Don’t fall prey to the ignorance paradox

The need for content is constantly growing – but don’t allow the need for quantity to put quality at risk.

Have you ever watched the news about a subject in which you’re an expert? Perhaps your profession has made the headlines or the place where you live is in the media spotlight. It could be your favourite hobby that’s in the news or even an illness that you know a lot about.

Whatever the subject of your expertise, the odds are that you found the news report somehow got it wrong. Not out of a need to simplify the subject for a generalist audience but because the journalist simply did not fully understand what they were talking about.

Content expertise
It’s not easy being a news journalist. One day you are covering the closure of a factory and the next you’re discussing the mysterious decline in the bee population. Things are slightly more straightforward for specialist journalists but even within areas such as ‘business’ or ‘technology’ there are countless areas of expertise. Will a finance writer be equally knowledgeable about Pacific equities as they are about small business taxation? It’s unlikely.

Content ignorance
These journalists (aka content creators) are intelligent people doing the best job they can. They don’t put stories out knowing that they contain errors and omissions. They just don’t know enough to realise that they’re getting it wrong. They are ignorant of their ignorance.

It’s a trap that is all too easy for organisations to fall into when creating and commissioning content themselves. And the risks are huge.

Content marketing is effective only if the information shared is high quality and useful. If it does not meet the needs of its intended audience it will be ignored. If it exhibits ignorance instead of expertise it can be incredibly harmful. Get content marketing wrong and you can do serious damage. A boring banner ad will not harm your reputation – a sub-standard thought leadership piece could be disastrous.

But don’t despair. There are techniques to ensure the content you create covers you in glory. Read on…

Pick your creator well
You may have to chose between a content creator who knows their stuff and one who can write well. Always pick the former. A skilled editor can transform the ugliest prose but there is no substitute for expertise.

Get a second opinion
You can’t be an expert in every aspect of your business and so may not be the best person to judge whether an article is on the money or wide of the mark. Identify a subject matter expert who can review the content and tell you whether it is fit for purpose. That person may be within your business or you may have to source them externally. Just make sure they are objective, and are clear that their brief is to approve accuracy and expertise.

Don’t overlook the detail
Quality content can’t be rushed. In traditional magazine and book publishing each word is read by at least three people including an editor, sub-editor and proof-reader. We quickly become blind to glaring errors in text we have read a few times. There’s simply no substitute for a fresh pair of eyes and those of a professional sub or proof-reader will find mistakes that could make your organisation look sloppy.

Seek feedback
You’re unlikely to be told if there is a problem with your content unless you ask. Consider adding a line to the end of an article or email inviting feedback. It shows a willingness to engage with your audience and creates an easy route for expert readers to highlight any issues they have with the content you’re putting out.

Get help if you need it
You may not have the expertise in-house to find the best writers, check what they have written, fine tune text or have in-house copy rewritten for maximum effect. That’s normal – and that’s when it may be worth calling in a specialist.

Whoever is looking after your content creation, ensure you don’t fall into the ignorance paradox, as, paradoxically, you’ll probably be ignorant of the fact.

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