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The word Content deserves to be a lot more controversial than it is. While it shouldn’t be up there with Synergy, Integration, or even Agile (which is a bit useful), it’s marketing jargon that you should stop using so much.

Here’s the quick version. Stop calling what you produce content. At the very least, stop using around people who you need to explain the term to.

I write this from a background as a generalist (wait for it) content creator, rather than a purely business background. There’s a conversation about focusing on content marketing or product, but that’s another issue.

The slightly longer story of content

It seems ubiquitous now, but the term content is a new one. Before the internet increased communication speed and technology reduced the number of people required to put out a publication, roles were more specialised.

As a result, most creatives could easily explain our jobs by describing out output. James is a photographer, he takes photos for National Geographic. Jill is a journalist, she writes articles for the New York Times. David is a television presenter, he hosts game shows on Channel 7.

But the content specialist is becoming rarer, and creative individuals boast much more varied portfolios than their predecessors. My most recent full time job was as the ‘Content Producer’. That effectively meant I wrote EDMs and the monthly newsletter, managed the social media accounts, wrote and edited the company blog (while developing a content SEO strategy), and was the in house photographer and videographer.

Admittedly that was an in house role in a company of only around 100 employees. But even at the ABC, the Australian public broadcaster with thousands of employees, staff would regularly juggle two or three roles, publishing for online, social, radio, and TV.

Within creative industries, that’s lead to the need for a larger word to describe overall output, which content seems to fit. An interesting example of this is in radio broadcasting, another life of mine. Where stations used to have a Program Director that called the shots about what went to air, the preferred title is not Content Director. The main reason for the change was to bring the essentials of web publishing under the umbrella of their production teams.

So the term content is useful and appropriate. What’s the problem?

For marketers, YouTubers, bloggers, or photographers, Content refers to their overall output. When that output straddles multiple media types, Content is a perfectly legitimate term to use.

The problem is Content doesn’t really mean anything out of context. It’s literally means the same thing as Stuff.

So when you describe yourself as a Content Creator (one of my least favourite terms) you’re not actually telling me anything. Tell me you’re a YouTuber, a novelist, or a copywriter, and we’ve at least got somewhere to start.

But what about Content outside of a job title? I believe the same rules apply. By using a term that is synonymous with Things, you’re not actually communicating anything of substance. If you say you’ll ‘create content’ around a product launch, you’re not really describing anything at all.

Of course, sometimes abstraction is important, which is why there is a place for the term. But that place is internal, higher level conversations. If you’re building a content strategy, or referring to the overall reach of a wide variety of work, then Content is likely a useful word.

But what do we call words that mean nothing outside their industry? Jargon. And that’s exactly what we should see Content as.

Tim. This argument doesn’t seem very important.

I know we’re arguing semantics here, but this practice does cause us to lose something.

Firstly, using words to say nothing is inefficient, and makes you a bad communicator. You’ll be a bore at parties, and you could be getting less work as a result. Quickly identifying your skills could be the difference between landing a job and not.

It also devalues your work. When you use a term that means nothing, you risk saying your work means nothing.

There’s another point about wanting to box oneself in. By calling yourself a Content Creator, it feels like you do more than just write blogs, make videos, or post photos on Instagram.

But that’s something to be proud of! Wear your skills on your sleeve, and let people know who and what you are from the very beginning! Creation isn’t something that comes easily, and in 2018 no one worth impressing will disregard what you do as childish or an easy ride.

The anti-content challenge

Here’s something you could try. Start being conscious of when you use the word Content. You don’t have to not use it, just make a mental note that it came up.

Next, start figuring out whether a more specific term would communicate your point better. Think about what you’re trying to say, and who you’re saying it to. Content might still be the right word a lot of the time. But if it’s not then you shouldn’t use it, for the reasons above.

If your audience is outside your industry, they might understand you better if you’re more descriptive. If you’re at work, you might make a better point if you can help someone see a clearer picture of what you’re proposing.

This is a good practice for any crutch word, I used it all the time as a radio presenter.

Of course, sometimes you need an outside opinion to realise which words you’re over relying on.