Remember the Desktop Publishing Revolution? Back in the mid-1980s, MacPublisher and PageMaker were going to turn anybody with a computer into a graphic designer. Suddenly, secretaries could design newsletters and invitations and magazine ads with ease. Graphic designers were going to be out of business.
Of course, it didn’t happen that way. Graphic designers embraced the new computerized design tools, and the stuff that got designed by secretaries looked as if it had been designed by secretaries. Just because you have the tools doesn’t mean you have the skills. You can put a hammer in my hand and tell me to build a birdhouse, and, by god, I’ll build you a birdhouse. But it’ll be a crappy birdhouse.
The same thing is happening today with web content and social media. Marketers are waking up to the power and
possibility of producing content and connecting with customers on the Internet. The tools are easy to use; if you can type, you can use the WordPress content management system. Anybody can point a cheap high-definition video camera and shoot decent video. Everybody’s on Facebook, anyway. Twitter–I mean, really. A hundred and forty characters? How hard can that be?
Not hard at all–if you don’t care about looking polished and professional and making the right impression.
In our daily travels around the Internet, we find all sorts of shockingly bad content. Some of it seems to have been produced by robots programmed to load stories with keywords. They’re not actually trying to impart valuable information. They’re trying to game the search engines into moving them up on their lists. They’re like those cheaply produced science shows about natural disasters that may someday destroy the planet: you think you’re going to learn something when you watch, but it’s just the same crappy computer animation over and over.
Even worse are the come-ons that promise something provocative but quickly turn into sales pitches. They’re the high-tech equivalent of the dancing guy in the Statue of Liberty costume trying to wave you into the tax preparation store. Ugh.
Then there are the misspellings, the wrong word choices, the bad grammar, the illogical arguments, the inane tweeting–these from people who pose as professional communicators and social media mavens. I’m note immune to typos, by any stretch of the imagination. But you should know the meaning of the words you choose. If you write “collegiate” when you mean “collegial,” as one prominent local marketer did on a website not long ago, it may be time to call a professional writer.
Here’s the point: not all promotion is good promotion. Some advertising actually makes people want to avoid you. This is not just my opinion. In study after study over the last fifty years, it’s been proven that some advertising has a negative effect on sales: people who know your ads are less inclined to buy your product than people who don’t know your ads.
Bad social media and web content can have the same effect. I have “unfollowed” and “unfriended” plenty of people who pollute my Facebook and Twitter feeds with promotional garbage. Effective communication is all about trust, and if I can’t trust you to lead me to interesting and valuable content, I have no need to see your self-serving updates. In fact, I will put up with your occasional self-serving updates if I can trust you to lead me to valuable and interesting content.
But that’s a different post for a different day.
The point is, unprofessional communication is unprofessional, no matter what the medium. Just because it’s on the web and the web is “free” doesn’t make it any less important. In fact, it’s more important. The content you put on the web is more accessible to more people than any other content you produce, period. Anyone in the world can look at your content at any moment.
Back in the ’80s, the best marketers realized pretty quickly that they still needed graphic designers–who now had new tools that would help them work faster and smarter. Today, the best marketers are realizing that their web presence is critical–and that, just because everyone can use the WordPress content management system doesn’t mean that everyone should.
Of course, we’re biased. We’re writers, so we have a vested interest.
We also believe, quite honestly, that writing matters–maybe more than ever. A picture on the Internet is still worth a thousand words. But the right words on the Internet will always be worth a thousand pictures.