Producing Content: Time Or Talent

I’m constantly amazed at how businesses assess the value of individual pieces of content. As you might expect, given the number of businesses I visit, I get a wide view. When I meet with content practitioners, inevitably the conversation turns to the questions How much content should we be producing? And how long should it take? The context of those questions is because we’re under pressure to produce more.

That kind of pressure is widespread. As reported in our latest research at CMI, 70% of businesses plan to produce more content next year. Intuitively, we know that simply increasing production will probably hamper our ability to create quality content. In fact, even without that pressure, content quality often starts out hampered by the business’s foundational view of content as a widget. When that’s your view, it doesn’t matter how much content you produce  – one piece or a hundred pieces – your content will never be as good as it can be.

It may not even ever be good.

Ask yourself how long it should take to create a great novel. The answer may be weeks, months, or years. It took Charles Dickens eight months to write Great Expectations and 18 months to write David Copperfield.  It took F. Scott Fitzgerald two and a half years to write The Great Gatsby, while William Faulkner took only six weeks to write As I Lay Dying. JD Salinger took 10 years to write Catcher in the Rye. Ten years.

Now ask yourself how long it should take to write an exceptional blog post. You might start by looking at averages. Orbit Media just found that blog posts now take three and a half hours on average to create – an increase of 26% from their previous study. That’s a good sign; people are spending more time creating posts. Still, it’s not especially helpful to know how long it takes to create a post on average. Just because a novel can be created in an average of four months doesn’t mean that you should be able to create the great American novel in four months.

Averages mask the truth.

Unfortunately, most businesses look at content production in terms of averages. We still have an industrial-revolution mindset. Based on an eight-hour workday, you, as a content producer, are expected to be productive for seven hours a day. According to averages, you are expected to produce X amount of content, week in and week out. And you can. The trouble is that most of that content will be average at best.

What’s the answer?

The answer is that if our content is to be exceptional, it must lead, not follow. We have to work ahead of deadlines, not in subservience to them. Most businesses would do well to stop their production lines of content, develop a strategic content mission and strategy, and produce high-quality content for long enough to get of sense of what’s possible – and only then reset to a cadence that makes sense.

If we’re to be paid based on our ability to create great content, businesses must stop asking How much time will it take? Because the answer is No one knows. The next amazing piece of content might erupt from you in five minutes – or it might take a week or a month or longer. Content that differentiates the business can’t be created on an assembly line. Yes, we can scale. Yes, we must take obvious limits into account. For example, the 10 years it took Salinger to write Catcher in the Rye had more to do with World War II and the author’s ­– let’s call it complicated – life than it did with writing.

But until the business understands that content is about allocating talent, not time, it will underestimate the effort needed to deliver valuable content-driven customer experiences.

In that case, the time required to succeed with content may simply run out.

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