Content creation is the latest buzz-phrase of the social-media-obsessed marketing and public relations people among us. I’m going to suggest that large numbers of people who identify themselves as writers are not; rather they are content creators. Although there is nothing fundamentally wrong with being a content creator, it is disingenuous to suggest you are a writer, if you’re not. Let’s begin with some definitions for argument’s sake.
Wikipedia (arguably a good source for this definition since it is the mother of all content creation outputs) defines the concept as “the contribution of information to any media and most especially to digital media for an end-user/audience in specific contexts…” [I added the emphasis.]
A more succinct definition is offered by the Pew Research Internet Project which simply suggests that content creation is “…the material people add to the online world.” Further, they suggest that content creators make web sites, blog, post photos, contribute to online discussions, post materials to web sites etc.
What then is a writer? A writer writes. But, you might reasonably argue, a content creator also writes. Although that may be true, that does not make that person a ‘writer.’
Let’s look at an analogous situation: You are sipping a drink at a cocktail party and find yourself in conversation with someone whom you have just met. What do you talk about? Often, in these social circumstances, we ask, “What do you do?” This person says, “I’m a doctor.” What is the immediate image formed in your mind? That this person teaches Kantian ethics in a philosophy department of the local university? I doubt it. And that’s because in our North American society, the connotative definition of a “doctor” is that the person is a “medical doctor.” Although the philosophy professor might well hold a doctoral degree, it is unlikely he or she would say’ “I’m a doctor.” It would be misleading given our shared understanding of the connotative definition of the term. But what if that person says, “I’m a writer”?
Same scenario, different occupations. You are sipping a drink at a cocktail party and begin a conversation with a new acquaintance by asking, “What do you do?” That person says, “I’m a writer.” What image is conjured in your mind? Do you see a picture of this person toiling away in a cubicle coming up with pithy blog posts for a dog food company? Doubtful. Most of us would have a picture of someone who either writes for magazines or pens books of one sort or another. The person in the cubicle would more accurately be described as a “content creator.” So why is this important anyway?
In my view, writers do more than create content for a purpose – which is really what it’s all about in the PR and marketing circles (since I’ve been teaching PR and corporate communication strategy for a quarter of a century, I think I have the right to have an opinion on this). Content is written (or otherwise created as in the case of photos and infographics) for a specific audience for a specific purpose. That is different from a writer who has an idea, is passionate about it and moves ahead with writing the article, short-story or book – fiction or non-fiction. And if you are a content creator, please don’t pretend you are in the same situation – or have the same commitment to craft – as the struggling writers of the world.
So, I offer you the five tell-tale signs that you might actually be a content creator – and NOT really a writer.
- You spend more time blogging, tweeting (or reading tweets), posting to Facebook, contributing to conversations on writers’ groups on LinkedIn etc. than you do on your private writing.
- Every time you post on one of those aforementioned sites, you have a goal in mind: get more ‘likes,’ new followers, new friend, clicks through to the material you’d like them to buy/read.
- You spend a lot of time thinking about how to find an idea that will ‘sell.’
- You spend more time writing online reviews of other people’s books than you do on your writing in the hopes that they’ll someday review yours.
- You don’t own a single reference book on writing process (grammar, style, punctuation, syntax, word choice, editing etc.)
Please don’t tell me you’re a writer – or pretend to be one in a writers’ group – if you’re really a content creator. That’s all.