Why customer-centric online content is crucial, especially in this social media day and age

Visitors of this blog know I have been posting a lot about the importance of content, as I did in Dutch before, and have been interviewing quite some people on the matter too, like recently Joe Pulizzi, Bryan Eisenberg and Christopher Knight.

And, as you also know, I often emphasize the importance of valuing the content that’s created by your community, integrating it where you can, link to it, etc. Content is everywhere and content marketing is about integration, strategy and customer-centricity. Finally, I often talk about the importance of relevant (or valuable, if you prefer) and share-worthy content.

User-generated and community-generated content matter very much to me. In several posts, I have gathered comments from “my community” (don’t like the “my” part because it doesn’t belong to me, it’s composed of people that decided to follow my tweets, read my blog, comment etc. but a community is never a “property”) to create new ones.

Without words, stories, dialogue and content there is no relation

However, in this post I will talk a little about the finding that for many companies content is still seen as a cost, even a waste (you would be surprised if I told you some stories).

Don’t worry: this post is not about my frustration but the start of a series of posts regarding why content matters so much. I will always remember what Bob Boiko wrote in his ‘Content Management Bible’: “without content a web site is an empty box”. That was long before social media existed.

So let me put it otherwise: without words, stories, talking and listening, there is no relation. When marketers talk about online communication, it is often about campaign strategies, tactical approaches and platforms that help them to reach their customers and prospects the best way possible in order to turn them into loyal, active and participating customers or even into ‘brand advocates’.

Content still often comes very late in the whole online strategy (and sometimes not at all).

You know that I think communication is about much more than spreading and pushing content but about integrated marketing, customer-centricity, co-creation, relationships and dialogues. However, as I just said, you cannot start a relationship without content!

Visitors to our websites are people of flesh and blood. So are visitors of our blogs, email subscribers, people who follow us on Twitter, etc. They talk to other people, they take hundreds of decisions every day and thousands of feelings rush through their head and the are one and the same, regardless of which channel they pick to find information or connect with you.  In all these activities, there is something in common: language. People talk and even think in ‘language’. Language is so important that we even call the gestures we make and our physical attitude language: body language.

On Internet, it’s not different: the mails we send, the blogs we visit, the decisions we take to buy a product, the connections we make on Twitter etc.: language and words play a crucial role.

Customers, email recipients, Twitter followers and Facebook fans are people

One example: the decision to buy a product on an e-commerce site, for instance, may depend on seemingly insignificant details such as the right words with which the product is described and even that one word on that particular call-to-action ‘button’ on the website that says “Buy now” but also could say something completely else.

It is therefore, surprising that in the creation process of websites, online campaigns, etc. the ‘words’, known as the (written) ‘online content’, often come in the last place. Sometimes, online content is even disregarded completely and becomes a last-minute job for someone who wouldn’t recognize valuable (read: effective and worthwhile) online content if it bit him in the nose.

A poorly and ineffectively ‘written’ website, email, blog or whatever has an adverse impact on the efficiency of the website. Moreover, it also gives a negative impression of the brand behind it.

Of course in this era of fast broadband connections and multimedia we are increasingly seeing other emerging forms of content: video, ingenious applications, images, etc. They obviously also play an important role but, even then, the WWW today is still predominantly a textual medium and human communication, online or not, remains primarily a matter of language. And, in the end, images are language too.

I hope this ‘content’ was not too bad (and if there are errors, remember, I’m not a native English speaker, is that an OK excuse?)