In this blog, I want to invite you to an exploratory intellectual journey towards a deeper understanding of “content”.
“holy mother of cheeses, the Internet is not made out of content.”
Yes. There is so much more to content than the creation and management of resources published on the Web.
To begin with there is the relationship as the metacommunication surrounding the content.
Then there are the layers of interaction built with each and every encounter with the content and the series of messages (both planned and unplanned) embedded in or born in the collision of semantic networks.
And then there is the space that content creates between you and me. Or between an organization and its stakeholders. An important pause between knowing and not knowing.
“We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.”
Thinking about enterprise content, and especially the way it finds its way on the Web, again, the god Janus comes as a metaphor.
The god looks into the past and the future. Looking at the past – what the enterprise “knows” and had codified and then its interaction layer, the one that people enrich and are enriched by, the future the forward-looking Janus is facing: a dynamic of interactions (incl. data connections) where meaning is defined, but not confined. Content is codified and at the same time it is also open to encompass new understandings and novel connections seeking to find coherence through collaborative meaning making. In other words, content is created in such a way as to become someone else’s semantic capital.
Enter Semantic Capital (And Its Crucial Importance)
Before I introduce you to a beautiful concept by Luciano Floridi, we might want to take off our marketing, content marketing and content everything hats to enter another time and space, to step away, to slow down and see the wood from the trees.
Semantic capital, as defined by Floridi (Semantic Capital: Its Nature, Value, and Curation) is “any content that can enhance someone’s power to give meaning to and make sense of (semanticise) something.”
Ideas, insights, discoveries, inventions, traditions, cultures, languages, arts, religions, sciences, narratives, stories, poems, customs and norms, music and songs, games and personal experiences, and advertisements – they all are the wealth we produce, curate, consume, transmit, and inherit as humans, argues Floridi. And this wealth of resources is what helps us give meaning to, and make sense of, our own existence and the world surrounding us, to define who we are, and to develop an individual and social life. [Floridi]
Our identities, lives, experiences, interactions and conceptualisations of the world we inhabit and share would be pointless and empty (i.e. lacking any meaning or sense), if our semantic capital did not fill them with value. Minds cannot bear the meaningless and the senseless, and they fill this vacuum with any semantic capital they may have or create, be it magic stories, mythological Greek gods, pop stars and their songs, the most recent blog we read, our love for someone, or hate for someone else.
That is just a glimpse at Floridi’s concept. But this is enough said for anyone looking to create content that matters to people who need it. This writing and thinking by Floridi is a keepsake worth getting back to many times. And I will for sure do, but by now I will only use it to “semanticise” my existence as a content writer.
Throughout the entire semiotic and semantic journey (fractally manifesting in a poem by Borges, Floridi cites in that same article) I was thinking whether enterprise (web) content (what the organization, or even better put, the system, knows and aspires to know and understand) and its content wealth can be conceived as semantic capital.
They can. Given the mindset and tools that will enable the transcendence from content to knowledge.
Transcending From Content to Knowledge Management in Hypermedia Environments
Getting back to mother Earth, this poetic flow is encompassing a mountain of a few perspectives: knowledge management, relationship marketing and marketing in hypermedia environments.
The reason they are useful for the practice of creating “content” (reminder: “A teenager’s first poem, the blissful release of a long-kept secret, a fine sketch drawn by a palsied hand, a blog post in a regime that hates the sound of its people’s voices — none of these people sat down to write content.”) in a communication scenario of an empowered user “foraging” an interconnected hypermedia environment, is that they serve as a solid basis for the change of direction that is needed from push to pull, from manipulating the marketing mix to managing information flows, ultimately to dialogic exchange, to building relationships of value at a lower (perceived) cost.
Such transcendence does need content as the codified version of semantic capital, ideally living its semantic richness through a knowledge graph – see Kurt Cagle’s: Nine Ways To Use A Knowledge Graph in its first and last part: Publishing – Context Management Systems (CxMs) and Customer 360 Knowledge Graph. Yet beyond technology, the true potential of such a change in direction lies in the dialogism theory as seen by Tzvetan Todorov and other thinkers who realize the power of the encounter with the Other, and the invisible, not subject to operationalization bond between people, meaning and the social life we live together.
But what does that mean for your next content piece?
Let me show you.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
I am Willy and I am a content writer. At the enterprise I work for, busy chasing short-term goals, the management still cannot get to bringing all the siloed pieces of content (and as I can see expert knowledge!) into one coherent whole – be that through processes or through tools. Let alone realign marketing to the new (new!?) environment the Web brings. So, here I am, struggling with ideas for content, doubts about my expertise in the subject matter I am writing about…Add to this the fact that I also don’t have time to create all the things I need to create. To cover all the channels, talk to all the people, and at the same time feel confident about writing about the product, the service or overall about the enterprise.
“What do I tell people, why would anyone care?”, I ask myself. Okay, I get the keyword thing, okay. But how do I use them in a meaningful way? Every writer knows that nobody will read you unless you talk about the things that the reader is interested in, the things that make their world bigger, smarter, more exciting, braver… ultimately more meaningful.
Meaningful. Here’s the door to my answer. I will make content that will help people make more sense of the world around and in them…
People. Another part of the answer.
I am writing for people, not for the marketing manager or the CEO.
And people are not my targets, and I am not their hunter. I am a farmer.
Like the quote in that book I read from Richard Varey [Relationship marketing: Dialogue and Networks in the E-commerce Era]:
A mass marketer is a hunter – a relationship marketer is a farmer
Don Peppers, speaking at the CRM Focus Conference, Boston 2001
From there, with that mindset, all things content become less obscure. Because I have realized that metacommunication (which is a relationship) permeates content. And my work is done when I allow space for this metacommunication to happen and flow. This is how I will allow people to integrate the messages I, myself, or somebody else sends them, on their own terms, free to accrue their semantic capital, free to pick as many berries on the web as they need to. You know, as explained in The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the on-line search interface
Epilogue: a change from lack of knowledge to knowledge
Neither semantic capital, nor a deeper understanding of content matter for enterprise content if the need to take care of the digital ecology we all inhabit hadn’t arisen. And for that need to arise there should be a re-semantization the Web – from the easy-to-publish, cheap to advertise and magnificent to target “personas”, more of a TV channel [cf. Sir Tim Berners-Lee: “I had (and still have) a dream that the Web could be less of a television channel and more of an interactive sea of shared knowledge” in Hypertext and our collective destiny], towards an understanding of the vast sea of knowledge which the Web is.
Think about this resemantization when considering a content piece, or a content strategy or some content marketing tactics. Think of the Web as a semiosphere. It is in that “moment of surrender of vision of over visibility”, that content gets the verve it needs to travel across the complex space of the Web to places where it is most needed. And every word in a tweet, on a website, in an application or an email, even in the tiniest button, will enter the Web, bound to connect. Not pushed. Pulled.