4 Completely Avoidable Content Blunders

07/25/16 -- Visitor

We all make mistakes. As any good teacher will tell you, the key is to learn from them. Despite a keen desire to produce engaging, authoritative content, I see many well-meaning companies stumble and ruin the effort.

I'm not talking about the basics, like dry writing, factual errors, or plagiarism (although last week's Melania Trump kerfuffle should remind every content producer of the need to guard against it.) I'm talking about missteps that are avoidable, but ignored -- perhaps because they bring up thorny issues, or because no one inside the company complains about them.

Have you committed any of these four simple mistakes? They're all fixable -- some with a bit more elbow grease than others.

1. Publishing content without dates: I was searching a consulting client's site recently for case studies. I found a few by searching on keywords -- but like every other case study on this company's site, there were no dates. I had no idea if the work was done this year, last year, or ten years ago. And there was no way to tell when the studies were published, either. I see this on many corporate sites, especially consulting sites.

Leaving dates off of content will frustrate the people you are trying to impress. If I'm a potential client looking at a new consulting company, I care much more abut the firm's recent work than ancient history. (And in this age of digital business, work older than three to five years feels pretty old.) Failing to date your work raises the suspicion that you're hiding something, even if you're not.  

Plus, not dating your content will hurt your search rankings.

2. Mystery labels: Every company has its own internal vernacular. People inside the company understand these terms, phrases, and acronyms quite well, but no one outside the company will have a clue.

B2B firms commonly use special names to describe customer programs, technology frameworks, or consulting methodologies. When you use them, explain them. For example, what does "transformation blueprint" (which I read in a case study) actually mean? It could be describing a business strategy or a software system overhaul. Who's to know?

Everyone inside your company is so used to these terms that they don't raise a red flag. Get a fresh pair of eyes (even an intern can be helpful here) to root them out.

3. A refusal to face the negative: If you're telling a story about business transformation, and you don't get into the hard parts – like the cultural upheaval it causes – I'm not going to take your success story seriously. Neither will your customers. Yet the Bloom Group continues to see companies avoid interesting examples because "marketing doesn't like anything negative."

As David Rosenbaum has pointed out,  this represents a missed opportunity. Seasoned business executives know that every undertaking has its challenges. You must show how your firm can help overcome those challenges; pretending they don't exist diminishes your credibility.

While it won't be easy, this mistake is within your power to fix. Stories about overcoming challenges are fixtures in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fortune, and other business publications. Make that argument to your marketing execs, and fight the good fight. Perhaps you can't use a client's name as you discuss a struggle, but even an anonymized example of a struggle and lessons learned provide value to readers.

4. Using meaningless adjectives: The poster child for this phenomenon in business content of all kinds is "leading." When was the last time you read an "About us" section on a website in which the company did not describe itself as a "leader" or "a leading company" in X, Y, or Z? The word leading has lost its value (if it ever had any) in business communication.

Don't tell us, show us how you lead. Share a telling stat about your reach or your profits, or explain your proprietary technology.

And watch out for words such as "breakthrough," "visionary," and "luminary," for the same reason. Who says you're a luminary? Let your customer decide based on actions and results, not adjectives.