I’m convinced that all great content is useful in some way. But how would you define ‘useful’ in an everyday context?
Take a look around you. What could be useful about the things you see? In the garden (where I’ve spent some time of late), useful could take on any of the following shapes:
- Useful could be, in the traditional sense, something you can take home and use: something to eat, or to make something out of. Weave a basket if you’re into weaving. Or basket-selling. Or apple storage, unless you just ate all the apples.
- Useful could be a plant that casts a shadow onto your terrace on hot days, or keeps the wind from battering your flowers.
- Useful could even be: herbs or even ‘weeds’ that protect the garden soil from getting dry or from cats using it as their litter-box (although you could call that useful – if they’re your cats). Freshly-cut thistle leaves tend not to get many visitors of the feline persuasion for a private sit-in.
- Or it could be a comfy chair in a sunny, sheltered spot where you prefer to read or just curl up with your cat for an afternoon snooze.
- Even pretty ‘useless’ flowers could be called useful if they please the eye and help you relax after a busy day!
Usefulness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Why is your content useful?
Traditionally, then, usefulness – or utility – means there’s something you can take home and use for your own purpose. You could sell something useful, or provide a service that removes a long-term business headache, or teach people handy tricks to make their lives easier, or bring the community (closer) together. These are all useful things to do. But you need to choose where you focus. The other things may happen too, as a result of your activities, but they’re basically collateral benefits. You can’t let them affect your main focus.
Choose a purpose, or use, and stick to it.
Why should you limit yourself to one-purpose content?
The reason I can think of is trust. You choose a purpose and a role for yourself.
- Are you a professor or a sales professional? You can’t one day teach and the next, sell.
- Do you offer practical tips or theoretical models?
Your purpose defines your style. Your audience’s expectations define the boundaries of your ‘content behavior’. If you wish to jump from one extreme to the other and back again, better make that clear up front.
Why a fickle sense of purpose undermines the usefulness of your content
Fans of your content grow to expect a certain approach to your topics. If they expect to learn something useful – their kind of useful – , the first thing you need to do is to deliver something useful. If you turn around and do something they don’t expect, several things will happen:
- The audience you built walks away. If it was the wrong audience – one you built by focusing on the wrong purpose – that may not be all bad. But it won’t look nice in your stats.
- You may get a couple of comments indicating this was exactly what they needed/didn’t want and could you do more/less of that, please.
- You gradually build a new audience – one that suits your new purpose.
Switching roles and purposes regularly means you often produce content that is useful only to part of your audience. Or to an audience that is yet to discover you.
Consider this. What if you walk into the office on Monday and tell your boss: “I decided I’m the boss today.” Even an audience of one will take a bit of convincing that switching roles is a good idea.
What are your thoughts on useful content, plants, and even the cat connection?