As a business owner and marketing professor, my time to create new content is limited. Much has already been covered in the rapid-fire world of social media and SEO. When I write, I try to bark up trees where new cats are hiding. More often, I curate and pass along useful content to my clients and collaborative community.
It surprises me, however, how hard it is to find quality content to share. I scan and pass over numerous content posts before coming across anything I consider share-worthy. Here are five reasons I might not share—and one reason I might not even read—your content:
I. It has obvious spelling or grammatical errors.
I’m an editor, so this is a big one with me. I admit it might be bigger than it ought to be, but I’m in good company. Many readers write off content that is shoddily presented. I get that we’re all in a hurry, and I also get that English wasn’t everyone’s best subject in high school or college. If content is your game, however, take more than average care in this area.
This is a significant problem on the Internet in general. Daily I read posts from reputable news organizations riddled with typos, half-written sentences, and paragraphs that read like unfinished symphonies. Where are the editors?
If you’re a blogger, you may have to be your own editor, which means mastering things about the English language that may have made you yawn in high school. That quickly brings me to #2.
2. It lacks professional tone.
Everyone is jockeying to be an influencer these days, but few are Secretariats. Those who win content races not only have great ideas but also present them like professionals rather than college interns. They write like adults. They have that “tone.”
Tone is complex in both writing and music. It’s possible, I’m afraid, to be tone deaf in both areas. Even rare individuals with natural abilities have to resist the urge to carelessly fall back on their raw talent. Listening, training, and practicing are essential.
In other words, you actually need to know about writing and communication as well as understand how to employ that information to achieve specific objectives. This takes deliberate effort. Unfortunately, many jump on the online communication bandwagon because it’s perceived to be “free” and “easy.” That misconception trashes online reputations left and right.
Feel free to be yourself, but understand that
assessment of value is linked to perceptions of credibility.
Through word choice and organization, tone and voice reveal attitude and personality. Feel free to be yourself, but understand that in the world of information exchange, assessment of value is linked to perceptions of credibility, which translates to trust, competence, caring, and character. While your unique voice establishes position, your professional tone establishes credibility, which influences reader and consumer decision-making and response.
3. It’s too familiar (and I don’t mean well-known).
I’m always eager to embrace new friends, online and in person, but I also appreciate respectful boundaries, as do most readers. I’ve never met—nor will I likely meet—most of you. So when you write as if we’re grade school playmates from way back (or worse, as if I’m a student in your fifth grade class or someone to whom you’d like to sell useless overstock), I’m likely to be standoffish.
Again, it’s a “tone” thing. When communicating with a collective audience, excessive familiarity or superficiality are off-putting. Don’t sell me; just tell me. I’m a willing and largely forgiving audience. Don’t make me hide in the kitchen like I do when an unwanted solicitor knocks on my door.
4. The main points are buried six feet under.
Never underestimate the effectiveness of a compelling lead, but don’t forget to respect your readers’ time. If they have to slog through 1,500 words (or even 500) to finally get to your point, they’ll probably never make it there unless they’re loyal followers or committed skimmers. That’s the main reason for the popularity of lists.
You don’t have to ditch creativity and write in list format to communicate well (although headings are recommended for business writing in general). Just know that all online readers have expectations, and business readers want conclusions first and evidence or support later. Grab them, tell them, then convince them—otherwise you’ll lose them. When in doubt, go short rather than long.
5. It lacks clear organization.
If you have an important idea, stew on it for a while, then write. Don’t be in a hurry to tap out those daily or weekly blog posts and click “Publish.” It’s not that readers expect perfection. (I edit my own writing every time I look at it.) It’s that we like to have some sense that you thought your big idea through, did a bit of research, took time to organize your thoughts, attempted to create well-structured sentences and paragraphs, and considered the potential implications from more than one angle.
I daily read content from two bloggers in particular who have great ideas (and even great graphics) but such disorganized delivery that I can’t bring myself to share their posts. After all, if I share their content, my credibility will be tied up with theirs. I can’t reasonably conclude that other readers will overlook issues that clearly stand out to me. It’s not my place to tell them directly, although I’d be glad to respond if they asked. They have no built-in mechanism for response. They just keep cranking out long posts with more potential than delivery.
This is where the value of peer review comes into play. Let someone other than your doting mother read your content before you post it—preferably someone with a logical mind and some editorial skills. Your audience may not thank you, but they’ll judge you as competent.
6. It’s more of the same.
In any field, if you read and study long enough you’ll reach a point where it all starts to sound familiar. (This time I mean well-known.) Some information is especially important, easily forgotten, and worth repeating. If you’re repurposing content, make sure it’s that kind of information. It’s OK to lead me to an old, familiar place, but at least take me down a new and interesting path in getting there.
Ultimately, it’s wise to develop thick skin as a writer and content producer. Defensiveness blinds us to our weaknesses and mistakes. Sometimes they’re critical ones. When we shield ourselves from negative responses that potentially represent trends, our impact dwindles.
In business we all need at least three things: an honest critic, a brutal editor, and an analytical graphic designer. I have several of each. If you’re filling these roles personally, recognize the risk and get some training. Even then, do your market research and solicit feedback. You’ll only get it if you ask for it. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s rarely profitable.
Conna Bond is an associate professor of marketing and management and the co-founder of Pineapple Social Media and Red Canoe Creative.