Trouble with Likin’..Content, that is

Why be clever when you want to be clear, right? Yep. I tweeted that once, and in spite of myself, I insisted on a clever-sounding title. But before I jump into the bulleted list about content (the point of this post), a brief digression:

cover courtesy of

I could have avoided alluding to John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi novel Trouble with Lichen, but after coming across a few headlines this week that read “Trouble with..” I simply couldn’t resist. Something to think about when aiming to be clear: resist at all cost! (unless of course the idea comes naturally)

There’s also a double entendre behind the novel’s title, as I recall it being quite a slog of a read, and Wyndham somehow never really managing to complete his revolutionary thoughts around women in society, immortality, etc.—as if there were way too many things going on. Why be clever with your content when you want to be clear? Oh the sweet irony.

Content is king
Now despite this tried (tired?) and true adage, here are some thoughts which may help give added perspective:

  • Less isn’t always more, but it’s usually more concise
    I was recently at a seminar on the subject of digital marketing. That event essentially inspired me to write this post. There was so much material crammed into the short time period that the presenter kept apologizing about how it would take days just to properly talk about one of the points. So why not adjust the content to fit the time frame?
  • Social media is now a given; Twitter is not a fad
    There were many useful nuggets in the presentation. In fact, overall, it was clearly an eye-opener for many of the people in the audience, most of whom were still new to social media. However, I thought it was misleading (perhaps misinformed?) of the presenter to say that “the jury is still out on whether or not Twitter is a fad” and to refer to LinkedIn as “just a directory to me”. If social media is part of your content, talk about it in a way that shows you are actually using and experiencing it, and share the HOW with others.
  • Video is underused but only works with good production value
    Many corporations are in steady pursuit of finding ways to leverage all types of media in their B2B strategies, including video. The user experience associated with video is self-evident. However, for video to be truly compelling, producing it must really be left to the pros. This is where committee-driven decisions have no place and where collaboration between MarkComm and either its internal team or a vendor must be allowed to be a self-contained process. Think tacky commercials by biz owners who DIY-ed their way into producing their own spot.
  • The social web is fragmented; messaging can’t be
    Because the web was meant to be a virtual experience of interconnectivity, the speed it takes to permeate throughout the fabric of society shouldn’t really be a surprise. But because of a multitude of channels and platforms from which messages are pushed and pulled, it is important to ensure that the key messages that characterize your content is reflected consistently throughout all your online and offline assets. This is not a new communications insight. However, in the rush to get on the board the social train, organizations, now more than ever, must pay very close attention to the level of integrity and accuracy of their messages. It can make or break all your efforts.

I had the privilege of getting feedback on this piece prior to posting it. A colleague suggested that I tighten up the intro as he found it somehow detracted from the gist of the post. I agree with him. But I thought it would nonetheless be a healthy exercise to demonstrate how one can easily fall into the trap of trying to be clever and end up being unclear. Lesson learned?

What do you think? What aspects of the “King” would you consider worthy of sharing? What pitfalls have prevented you from staying on point?

12 thoughts on “Trouble with Likin’..Content, that is

  1. Great post Autom. I think clarity comes from organization and editing. Throwing away what you don’t need, especially in business posts online, is the surest way to clarity.

  2. Nice post Autom. I definitely agree with you and might I add that I’m astonished that someone speaking about digital marketing would say such things about Twitter and LinkedIn. How does that sell your point?

    Anyway, on to answer your question. I also find myself rambling on and talking circles around my point and really have to sit back and asses what is truly important and what’s just ‘fluff’. It’s so important to be clear and precise in your content and most importantly keep it short. Like you said in your post ‘ adjust the content to fit the time frame’. We’re in a fast paced environment and want to consume as much information as we can in the least amount of time. We want content that is short and direct and gets our minds going and those are the things to focus on when writing and editing your content.

