How To Stay Human As a Content Creator

Don’t be a cog in the content machine

Blogpost burnout? For digital marketers, producing a never-ending stream of clickable content can get tiring. Here are four tips for keeping afloat in a digital ocean and staying human when creating.

Illustration by Bogdan Magenta from Icons8

#1 Play to your weaknesses

A few months ago, conversations about the AI takeover resurfaced once again, when OpenAI released their new language tool. As one of the cleverest bots yet, it’s able to synthesize and summarize multiple sources of information, as well as produce readable content that (with a little human-editing) can appear shockingly authentic.

While we don’t know how much of a role AI will play in future content generation, we do know that it’s becoming an increasingly useful tool. Tasks that involve sourcing and presenting preexisting info are looking more like the domain of intelligent software, leading some to worry about their careers.

Most likely, AI tools will supplement rather than replace most content professionals, but if content bots do break out in a serious way, the message will be clear: the more uniquely you your work is, the more value it will retain.

If you write like an automaton, the automaton will beat you. Why? Because you’re not a robot; you’re a human — which is much better. Humans have all sorts of weaknesses and fallibilities and peculiar fetishes and weird thoughts, all of which we love to read about. Communicate your human weirdness in your content, and you’ll be repaid in reader empathy. Write robotically, and you may do a decent job of communicating necessary information, but your content won’t stand out from an AI crowd.

Methods of injecting personality into your content are endless, and the best ones will reflect your individual self. But some ideas include: sharing a relatable memory, admitting something embarrassing, going on a journey with a questionable belief, resolving a conflict, exposing a conspiracy, revealing a secret passion, laying your cards on the table, etc. etc.

This is why today’s brands are increasingly reaching out to creators, artists, journalists, and generally interesting people to help develop content that could, and should, only have been made by them.

Illustration from Icons8 vector creator

#2 Accept that everything is content now

What many people mean by ‘content creation’ is usually a good example of the job done badly. Marketing funnels, explainers, listicles, how-tos, and generic blog posts are all well and good, but most of the time, their purpose is to pad out company websites and spend internal budgets rather than actually hook and captivate readers.

Getting stuck in a cycle of this kind of content generation can quickly sap your energy, making you feel like nothing more than a digital litterer, adding to the infinite trash pile of online content, which at this point has supposedly exceeded 1.2 million terabytes of data.

Way more interesting — and more human — is to acknowledge that ‘content’ needn’t fall into strict genres or channels such as site blogs. Today, everything is fast falling under the content umbrella, whether it’s targeted news reports or Instagram stories. Real content is the front page of the NYT, it’s your social media profile, it’s anywhere that attracts eyes, because attention is the one constant KPI in an online world. If the internet’s economy runs on attention, then content is its currency (sorry, bitcoin).

Yes, writing for the attention economy is harder to wrap your head around than answering a direct consumer question in a blog. Content may not directly convert into readers or leads. But if you commit to trying, failing, and experimenting with contemporary content rather than sticking to increasingly archaic formats, it will eventually pay off — and you’ll have a lot more fun while doing it.

Illustration from Icons8 vector creator

#3 Talk about qualitative experiences, not technical specs

Content creators often find themselves in a strange space between journalism and entertainment, where artistic creativity is mixed with corporate aims. This can leave you uncertain about exactly how to present information.

You likely have something you need to say, but there may be no restrictions or requirements on how you say it. This applies to both content format and narrative focus: should you tell an objective story through a long-form article, a personal story with a social media video, or present distilled facts in a graphic?

When in doubt, always go for the qualitative angle. What does the information look and feel like — what does it sound and smell like? Leave the dry facts and impartiality to journalists and technical writers, and take advantage of the freedom of a content role to tell a subjective, human story:

  • Instead of explaining what happened, explain how the experience felt.
  • Instead of giving information, give a reason to care.
  • Instead of describing a product, describe how it affects lives.
  • Instead of zooming out to headlines, zoom into the small stuff (Ira Glass style).

#4 Molds are for production lines and expired food

Finally, staying human as a content creator means continually resisting strict templates and definitions.

Clients will often have rigid requirements for their content: certain length, tone, word count, and SEO — and there can be good reasons for this (UX consistency, past successes.) Whatsmore, your next paycheck, or at least your next commission, may depend on how well clients or managers deem you to have met these criteria. These are challenges that content creators are always negotiating.

But, you need to be pushing back against the status quo, demanding concrete reasons for any rule or requirement listed in a brief. This won’t just help your sanity, it’s also your responsibility as a content creator. Just as a marketing manager, editor, or account exec should be establishing and maintaining a framework, you should be challenging the relevancy of rules, and always offering original and creative perspectives.

Those that accept briefs without question might get the job done more quickly and without professional conflict, but they also won’t be pushing their client’s platform forward. We know that Google and social media ranking is designed to weed out repetition. They, you, and your audience, all want real human stuff — no matter what marketing bods might say.

Yes, you should listen to and learn from experts and clients (often the same person). But also acknowledge the amount of content that you create and consume on a daily basis, and don’t undervalue your instincts about what makes good, human, content.

Freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada. Posting odds and ends that never made it to print. www.joehitchcock.ca.

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