Continuing on with our discussion on what makes good content, I want to give a big shout-out to Don Tuite from Electronic Design who provided, in a comment with an outstanding example of what it takes to make a good technical news story.
Don pointed out that when he does a piece, he does a fair amount of editorializing, but that is tempered by a lot of information from many sources. That speaks to the issue if truth in content. An opinion is not necessarily untrue and passes the test when it is backed up by information from both sides. To get to that point, however, requires a helluva lot of work.
Don's outline of his process took not only days of research and discussion, but time to put it straight in his own head and then write down his perception of reality. If lucky, he gets to do that 20 or 30 times a year. There are about 5 editors in the industry like Don so we can count on about 150 stories with that kind of effort over the course of a year, tops.
And there are about 1500 of those kind of stories out there, every year. We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg regarding what options there are for Don's industry. And there are about 100 other related industries.
Do you see where the problem lies? There are not enough objective journalists to filter all the material so it becomes the responsibility of content producers outside of the ranks of journalism to start becoming better at creating real content, based on truth.
The audience has the responsibility of keeping up on what Don and his peers produce and then filter through all the news releases and marketing documentation that has not received the same careful scoping that a journalist will give it. That raw data feeds the monster known as the World Wide Web and overwhelms millions of people through web search, RSS and email. Corporate communicators can make that job easier by creating trustworthy content, not just trying to boost their product. If they become know for producing trusted content, when they do boost their company, it will more likely be consumable to the audience.
And once communicators start solving their credibility problem, they need to start understanding where their audiences are going to want to consume that information.
In my previous post on this I said that journalists use subjective filters to stem the flood of data. I know one editor that will not accept emails from anyone he does not already know and trust. Another can only be reached through direct messages on Twitter. There are many who refuse to take emails, and phone calls and rely only on search tools. Each journalist has chosen one or more ways to control the flow of information, just as a matter of survival. The audience, likewise, is increasingly using modern media to filter out the dross. These new filters are as arbitrary and subjective as the journalists, maybe even more so.
There was a phrase I heard many times in various forms while working as a PR pro: "(1) We don't really need media relations or PR help because (2) our customers are engineers and (3) engineers talk to each other." Part two is still true of these folks and Part three was true to a degree 10 years ago. Part one has never been true but is even a bigger untruth today.
Media relations is a very big need in the engineering industries because engineers are talking to each other more than ever and they are doing it over social media. The Society of Automotive Engineers released a survey in 2010 that showed engineers have widely adopted social media as a means of discussing and investigating engineering options and products I'm not talking about email and bulletin boards.
The survey reported that, "In North America, 70% of respondents use Facebook versus 59% globally; and 67% of North American respondents use LinkedIn as opposed to 46% globally, according to the findings. YouTube is more popular among mobility engineers globally -- 45% said they use the site as opposed to only 29% in North America."
This isn't about those "damned kids," either. Age did not play a significant role in determining one site over another.
Those engineers are sharing content they have found that they consider valid or needs discussion. What they are not sharing is most of the marketing content being produced by the companies targeting their business.
In 2009, The Napier partnership (a British PR firm) did a study on usage os social media by engineers and did an update in 2011. They found social media usage grew dramatically among engineers in the electronic design industry but, at the same time, those engineers were increasingly dissatisfied by the quality of the content. In other words, they were tired of press releases and marcom brochures.
And that's the point of this post. Your customers want real information, vetted and/or created by qualified communicators (preferably journalists) who spend time finding the real story. If you lack the time, skill and resources to create that kind of content, you need to hire some one who does. Don't wait until your publicist sets up a meeting at a trade show; don't crank out another press release; and don't fret over the hyperbole of another brochure until you do. And once you figure that out, you need to figure out where those customers are getting that stuff. I have an idea for you that I normally charge people for. I'll tell you about it next time.