    Short and sweet (or ..not so sweet) 🙂

  3. Dave – thanks for the feedback (and the light-hearted tweet about ‘cultivating an exceptional following..of 3’ 🙂

    Char – as always, appreciate your comments..on a related note, one thing a colleague (who for now shall remain nameless, unless he cares to claim his identity on this comment stream 🙂 *did* point out to me and which i thought would generate some good debate is the whole notion of “sound bites” within the context of short n concise content. to quote him:

    “There is also a theme out there about context relative to content. But, without good content, there is no context to determine. The issue of “consise” is also something you’ve touched on. Everybody is posting sound bites without depth. Anything detailed is ignored. But the risk of these sound bites” is that the real message can be lost. That being said, this trend has led to small frequent posts rather than on larger post. The problem with this is that the train of thought can get lost.”

    i see his point. i also recall @debwontheroad (to whom i refer in a former post “So You Think You Can Social Media?” ) giving me her first impressions of Twitter as being “mainly sound bites” to her—now given that she is a social media newbie and not really much of a Twitter user, i can see where she’s coming from, too.

    but perhaps what got me was the “Everybody is posting sound bites without depth” statement. is there a perceptible risk in losing the essence of a message when presenting content in a less detailed format? does this merit closer examination?

    i’ve always espoused the proven, effective priniciples of web content usability, which entails presenting “digestible”, chunked out content for the user. this typically means having shorter, more concise content. and in terms of blogs, i’d have to say that the more easily digestible the content, the more effective and useful it is.

    what do you think?

  4. Hi Autom,

    Thank you for the thoughtful blog post. To echo Charlotte, people these days want/expect to consume as much information as possible in the least amount of time. If content is portrayed in sound bites, I get it, usually, provided each word serves a purpose – and that’s not necessarily easy to do. Yet I side with less is more; more inviting to read and more easily understood.

    I’m reminded of this quote: “… the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what–these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.” William Zinsser, On Writing Well, pp. 7-8.

    The more concise the message, the clearer it is— or should be. Effective communications can elaborate on a core message through supporting messages, visuals, audio clips, etc. But if I only have so much time, I’d prefer to read the “headline,” as it were, and decide from there how much further I want to delve into the subject.

  5. Hmm,

    Very interesting and yes I think I agree with you and your nameless friend 😉 When information is so tightly ground down into merely nothing at all, the information that makes the content can be easily lost. It’s very true that there is a ton of really sound information but because of the need to condense everything down, it is lacking in depth. However, I feel that is where careful editing comes in. You have to be careful not to loose the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the content. I think it’s most definitely possible to condense information (being sure to only extract the fluff) and be left with sound content rich in depth. It’s all in how you chose to edit and what you take out. Thoughts?

  6. Electronic communications are ripe with miscommunication not only because we are forced to be concise but we also lose the value of other 80% of human communication (body language, emotion, voice etc.). Good authors are skilled at turning words into emotions so we clearly get the message and the related feelings. But, with blogging, twitter, instant messaging etc a new writing skill is needed. As has been identified above, the thinking needed to reduce a thought to the bare minimum number of words (if not characters) and still communicate the desired meaning, context and impact is very difficult. It is certainly not as “instant” as the communication vehicle itself leads us to believe. I personally find myself re-reading and continuously editing most everything I post just to be sure the combination of “short forms” and terms is absolutely clear. I’m still far from satisfied with my ability to do this but getting better.

    Another thing we’re seeing is that vehicles like Twitter are becoming “headline” promotions for referencing deeper content delivered through links to blogs, news and other online documents. So, tweets are getting very creative in order to promote deeper content elsewhere. Although this trend also can promote hype, it does help provide a quick sound bite to attract those interested to the complete document. Again, a very different form of written communication is evolving. As an example, an interesting discussion is flowing through Twitter right now about it reducing the volume of blog commenting in general. I don’t necessarily agree with that because Twitter is being used to attract more attention to blogs from a broader audience than ever before. This broader audience is likely leaving more and more comments just because they are more aware of what is available.

    So, not only are our writing skills changing, so are our methods to attract readership and attention. As the proliferation of content continues to explode, it’s our “Attention” that is the scarcest and most valuable commodity. Our writing skills need to change to reflect this new approach to written communications and esure our message is effectively communicated.

  7. Rebecca – quite like that quote by Zinsser; indeed, it characterizes the journalistic style, which i feel most MarkComm/PR folks adhere to as a core principle.

