Keeping your content promise, even when it hurts

content promise

By Mark Schaefer

I have a friend who is a hard-working mom trying to establish herself as a social media advisor. I have a soft spot for anybody trying to make their way in the world and do my best to help folks starting out in the field.

She had an idea for a guest post and I thought it was a good one — original, timely, passionate. I encouraged her to give it a shot.

Her first draft to me was … pretty bad. One sentence had three grammatical errors. She promised to do better, even get an editor involved. The second draft was pretty good, but convoluted and wandering. The main point showed up about half-way down the page.

The same week I had some content fall through. I really needed my friend’s content for my blog that week, but I decided not to run her post because it was good but not great.

It was a difficult decision. I realize that in the long-run, the world probably wouldn’t care, or even notice, if I ran one sub-par blog post. It would have meant a lot to my friend and I wanted to help her, but I’m driven by a bigger consideration: I can’t let you — my readers down — not even once.

It would be like knowingly let one bad product slip through the assembly line. That is a slippery slope.

The imperative of trust and content

The only asset that exists between you and me is trust. You might be here today because you stumbled upon the post through a link someplace, but the only reason you would stay here and read week after week is because I keep my promise. And my promise is this: If you spend your precious time on my blog, it will always be authentic and interesting.

It is a mantra I have lived with since the beginning. You may not agree with me, you may not even like me, but my content will be something that is real and interesting. This blog will always be worth your time.

I am obsessed by this obligation. I will never let you down. The day the blog is un-interesting is the day I’m done. And so, I just could not accommodate my friend, even though I really needed the content and it probably hurt her feelings.

The content promise under attack

I think in this information-dense world, trust is a legitimate point of differentiation for the simple reason is that it is so rare. How may companies are willing to step up and say to you: “I will never let you down.” An airline? Ha! The cable company? Probably not.

But for my blog and my content, this is something that is under my control. I can do my best to uphold my promise every day. I will never let you down. And this is why I work so hard to keep that promise:

content promise

There are a lot of ways we can annoy our readers these days. Pop-ads. Sponsored posts. Sneaky mentions and links that are simply ways to sell out to our customers. These new methods of advertising and influence can also represent attacks on trust.

In a way, even SEO can attack trust. It’s subtle, but doesn’t SEO pressure you to conform to the latest wave of content ideas? Can you really stand out and be interesting if you are pre-occupied with optimizing for the most popular keywords? Of course there is an important role for SEO in our world, but do you have balance in your approach?

Do you serve Google first, or customers first?

Ultimately, what is the promise that exists between you, your reader, and your content? Are you committed to uphold that trust every day, even when it hurts?


SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy FlickrCC and purplejavatroll

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