Back in the 1970s, there was a vision of a paperless office; whilst the futurist, Alvin Toffler predicted increased technology was creating information overload. The reality is that we’re using more paper than ever – alongside an ever exploding volume of online content. I’m sure I could find data to illustrate the trend, but I’m overwhelmed with infographics, slideshare presentations, YouTube videos and a zillion other sources. There’s so much stuff out there (and increasingly filling up our email inboxes, social media feeds and so on) that we’re all suffering from toxic communications.
So in a world where it is getting harder and harder to find a quiet time or place to think or rest your eyes or brain without the onslaught of more promotional information, why is everyone contending to be the kings (or queens) of content?
Public relations practitioners claim to be producing content (not building relationships with publics). Journalists have been reinvented as content producers – with many migrating inside organisations where they are creating content instead of internal communications, or acting as ‘journalist in residence’ to dig up stories for those PR folk to promote. Ford has set up a a content factory, where like communicative Oompa Loompas, words and images are the output of a production process worthy of old Henry himself.
Then, our marketing colleagues seem to have given up on innovating products and services, conceiving pricing and distribution strategies and honed in on the content business. Like tins of beans to be stacked up and sold, marketers are keen to automate content with ideas, news, information and editorial features generated for the sole purpose of filling up ever expanding online channels.
Despite the talk of engagement and listening, it seems organisations and their professional coteries of communicators are really just looking to package their key messages and brand assets to be spewed around the online universe in ever increasing, or decreasing, circles. And coming right back at them is an avalanche of user generated content. It seems everyone is shouting louder and faster, and rather than listening, they hastily play pass the parcel with whatever content is whizzing their way.
Well, I’m not content to be churning out meaningless content. What I like about PR Conversations is that it encourages slow reads of considered thoughts by interesting people, stimulating (we hope) equally considered responses. This isn’t the place for 140 characters, whizz bang multimedia or content that is updated every 30 seconds.
We may well operate in an ‘always on’ communications environment where PR practitioners and journalists (or content generators/curators if you prefer) are expected to create and respond to whatever publics and influencers are saying, anywhere in the world. But is this really productive communications? Have we effectively improved knowledge, changed attitudes or motivated behaviour? Have we listened and counselled our clients/employers in a meaningful way? Or can we just point to the content we have generated and its online trail as evidence of our worth?
My call is for less babble and more intelligent and informed narrative. Silence is not an ugly word and is indeed one of the most effective elements of communications – where would we be without white space in print; silence is much needed white space.
Maybe this is an unrealistic call – there’s money to be made in content creation clearly. But at what cost to our sanity and clarity of communications?