Why we've stopped talking about 'content'

The word ‘content’ makes me wince at times and if I ruled the world, I’d simply ban it entirely.

Somehow, we have got lazy in the digital world. I know it is so much easier to use the word ‘content’ than to use the long form description of our work and our communication that we should use instead.

The problem is that when we use the word content all the time, it makes everything we read or see on a screen the same. And that isn’t the case.

  • Award winning investigative journalism that holds the world of government to account? Not content.
  • Potentially life-saving advice on fire hazards in a high-rise development? Not content.
  • Application guidelines for a University course? Not content.
  • Professionally written travel pieces on a tourism website? Not content.

But I bet that in the meetings around how to produce and structure the relevant information on the topics above, we talked about content.

I bet we didn’t talk about that 3-year undercover story, we didn’t talk about the 5 ultra-key messages on multi-tenancy kitchens, we didn’t talk about the values undermining our under-graduate curriculum and we didn’t talk about the amazing freelance piece commissioned on family kayaking.

I bet instead we used the word ‘content’ in all those cases.

Why do we all insist on defaulting back to this word when we’re describing our work, our communication, our uniqueness through the medium of a screen? Does this even matter?

If we don’t use the full description for our work, we…
  1. Risk de-valuing it. It clearly isn’t right that a 3-year investigation into MP behaviour and picture of a dog in a baseball hat are both called content.
Why do we allow these assets to be called the same thing?
  1. Separate our work from our audiences and their needs. If we’re writing stuff mainly to fill a page, then we’re violating rule No.1 of any website or app project: respecting User Needs.
Why is that page there at all? Answer: because it’s content. In a digital context, sometimes any ‘content’ is okay…crazy.
  1. Encourage wastes of time and wastes of space. When we have ‘content to write’, bad things happen. We waste time, we waste User time and we get bloated websites and apps.

Stop with the content.

We’ve been working so hard to eliminate the word in our conversations with clients and it isn’t easy at first. But we’ve made progress in the last year or so and the benefits are clear. I also use a giant bowl of M&Ms that are gradually depleted any time the word ‘content’ is used in meetings – nothing focuses the mind more than disappearing chocolate!

When clients start to use the full description of their work instead, they immediately think of it and talk of it quite differently. The natural conversation changes and the approach to talking about what they do fundamentally changes too.

We encourage our clients to frame their descriptions in terms of communication, not content – with all the natural emphasis on message sharpness and target audience that the communication word brings.

Let’s ban the word ‘content’ altogether folks. Just think of those lovely M&Ms.