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Why non-writers often produce the best blog content

May 16, 2019 - Practitioner Marketing - , ,
By: Chris Riley

Since the advent of the blog, the assumption has been that blog content creation should be left to those who are professional writers. In the mainstream media, I think this assumption still holds true. But in specialized fields going after specialized audiences, such as application developers, DevOps, and IT, content produced by freelance professional writers might actually be exactly the wrong thing to do. Often, content produced by non-professional writers performs much better.

You may feel yourself cringe when I tell you that you should publish content that was not written by literary pros. This may have a basis in the fear that the world of readers will call you out on poorly written content that is not properly cited. But this is a deep-rooted fear from your college days. If you heed it, you are undervaluing your editorial process. If you do not have an editorial process that can ensure that content can still be written in an appropriate way, then you need to fix that first. But you should be more afraid of criticism of the nature of content rather than complaints about grammar and style.

Fear lack of authenticity, not sentence structure

For technical audiences, the meaning of the content and its technical depth are more vulnerable to criticism than the placement of commas and sentence structure. If your content is not authentic and does not come from a voice that truly understands the depth of the topic — without simply regurgitating what they have been told, you are far more vulnerable to criticism — or worse, publishing content that your target audience won’t pay attention to.

Your job in marketing content to the technical field is to provide value. The nature of blogs is not similar to ads, whitepapers, and ebooks. Each needs to have a clear human element that is tied to the practitioner. They also need to provide clear value. If they don’t, then you are using up a lot of money and effort to pass off what should be a blog post, rather than a very long-winded ad. Content marketing is not advertising.

Why practitioner content is hard

Freelance writers are easy to find, they are reliable, and they are relatively low-maintenance if you accept service-level blog content. If that is as far as your content goes in terms of depth, this can create anxiety over approaching practitioner blogging.

In the practitioner content marketing model, you have to deal with the personalities of contributors, their imposter syndrome, and potentially, their lack of understanding of what makes highly consumable content. I won’t deny that recruiting, managing, and editing practitioner content is more difficult than in the case of freelance writers. But if the content produced from freelance writers lacks the depth to provide value, then investing in that type of content is not valuable to your organization. (If the process were easy, Fixate would not even be in business.)

It boils down to vendors’ commitment to their blogs. If they are not committed to publishing more than twice per week on a consistent basis, then focusing on ads versus blog content might be the right way to go.

The path of least resistance in making sure you have content on your blog is working with freelance writers. But the value of that type of content is low when marketing to audiences such as developers, DevOps, and IT. Not only is the value low, but the risk of criticism of the content is high. Don’t worry about winning literary awards. Bring the human element into your blog content so that it helps your brand, organic traffic, and earns respect for your blog.


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Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.

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