Make Content Smarter

Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

The Internet has changed the relationship of audiences to the information that communications professionals want them to consume. Back in the days before Google and hyperlinks and smartphones with high-end video capability, when cost was a real barrier to producing and distributing media and when “space available” in media outlets was limited, communicators had to carefully measure the words they chose to educate and persuade their audiences. Avoid jargon, simplify difficult concepts, be brief, and eliminate vocabulary beyond a middle school reading level – these were and still are the tenets of public communication, evolved for the era of the trifold brochure or single page fact sheet and audiences that lacked the speed and convenience of tools that could answer their questions on demand.

It’s long past time to let all that go and leverage the boundless Internet to reach audiences who are regularly seeking new information on whatever topic motivates their search. “Dumbing down” content to fit “space available” is unnecessary and is no longer (if it ever was) the way to get your message across for an increasingly savvy Internet generation. Whether they are looking for product reviews, information about a medical test, or background on a political issue, today’s information consumers are more demanding of the information they find and will click until they’ve satisfied their curiosity.

The power of the hyperlink and smart content design can allow targeted audiences to pick their own pathway through the information that they are looking for. Done well, smart content design leads to a more satisfying user experience (UX) and is the cornerstone of effective UX both online and offline. It allows different audience segments to peel away layers of information to the level of detail that suits them, giving them the control to gain the knowledge they want while also steadily providing them the language they will need to more intelligently converse on the subject matter in other environs.

To update an old proverb, “Show a person a concept, and you teach them to see what you want them to see. Allow a person to discover and connect concepts and give him or her the language to discuss them, and you teach that person to think about what you’ve shown them.”

Ok, maybe it’s not as eloquent as the original, but you get the idea. In the Internet Age, making content smarter is essential for an audience that is actively seeking to be smarter.

On Being Socially Responsible

The pendulum has begun to swing – despite appearances in Washington – towards more corporate social responsibility. “CSR” is slowly embedding itself in the culture of business, in part because government’s ineffectiveness in the face of market demand is compelling some executives to step up to meet the challenges on issues like climate change, income inequality, and even gun violence. With time, we expect it will some day be a matter of routine for executives to examine and anticipate the impacts of their products and services on the world we live in. Why? Because because that is often where the next business opportunity is likely to emerge.

Turning Data Into Knowledge

In today’s digital world, sifting through the mass of bits and bytes to find and organize relevant facts, analyses, and opinions into credible and actionable knowledge can be a challenge for the best of us. In an information age that has suddenly gone from the starry night sky of the ancient Greeks to the dense star fields revealed by the Hubble telescope, it has become humanly impossible to analyze all the data to extract meaning, to turn it into actionable knowledge that we use and make easily accessible to others. As leaders and communicators, that is a big part of our job because doing so can be the difference between success and failure, progress and stagnation, and, in some cases, life and death.

We now look to “big data” for what our brains cannot do. We use computer algorithms designed to comb through millions, even billions of data points to help us understand increasingly specific characteristics about increasingly smaller groups of people, and even about a single individual. Like those Greeks who identified the stars that outlined the mythic hunter Orion, leaders today need to be able to look at the mass of data and identify the data points that give shape to their vision and show them how to navigate the tricky business of developing value, community, and return on investment.

Big data promises to extend human knowledge in many areas, but like a lot of new technologies, our expectations about big data may exceed the current reality. According to Gartner’s annual Hype Cycle reports, excitement over new technologies and the ideas they generate tend to render us blind to this notion that expectations often exceed actual performance, which is usually a great victory for the marketers of the technology but a disappointment to its early adopters. When a technology does not live up to the hype, it falls into what Gartner calls the “trough of disillusionment”, which is where Gartner placed big data in the 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

Gartner has been producing its hype cycle reports for more than 20 years, an important data point in itself. Today, the reports cover a number of areas, including Digital Marketing, another area notorious for over-hyped new developments like social media, which has been falling into the trough of disillusionment for the last two years. Still, despite a history of failed expectations (does anybody remember, Time-Warner’s first attempt at conquering the web that turned into a $50 million money-sucking black hole?), a lot of smart people still rush to embrace “the latest and greatest” despite this well-known cycle of hype, some who fully understand the risk/reward opportunity while others do not. Their failures and successes become the lessons for those who follow.

Data, be it big data or small, is only useful if we use it, and treat it with respect and a deep sense of what it can and can’t tell us. It is important that we ask the questions and use the tools specific to our circumstances to harness the available information so that we can most effectively advance our objectives. When we do these things and gain the desired knowledge, it’s like we’re able to point up to three stars in the crowded night sky and say with authority, “See, there’s Orion’s belt.”