our writer’s cool and slowly and steadily begin to get back to the basics of readership (not the algorithmic one): and that is to engagement.
And engagement is closely connected to experiences. The experiences that drive people to content.
Which right away takes me to Medill on Media Engagement (you can download an excerpt from it here, another book I keep close to me on my spaceship as I navigate the noosphere.
In this comparatively old but absolutely gold work are suggested 12 kinds of experiences to design content (they call it media 🙂 ) for. I took the liberty of getting these 4 of these experiences, together with the characteristics, described by each of the authors of the specific theory of the experience and putting them in the context of content writing and our specific needs and goals. I chose to ask questions rather than give answers, hence the questions we are to answer in relation to creating these experiences. For a detailed description of each of the 12 experiences I strongly encourage you to take the time to dive into the book.
Table 1 [Based on: Creating loyalty and maximizing readership through media experiences, from the book Medill on Media Engagement]
|Type of experience||Characteristics of the experience||How are we to create this experience through content?||To what audience would that experience be relevant?|
|“Makes me smarter Experience”|
by Owen Youngmen
|“The Utilitarian Experience” by Abe Peck|
|“The Inspiration Experience” by Charles Whitaker|
|“The Identity Experience” by Rachel Davis Mersey |
The above, I hope, will serve us in times of mechanistic urges, when we try to create content from keyword lists and the things the business wants to talk about as opposed to creating content from the need to connect to the person on the other side of our text and talk about their wants, needs and goals.
That thought through, we can appreciate and realize the richness we have in terms of conceptual tools to create content that matters, that acknowledges the Web as a socio-technical network of networks. And it is really time to conceive of the Web as a knowledge repository, not a click-bait, click-track, yet another “channel” for pitches. And of our job, as content writers. For, as I wrote in my book “The Brave New Text”
“As human and machine networks and protocols of communication alike underpin web content and interactions, weaving texts becomes dovetailing interactive experiences and collaborative sense-making happenings. It calls for seeing content writing as riding a tandem. We gain double pedaling power when on one hand we move the wheels of a machine-readable environment and on the other, we set in motion the forces of trust, credibility and interpersonal interactions. “
That should bring back the content in content. Don’t get me wrong. I love…LOVE The Cluetrain Manifesto and I totally agree with the apostrophe for content, but I also see that content brought back to its own, stripped of the irony. For, the web is a “digital space, a set of relations between objects, an organization of the totality of our reality by means of writing. (cf. The Writer as Architect http://sens-public.org/article1288.html?lang=fr) and we are content writers, in the face of an increasing number of data-fed algorithmic audiences, having the opportunity to keep doing what we can do best, that is connect to human audiences through words, organizing the totality of our reality with elaborate care and … double pedaling power.