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Thursday, September 20, 2012

What is Content Writing?

Having changed career paths, if only to be able to feed myself and becoming a “content writer” in the process, it seems to me like now more than ever there seems to be a need to define what this really means. More and more in the last six months, a search for “content writer” on anyone job website will land you search results that deal with “Technical Writing” or even some programming type of job, begging the question even further. But in today’s world, as the information overload has gone from a deluge to a straight tsunami of words, what does it mean for content writers who find themselves at the crossroads of adding their meaningful, valuable and well thought out arguments and lessons on the Internet, and being asked to write a minimum of 200 words a page singing praises of a product or service that has never been seen or heard before? In other words, is Content Writing the be-all and end-all of the online realm?

A couple of jobs ago, as a content writer, I came face-to-face with what I can only refer to as the absolute worst kind of content writing imaginable. This, for all you regular readers, was not related to my earlier post with an example of the kind of content that had to be written for these website and web publishing companies. It was worse. Together with a well-known and much renowned multi-national corporation, otherwise considered to be a leader in the Internet Search market, the company that hired me sent me onsite to essentially defraud poor small and very-small business owners from around India by promising them a basic, static website that was no bigger than 3 pages, where the first year was free for domain name registration and hosting, after which the fee was “nominal”. Now, this is a good deal, to be sure, but it was just that the clientele we had to call and make this offer to – kudos to those following along closely, because yes, although we were hired as “content writers” and a bunch of other roles, we ended up tele-selling this deal for the first three weeks on the job – were nowhere near computer savvy to know about the benefits of putting their business online. Many of the customers I spoke to had no clue what a website was! Then, to make matters worse, once we had collected information about their business and what they did really, we went about writing 500 words in total, that’s 250 words for the Home Page and the same amount for the Products and Services Page as well. Now, before you start clamoring at the sheer ridiculousness of this, rest assured that I support you in your misgivings, because even though I am a content writer myself, the first thing I can tell you about such a massive number of words on a static page, is that it won’t work. Couple this with having to, in many instances, “make up” content because there was a shortage of details from the customer-side of this equation, and the story just gets more appalling. So, after waiting a good 10 months to find work elsewhere, I finally bid them adieu, wishing them all the madness they could stand before the project finally went belly-up.

However, the next job I moved to, I was encountered by a similar issue, not so much ridiculous expectations and nonsense tasks, but that in essence, “content writing” extended to all writing as we knew it. This even meant penning the occasional letter for the company that I was working for, which I’m alright with doing, but then it came down to entertaining the same kind of requests from clients, many of them heads of conglomerates, apparently,  but still unable to hire a person who could write a decent letter. To make things worse, what if this work was coming my way because I was a “content writer”…and since “content” in essence refers to a collection of words surrounding a certain topic, then it would extent to any writing task by this logic. So, I ended up writing letters to clients of clients, shorter than 100 words in some cases, and I even had to try and provide alternate product lines for some guy offering his customers a “discount card” but that he wanted another way to say this so as to be more appealing to his customers than his competitors who were all doing the same thing. This is one potential danger of content writing, in that in an effort to attain the unattainable, the writer ends up having to deliver a copious amount of BS that, God forbid, ends up gaining in popularity to tarnish screen and newspaper pages around the country. It was just that this too, in its own way, didn’t smack to me of content writing. Either that, or I was being hopelessly taken advantage of because saying I didn’t mind this kind of work was interpreted as a license to write, no matter what the task at hand.

And so, currently employed as a “Product Manager” but still doing the content writing thing for the most part, I still find myself asking the question, what “content writing” is. It surely has nothing to do with being content, because most content writers that I know are always struggling to keep up with their tasks, or if they manage to do this well, are running around trying to live life and enjoy their little bits of free time between writing sessions. And, ultimately, what is the fate of “Content Writing”? Is it just going to end up being a slightly more professional kind of blogging, where people who are willing to write may do so, and selected pieces will end up getting paid, kind of like “Crowdsourcing”? Or, will pod and webcasts lead the way as the average human attention span seems to get shorter still? Who really knows, right. To take Bill Gates’ piece on content, which he titled “Content isKing” and wrote back in 1996, to my own experiences since 2010, I have to say that a lot of this seems to have played out naturally, in spite of all the labels given to it. It’s just that as more and more aspects of life around the world find a natural online extension or counterpart, the need for engaging customers 24x7, both online and offline, becomes a bit of a contest, and for the time being, one of the key differentiators is “content. Come 2013, in a couple of months, who knows what we’ll be saying about “content writing” then, or what the key differentiators will be.
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