Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast
Content is a sophisticated yet simple part of anybody’s plan. There’s the old adage that content is king, and that’s never been more true with social media. Content is the what we provide to the various audience groups across all different channels. It can be in the form of text, images, video, audio, or any derivation of those four. In terms of the platforms, it could be on social media, broadcasted, on print, a signage, or announcements in-store or when people are on hold on the phone. Content is basically information packaged for the audience to receive.
The 5 elements of content
Content has five elements to it, the first of which is consistency, because it’s information being shared across multiple platforms, and if the message across all these different platforms isn’t coordinated, then either the same person reading inconsistent information will get confused, or different people reading information about the same company will have different impressions. Inconsistency can affect practical issues. For instance, inconsistency in signage could affect a company’s brand recognition as well as its reputation. Therefore, consistency is a key part of the messaging and the content creation strategy.
The second element is that it must be readable. When creating content, nothing is more important than making it easy to understand. Wiio’s laws, which has nine different impacts on miscommunication, says that anything that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood. The readability of a piece of content and the viewing or the interpretation of a graphic will be shaped by many factors internally, but also, it will be received by the different audience groups in different ways. For example, in some countries, white is the color worn in weddings, while in other countries, it’s worn at funerals. Again, making content readable means making it simple. If it’s going to be used, read, or watched in other cultures, how do those images or words play out if they were to be translated or seen? The use of jargon, terminology, spelling, grammar, and sentence structure all impact readability. In the case of viewability, when planning signage, you would need to consider the size of the text, the colour of the background, and more.
The third element is engagement. How engaging is the content? Is it going to be factual or is it going to be emotion-based? There’s content that appeals to the emotional response of the audience and information that is strictly factual, and there’s content that appeals to the logical side, so carefully decide what the objective of the content is, as this will help you craft the right message. If the content sounds too cold but it’s supposed to be an engaging message, it’s likely to fail. If it’s too discursive and too floral but it’s supposed to be a factual piece of information, it may confuse how concise the content is.
The fourth element is for content to be findable. Marketing online starts with search, because everybody that doesn’t know what they’re looking for starts with a search engine. If you have long-form content, it should be SEO-friendly, which Yoast can help you test. It is a platform that reviews the SEO score to help you determine a post’s likelihood of appearing at the top of a search engine’s results page. Many sites have SEO trackers built-in, especially into WordPress. These are meant to help you look at your content through the eyes of a search engine. This is also important for images, because images within video or standalone will become part of the search dynamic. Again, the consistency of the iconography within your graphics and your infographics can impact how easily found your website or other promotional items are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or your own offline social media platforms.
The fifth element is whether content will carry. Will it travel? Can it be translated? Global trade now means that countries in Southeast Asia or Latin America will often receive the same information online as the people in the originating markets, so the impact of the internet means that people can see things globally. However, global trade also means that they might receive packaging which has been produced in one country but is destined for another. With content, if you’re planning to localise it, how simple will it be? The translation of content plays a significant role in getting your message across, and one way to ensure an accurate translation is to keep your sentences short and simple. Make your content clear. Use less similes & metaphors as those could be translated too literally and might not make sense to the reader. Use less humour which would be culturally sensitive. If you’re not going to localise the language by writing it in-country, make sure your original content is as easy to translate and as safe from mistranslation as possible.
This brings us to the topic of jargon. Often, companies like to write content full of jargon, because it makes them seem like authorities. A study done by the Ohio State University found that the use of jargon can actually be negative in terms of the impact on not only the company that writes it, but even on the subject matter the jargon is about. Professor Hillary Shulman, the lead author of this study, explained that the use of difficult, specialised words are a signal that tells people that they don’t belong. You can tell them what that term means, but it doesn’t matter. They already feel like this message isn’t for them. So, when building a brand that aims to be inclusive, using jargon can actually have the opposite effect.
Another finding of the study was that exposure to jargon led people to report things like, "I’m not really good at science," I’m not interested in learning about science," and, "I’m not well qualified to participate in science discussions." In other words, when people were fed jargon, not only did they turn away from the specific purveyor of that information, they actually turned away from the topic in general. Let this be food for thought when it comes to issues like COVID or climate change. In an attempt to sound like an authority by using jargon, barriers are created, which then creates a position of influence, but ironically enough, one of distance as well.
Novelty and readability
Based on content from Contently, imagine a diagram with four quadrants. On the horizontal axis, there is the term Novelty. Across the vertical axis, it says Readability. The premise is that in order to get anything published, something needs to be novel. It needs to be news, and the other element to this is that it needs to be easy to read. In the bottom left corner is content with a low novelty factor and low readability, and this is the type of content that will not be shared. In the top left box is content which has low novelty, but is easy to read, which could possibly be shared because it’s easy to read but it’s not that interesting. In the bottom right hand corner is content that has low readability but high novelty, and this could possibly be shared, but only amongst those who understand the content well. And in the top right hand corner is content which is highly novel and highly readable. This is the kind of content you want, because it is most likely to be read and to shared by the public. This is a very simple four-way matrix similar to a Battenberg cake or a square window. The aim is to produce content that belongs in the top right corner, which is content that is novel and easy to read.
It all then makes sense that content needs to be consistent, easy for people to translate, and engaging. However, the bigger an organisation is, the bigger the problem of consistency becomes, but that’s where companies like Acrolinx come in. Acrolinx creates templates through AI analysis, guidance, and what they call an anchoring environment to produce technical documents, sales brochures, and press releases. They have certain terminology that the whole company can adopt, which is useful because the technical department of a company you’re writing press releases for could have specific phrases they like to use, but the marketing department may not necessarily have those within its own directory and glossary. Companies like Siemens use Acrolinx to create consistent content which is organisation-wide.
When sending out messages to different parts of the organisation, different customer groups will be getting different information, and synchronising that organisation-wide used to be a major challenge. But now with the digitalization of content production and distribution, documents are being revised all the time. You might not have the latest version, so tools like Acrolinx can help with that. From a public relations point of view, when sending it to the media or across social media, the first question to answer is, is this news? The second is, is this simple to understand? The third is, will it make a difference? If it doesn’t meet all three of these criteria, then wait until you have something that you can say that people will want to read and share.
This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.
Cover Photo from Click Dimensions Blog