    Char – hear, hear..again, it’s effective editing that gives way to clarity and immediacy of the gist of a given message. and yes, there should be no reason why depth of meaning is compromised in the process. diction (choice of words) and proper syntax are indeed critical.

    Steve – a sound observation on e-based communications and the sense that micro-blogging platforms like Twitter are indeed forcing us to be write more sparingly but concisely at the same time (the first bullet point i highlighted in a previous blog “Six Nuggets from the Twitter Stream“). i also appreciate how you take into account the various forms associated with fulsome communication such as body language, emotion and voice — quite the holistic take and something of which i try to me mindful.

    with regard to this mention: “ interesting discussion is flowing through Twitter right now about it reducing the volume of blog commenting in general. I don’t necessarily agree with that…” i sympathize with this sentiment, as it clearly defeats the purpose of encouraging dialogue. however, as you aptly pointed out, the so-called “headline promotion” trend inevitably builds hype. so one wonders if the swirling debate (in the form of tweets or blogs) are, in and of themselves, painting further obscurity as people continue to fuel the discussion by speculating on long-term implications surrounding Project Retweet..lost in transition? perhaps fodder for another blog 🙂

    in any event with today’s news of Google launching SideWiki (a method of annotating web pages), my sense is that the overall push to explore sentiment analysis in the social sphere will also likely influence how social sites present similar opportunities in their commenting functionalities.

    but i digress..

    i think all our thoughts here are essentially in line with each other, illustrating the potential challenges of creating (writing) ‘abbreviated’ content, as it were while ensuring we stay on point and preferably not lose context while capturing the desired nuance in meaning. yeah, that’s a tough call for a tweet. but we get it, we practice and in so doing aim to perfect; hence, i won’t belabour the point further.

    thank you for the discussion. may those who stumble upon this thread find it useful. as always, i am indebted to your continued collaboration. cheers! autom

    PS – Steve: what were you saying about ‘miscommunication’? this tweet is too serendipitous NOT to share—courtesy of @mktgdouchebag

  8. Sorry for late comment — I am behind in my blog reading.

    I can see all your points but would comment that some of the most effective videos have been home-made. Think You Tube has lessened people’s expectations for quality in favor of the content. Think about the genious of the e-Trade baby series which tried to emuate a home-made look. A small point, but I think there is a role for the retro video look for the clever marketer. I am going to run an article on my blog (probably next week?) about some B2B success stories. One was done entirely with home-made videos.

  9. Thanks for commenting on the point about video content, Mark. I suppose my thoughts on good value for video production was coming from a somewhat staid, corporate mindset. Clearly, the creative equation knows no bounds and surely this applies to video production as well. I very much look forward to your post on successful home-made videos.

  10. Autom,

    Better late then never on feedback, right my friend? 😀 Anyway, great post and lots of great feedback to boot! I don’t want to be redundant here, but what kind of seminar did you attend? Who on earth could present Twitter as a fad and LinkedIn as just a directory? How could you stand for such obscenity? 😉

    Content is King. Video is underused and we live in a fragmented social web…

    After all of our time spent plotting out the distant future… it is by now, you may be getting tired of hearing about how the social networking revolution and Web 2.0 practices will revolutionize the planet. What is more interesting to debate — at least for people like us — is how to morph your own Internet site from a final destination to a virtual syndication.

    So the movement out of Web 2.0 to whatever may come next will require all of us to shift from our natural practice of storing data online to empowering data — everywhere you can. One important element in this shift, social networking, has hopefully taught us that it is completely acceptable to syndicate your content on someone else’s platform, a practice virtually unheard of in the previous World Wide Web administration.

    What we need to be looking at instead of bringing eyeballs to a specific location is how flexible our content and data are and how easily we can syndicate that data through smart delivery practices and even smarter devices.

    That’s all for now 😉

  11. I was just talking with my friend about this the other day at dinner . Don’t remember how in the world we got on the subject really, they brought it up. I do recall eating a excellent fruit salad with sunflower seeds on it. I digress…


    wow. for real? sunflower seeds? another wacky example of spam…but i digress haha – autom

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