The familiar refrain "content is king" is no longer true. It's not. Really. Today, in order to be worthy of a royal title, content must be coupled with an exceptional experience that provides outstanding value. Amazing content experiences provide content as a service and take full advantage of our increasingly mobile, web-connected, device-centric world.
This is bad news for old-school writers. And, if you employ them-and chances are you do-it's bad news for you too.
To borrow from (and take liberties with) a statement often attributed to former President Bill Clinton, "It's about the experience, Stupid." It is. Sales figures and usage statistics don't lie. According to The Nielsen Co., just less than half of all Americans own a smartphone. The share of Americans who own tablet computers and ebook readers doubled over the 2011 holiday season, according to researchers at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The mobile device revolution is changing user expectations and fueling demand for content. Not just any content, but interactive, media-rich, location-aware content written and prepared for consumption by both humans and computing devices: consistently structured, semantically rich content to be exact. It's this type of content that is necessary for smartphone and tablet apps to help us buy products, select the best hotel, understand insurance forms, learn Spanish, change an automobile headlight, or get lost in an imaginary world of teenage witches and warlocks.
So, what's the problem? Most of the content that exists on this planet is not ready for app time. It's locked up on paper, or was created on computers in ways that aren't app-friendly. Without structured digital content-most often of the XML variety-app developers are unable to easily (and repeatedly) leverage content to create exceptional mobile content experiences.
It's no longer acceptable for writers to focus on the creation of handcrafted, one-off works of art. Instead, writers need to create content in repeatable, systematic ways that make it possible for computing devices to deliver only the content our customers need, when and where they need it, on the device of their choosing. Writers need to let go of traditional methods and outdated rules.
Content is only king when it provides some overarching value to the consumer. Today, content must provide a service, something that is so attractive to consumers that they would pay to access and consume it. When it's truly valuable, truly desirable, it's anticipated and sought out.
Some wordsmiths are no doubt rolling their eyes about now. But, despite their unwillingness to think differently about the world of content creation, the days of the writer being the most important cog in the information development wheel are over. Sure, writers are important and are still necessary. Without them, many types of content would not exist. But to remain relevant, writers must adapt their skill sets and change the way they work.
"Our clients are not calling us up and asking us to send them five writers," says Joan Lasselle, president of Lasselle-Ramsay, Inc., a professional services company that helps clients connect with customers using content. "They used to. But, those days are, for the most part, over.
"Today, our clients are asking us for technical expertise-for help automating manual content production processes, incorporating video into their content offerings, and moving their content onto mobile devices," says Lasselle. "In many instances, you're better off if you didn't market yourself as a writer," Lasselle says.
To excel in an app-based, mobile computing world, organizations that employ writers-technical, medical, instructional, marketing, and otherwise-need to acknowledge that the old days of writers as artists are over. Instead, the real value of writers is to use their creativity to craft content that software and computing devices can deliver in meaningful ways to those who need it.
Most writers are hoping you are not reading this column and that they'll be able to coast along without having to change the way they do things. Change is uncomfortable and introduces fear and insecurity. But, change is needed-and required-to exist in today's app society. Without it, your writers won't be the only ones who fail.