I’m in the middle of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well – a classic guide to writing non-fiction that I recommend to anyone looking to improve their writing skills. Zinsser advocates concise, clutter-free writing. He admonishes his readers to write with purpose.
Reading a book like this got me thinking about “content” and “content marketing” – and how far these concepts have deviated from true, purposeful writing.
Content marketing is based on a smart premise: write regularly – blogs, white papers, social media posts and so on. This will underscore your expertise and position you as a “thought leader,” which will, in turn, draw an audience to you.
But in the rush to gain fans and followers, organizations have pushed aside meaningful writing in order to put out as much “content” as fast as possible, irrespective if it brings any value.
We now live in a world that’s gone “content”- crazy. Now, re-hashed, sensationalized talking points pass as expertise, and headlines don’t summarize a well-written piece but act as provocative statements that bait readers into clicking a link.
As popular as it has become, this content-at-any-cost approach offers little substance. And it certainly doesn’t speak well of a business or non-profit that’s looking to build a base of committed followers.
You, Your Product and Your Cause
So how do you write with purpose and still build a following?
Start with writing from the heart. Instead of producing content for content’s sake, write transparently about what it is you do or sell. Write genuinely about your own experiences. If you have a great product, service or cause, you’ll have plenty to say.
When you write from the heart, several things will happen:
1. You’ll create interest.
Because you’re writing about unique experiences, you are by definition sharing something new. New is good. It’s fresh and exciting. You have something original to say; this stands out in a world that’s being continuously bombarded with the same. As a result, people will take notice.
2. You’ll build trust.
Credibility is hard to come by on the Web. If you write honestly about what you’ve learned, you’ll reveal your genuine side. You won’t be one of the many who simply parrot back someone else’s ideas just to get a few more clicks. People will know you’re not trying to bullshit them. This is what gets donors to believe in your mission and followers to become committed to your cause.
3. You’ll produce value.
By writing from the heart, you’re making a contribution. You’re giving your experiences, opinions and analysis to the world. And although these may not always be ground-breaking, you’re making your industry better and creating a name for yourself as someone who cares.
In his book Win Without Pitching, Blair Enns gets it right when he asks “Are we adding to the millions of words that already exist on a subject. . . Or, are we delving deeply into meaningful subjects for wisdom that truly helps?” If you’re not writing thoughtfully about some genuine aspect of your business or cause, you’re just adding to the void.
How One Client Did It
If this approach seems too radical to bring results, here’s an example from one of our own clients, The Music Empowers Foundation, (MEF has since become SpreadMusicNow) a non-profit that funds music programs in underserved communities.
When we built the original Music Empowers Web site in 2010, we weren’t trying to gain a massive social media following or even Web site traffic. We simply wanted to get the cause off the ground. So we asked our writer, Ellen Judson, to write a bit about the benefits of music education.
When Ellen wrote this piece, she wasn’t thinking “How can I concoct something to get 70,000 people a year to visit our Web site and get organization XYZ to link to us?” She simply wanted to inform. She was writing from the heart, sharing facts and anecdotes about the power of music to transform children’s lives.
At its peak, the Importance of Music received over 5,000 unique site visits each month. It ranked #1 on Google for the term “importance of music,” and had assisted Music Empowers in both gaining followers (over 160,000 Facebook fans and counting) and prompting donations.
It’s wonderful that this simple Web page created so much momentum, but its success is a by-product of a well-written article that supports the foundation’s mission.
Our experience with The Importance of Music has helped us to rethink the idea of “content” and how clients should approach content development for their own organizations. We believe anyone can produce content like this client did and enjoy just as much success. It starts with having a great product or service and then requires enough passion to write from the heart. It’s an approach that represents the longer road – but one that emphasizes quality and is, ultimately, more fulfilling.
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