Non-web content strategy. A parable.

Here’s a non-website metaphor for all you content strategy folks:

A while back, I was tasked to rewrite the script for a pretty large (200+ employees) technology company’s phone message system.

They were launching a new identity, and the message was a “great opportunity to communicate the new branding to customers.” The core principal of that new brand was a commitment to “practical, easy-to-understand solutions” that helped people do their jobs better.

So I started asking questions about some basic functions of their phone system (e.g. What were the main goals of the callers? What support services do you provide over the phone? How do you organize company divisions?)…

Nobody understood what that had to do with the phone message. It was just supposed to sound nice and tell people the new brand mission, without any specifics to help the customers actually reach the person they were hoping to reach.

I ended up writing the initial greeting with their boilerplate copy about helpful solutions for their customers, and sending over the rest with, “If you’d like to speak with [blank], press [blank] now. For [blank], press [blank].”

Lorem ipsum anyone?

Is web writing a joke? Maybe. But that’s ok if it’s a good one.

I used to love telling long jokes.

I still love jokes, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that the faster the lead-up, the more abrupt the punchline, the better the effect.

And it all has to do with the internet.

Playing sports in high school, there was nothing better than telling jokes on a dark bus on the way home. We’d all crowd around a handful of seats and tell the dirtiest, most ridiculous jokes we knew. And of course, the longer the joke, the more time you killed and the longer you got to be the center of attention. One of my favorites was about 3 guys who show up in front of St. Peter at exactly the same moment, and madness ensues (it’s really not funny enough to share anymore).

But when I tried to tell the same jokes in college, they weren’t as funny–not to me or to my friends. They took too long and the punchlines were too childish or “hey-look-we’re-talking-about-sex!”

The same thing happened when I first started writing for the web. Years of English papers and creative writing projects poured out onto the page. And they sucked. It took a while to figure out that we don’t read websites the way we read other media. I’m still working on that (as you can tell from this longish post).

Is it a coincidence that I was part of the first class of freshman at Virginia Tech who were required to bring their own computer (1998, not that long ago!)? Is it a coincidence that we were starting to consume more and more media online and were starting to get bored with the old long format?

Maybe. But it helps me remember to keep it short, make it surprising, and hopefully give people something they can take with them. And it helps me tell better jokes.

Sorry it took me so long to get to the point.

New favorite joke: A tray of muffins are in the oven and one muffin leans over and says, “Boy, it sure is hot in here.”
The other muffin replies, “Holy crap, a talking muffin!”

There are no such thing as “mediums.”

I’ve seen this pop up at least a dozen times in the last few months. The word “mediums” is everywhere! I’ve heard it in meetings, seen it on professionally-written websites and read it countless times in articles about the internet, magazines, social media and other hot topics.

To be fair, there is a correct usage for “mediums”–such as referring to a group of palm readers or a stack of moderately sized tshirts.

But in regards to news or marketing or delivery of content in any form, “media” is the plural form of “medium.” (And for the record, there are no “medias” either… that’s like saying womens or geeses).

I’m no grammarian. While I was an English major and I do write professionally for a living… I’m actually pretty bad at grammar. And I wouldn’t have a degree or a job if it wasn’t for “Check Spelling as You Type.” But that’s the point, if I’m correcting your grammar or spelling on something, it’s bad.

That’s my lesson for the day. Sorry to rant.

PS. Speaking of grammar, should it be “There are no such thing” or “There is no such thing”? “There are no such things”? Oh well…