A few weeks ago, Emma Gannon posted a tweet that stopped me in my scroll. She’d received an unwelcome comment on a piece of her work; not abuse, not a troll, but “great content!!!” On the face of it this might seem like nothing – not the most imaginative insight, sure, but hardly offensive – however I felt the need to respond, and after that I felt the need to write more. Emma does a lot of great tweets but this one in particular stuck with me because…’content’ really sucks.
First, let’s define my issue, because I’m not hating on content itself. ‘Content’ broadly refers to a lot of things I love – articles, blog posts, photography, videos, tweets…basically every form of media or art I consume. Content marketing is how I earn my living; the word is in my job title, in most of the work-based conversations I have, even in my damn Twitter bio. It’s a big umbrella that covers a myriad of mediums in one little word, so when used in a group of people who know and respect what is really being discussed it’s harmless enough and even quite useful.
The problem comes when the word ‘content’ starts getting thrown around as a buzzword by people who don’t really know or care what it means. Because on its own, the word content could also apply to what’s inside a rubbish bag or a ready meal. Even when we’ve established that we’re discussing a creative output the word is devoid of meaning, a bland phrase that undermines the skill of the creator and shifts the focus of the art form from quality to quantity.
As an online content writer I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has come to me requesting ‘some content for this page’ without giving any hint as to what that content might be. It’s never said but the implication is there as clear as day; they don’t care what words are on the page, they just want some words, any words, preferably over 600 because they’ve heard Matt Cutts at Google said that once. In this context, content ceases to be useful, engaging or entertaining, and is reduced to filler; the verbal equivalent of the tasteless green leaves whose only purpose is to make your salad look bigger.
The quantity issue doesn’t end there. Recently I’ve become increasingly aware of a trend in which the ability to churn out large amounts of ‘content’ is being worn like a badge of honour, in the same way that some people insist on proclaiming how busy they as if it’s an achievement. Just as there are ambitious CEOs writing smug so-called thinkpieces about how they exist on just 4 hours sleep a night, there’s a new breed of internet star who will gleefully humble-brag about the fact that they publish a new post every day, or that their new YouTube video is 50 minutes long even after editing. If you’re genuinely so inspired that pure creative gold is just flowing through your being and out into the world 24/7 then more power to you; you are more motivated and imaginative than I could ever dream of being, and to be honest I probably stalk you obsessively on Twitter. But the sheer quantity of someone’s work does not interest or impress me.
So instead of obsessing about how many blog posts you’ve got scheduled, obsess about finding the perfect words to convey what you want to say. Instead of clumsily wading through writer’s block so you don’t miss your self-imposed deadline, go out for the day and wait for your inspiration to find you again. Instead of scraping together seven ideas to fill the week, choose your best idea and take the time to get inside it, explore it, stretch it as far as it will go. Make art, tell stories, spark a debate…but for the love of god, don’t create content.