Disposable Content, Engagement, and Sustainable Communications
The publisher of a financial portal looks across the board room table, points to the wall-sized boardroom screen that displays his award-winning website. “This is all disposable content,” he boasts.
He is just about everything wrong with publishing today. His “disposable content” is nothing more than the cheapest possible vector for advertising. End of story. Quality of reporting, quality of writing, and respect for audience means nothing. It’s all about the money and only about the money.
His company’s sales materials feature big fat numbers, lots of unique visitors, lots of eyeballs. Lots of hits. Gross audience statistics.
What he is not selling is engagement. He is not selling trust and loyalty. He holds his audience in such contempt that he is prepared to offer up nothing more than “disposable content” for their consumption.
His attitude—it’s his profits first, advertiser needs next, and audience needs that come last. Forget about social factors and aesthetics.
Traditional media has always been sold on gross audience numbers. That was all we had. Even in the web’s earliest days, publishers could only show gross numbers—page views, hits, visitors—and little more. Over time, web metrics have become more sophisticated. On a granular level and on a aggregate big data level, publishers can deliver much more than old school gross audience numbers.
Because the web provides a live back channel, media operators have an immense scope for audience engagement and the tools to measure that engagement.
People who put money into media operations can now look at not only the size of an audience, but also get a detailed picture of the quality and behaviours of that audience minute to minute—one reason why media clients should demand engagement metrics, and engagement communications strategies from media property owners.
It has become far too easy for media owners to ignore the importance of trust and loyalty in stimulating audience engagement when a sensational headline will pump up gross audience numbers. Yet individuals are more likely to engage in a framework of trust and loyalty over the long term.
The idea of “disposable content” flies in the face of audience trust and loyalty. Rather than balanced, credible, insightful, well-written and well-produced content, many publishers opt for cheap, often crowd-sourced and sensational material that, in its singular purpose, may pull big numbers but fails to stimulate engagement, fails to build trust, credibility or loyalty.
Presenting 50 “original” SEO oriented 500 word blog posts purchased from an online content mill for $50 in total compensation does nothing to build audience trust and loyalty. That’s $50 for 25,000 words of writing, or two-tenths of a cent per word. You’d be hard-pressed to find an educated and practised writer for less than $.50 per word. Yet publishers will represent their brand in work performed by “writers” willing to work a fraction of a cent, by amateurs willing to work for the exposure, or by subject experts who simply can’t write. Since when does making your publication painful to read build audience?
But why not—if you regard the material you publish as “disposable content.”
Advertisers need to demand better, or publishers won’t change. Advertisers need to make themselves aware of available tools to achieve and measure audience engagement and ask publishers to deliver. Not only that, but they need to ensure that publishers conduct themselves ethically and present high quality content that frames an advertiser’s message in trust and credibility—and not mere “disposable content” purchased at the lowest possible price from writers and producers with little or less to offer in the way of skills, vision or voice.
Publishers who fail to present quality content will suffer in the long run. Past a point, cost cutting and price competition will no longer keep their brand afloat as they lose credibility, blow it on audience trust and loyalty, and ultimately turn off advertisers now unwilling to buy into their big numbers sales pitch.
The alternative is simple. Provide relevant content written or produced to high standards by professionals who offer skills, vision and voice, and present that content in a framework aimed at stimulating audience engagement, and provide advertisers with the opportunity to leverage the real power of the Web and your high quality content to achieve their communications goals.
Blake Desaulniers is the British Columbia Regional Director for the Professional Writers Association of Canada and a member of the Editors Association of Canada