You don’t really have a big nose. And you don’t really have to read this (although I would like it if you did). But it got your attention, didn’t it? Or was it the boobs picture?
It would be nice to think that I didn’t have to shout at you, insult you, use exclamation marks, or pictures of boobs, to get you to click on the link to open this post. But in today’s world, it seems like it might be the only way to cut through more than 5000 media messages that you are exposed to each day, and to convince you that what I have to tell you is way more important that what you’re busy doing right now.
Not only that, once I have your attention, I have to struggle to keep it for longer than the 8 second average attention span that today’s reader has when skimming articles online. So just a catchy headline isn’t enough. The content must also be engaging.
Sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it? Well, it is… and for what gain? Well, that’s something a writer must be very clear about when they start typing, or it can become VERY frustrating. Believe me, I know. There’s nothing worse than tumbleweed…
Or is there?
Information Overload Disorder
Last week, I noticed that I was experiencing several nasty symptoms for a contagious disease called Information Overload Disorder (IOD). My ailments included:
- Unblinking eyes (which refused to close even at bedtime);
- Vivid dreams (mine were of trapped kangaroos and black cockatoos… I will explain soon, I promise);
- A twitch in my left eyelid;
- Disengagement from my husband (except when it came to talking about said trapped kangaroos and black cockatoos);
- An inability to cope with my toddlers’ antics (more than usual!);
- Tearfulness (about aforementioned kangaroos and black cockatoos); and last but not least
- RSI in my scrolling finger (ouch!)
Things were not looking good. The only solution, an experimental one week rehabilitation plan, which would attempt to return me to some semblance of a normal functioning human.
The rehab plan
After some deliberation, and to the accompanying cheers of my husband, I decided on the following rehab rules. For 7 days, I would:
- Completely and totally ban Facebook;
- Check personal emails only ONCE per day;
- Embargo non-essential iPhone applications (i.e. to check blog stats, surf the internet, stick a photo of my face in various pointless montages, scan suspicious moles, etc. etc.)
- Only use the Internet on my PC (if I felt it was completely necessary); and
- Contact my friends via text message, email, or phone call only.
Here’s how I went
Well, first of all, life went on. I didn’t die from isolation, and I didn’t FEEL like I was missing anything. I also slept better, I wasn’t so emotional, and I got a LOT of things accomplished.
In the mornings, the first thing I DIDN’T do was grab my phone. Instead, I watched my little girls drink their milk, texted good morning to my husband, and managed to start the day in a positive mood, not bombarded by heart-wrenching articles about the plight of the kangaroos in Yanchep or the declining population of the Black Cockatoo in WA due to bushland being cleared. I also wasn’t asked to sign a really important petition fifty times before breakfast.
There was a down side. Over the course of the week, I didn’t chat a whole lot with my friends, and I had absolutely no idea what was happening in current affairs (until I was told by my husband; and yes I know, I really should read the news outside Facebook). I was also probably responsible for many kangaroos and cockatoos dying… 😦
But all in all, I was a much happier person. And most importantly, the symptoms of my disorder disappeared.
But why is this?
Have you ever been home when there’s a knock at the door, and you open it to discover a solar panel salesman or a mormon? They immediately launch into their spiel, desperate to convince you that the information they can provide is essential to your existence and wellbeing. But the truth of the matter is, you were doing just fine before they came along and interrupted your day.
Well, let’s just say that during my one week rehabilitation, I didn’t receive a single. knock. on my door. There was silence, sweet sweet silence, and I could hear the world breathe.
What I realised from my experiment is that on a normal day, every message that I read is trying to sell me something. Whether I am actually required to pull out my credit card is a different matter; nevertheless, every writer who publishes content to social media, or sends me an email, wants something. Environmentalists want my donation, authors want my support, nutritionists want me to try their recipe, bloggers want my attention, and so on.
Don’t get me wrong. I am happy to oblige in most cases. After all, the topics I see are the ones in which I am interested. They’re the ones I have ‘liked’. But I only have so much to give, and it was affecting me. I was feeling bad. I was feeling helpless. I was feeling inadequate. I was letting people down. I felt responsible for things much larger than me.
Maybe I took things too personally, but I’m human after all. And besides, I’m sure that was the intention of the writer; they WANTED to affect me; they WANTED to make me act.
TMI (Too Much Information)
I recently attended a state government funded, marketing basics course, entitled Content to Boost your Brand. The course outlined why – as a small business or entrepreneur – I needed good content, and it also taught me about voice, how to connect with my audience, and how to be authentic. All great stuff, except…
The course also talked about the benefits of scheduling content, and recommended that you plan your monthly content at the beginning of every month, engaging tools such as Hootsuite to post posts on your behalf, at times your audience is online.
It all made complete sense at the time, but now I look back, I realise why there is just so much damn information out there. I mean, it’s even being posted when the writer isn’t there! What is happening to today’s society? Why do we feel we have to constantly talk at people? How is this SOCIAL media?
The course also taught me that not only was CREATING content good, but so too was CURATING (using other’s posts), REWRITING (for each different available platform) and REPURPOSING (re-using successful posts) content. Let’s think about this for a second. This makes FOUR different ways to generate content, potentially generating FOUR TIMES AS MUCH content in the world.
There’s a line and we’ve crossed it.
For God’s sake, lets cross back. Can we tone it down a bit, do you think? Let’s not talk for the sake of talking. Let’s not schedule Facebook posts or updates for when we’re not even there. Let’s not re-post, cross post, or post only because your schedule demands it. And do we really have to make people feel bad to get them to act? Isn’t there another way?
There were, however, some other tips for the marketer that I wholeheartedly agree with. I am writing them out below – as well as few of my own suggestions – because I feel strongly that they should be adhered to when writing content for the web.
- Be useful
- Be authentic and transparent
- Tell real, compelling stories
- Listen to your reader
- Have a sense of humour
- Get personal
And in the words of Dr Seuss:
Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive, who is Youer than You.
Some of the smart ones among you, if indeed there are any readers left at this tail end of this post, might be thinking, “What a bloody hypocrite!”
Well, you might be right. I might be just as bad as those I’m slandering. After all, this is just another piece of content among millions of others.
But I hope I have made you think. I hope you will join me for a(nother) week without Facebook (yes, I think I’ll keep this up for a bit longer). And when we do return, for I know that we will, we can be wiser, more sceptical, less emotional, and a whole lot happier.
And I do want to connect online with those who are still reading this, and I encourage you to comment and let me know your thoughts. But let’s also consider meeting up over coffee, or shooting the breeze over Skype 🙂
Life’s too short to be so full…
PS. I’m writing this at 9.30pm on a Friday night. I don’t know what you are doing, and I don’t know whether this is a good time for you to read this post, but I most vehemently refuse to schedule it!
PPS. Buy my book (when it’s finished!) and follow my blog 🙂