Why Communicate at All? (content strategy, part 1)

(NOTE: This posting is part of a series on content strategy. You may want to start reading from the introduction.)

Content strategy is how you plan to make your communication more effective and purposeful, so you can achieve your goals and flourish. Communication often gets drastically overlooked and undervalued, but it’s not at all mundane. In fact, it’s a defining characteristic of humanity.

If that sounds terribly basic, it is. If that sounds incredibly important, it is.

The first step on this path is to stop taking communication for granted…

WHY WE’RE NOT EXTINCT YET

If you’re reading this, you’re probably human. Therefore, you’re probably used to taking a lot of important gifts for granted. My intent is not to berate your ingratitude, but to ask you to assume a larger and more humbling perspective, just for a minute.

Viewed individually, human beings are exceedingly vulnerable and powerless. We have no fangs, claws, poison, armor, horns, wings, or even fur. Our senses are laughably feeble in comparison to many so-called “lesser creatures.” We require long gestation and weaning periods. We’re susceptible to many kinds of threats and diseases. We’re not terribly tolerant of temperature extremes.

Sure, opposable thumbs are cool and useful – but ask any raccoon how far that famed appendage really elevates you in the evolutionary pecking order.

As a species, our most valuable characteristic probably is our ability to connect through communication. This gift literally saves us by allowing us to cooperate and share experiences, impressions, skills, and knowledge. It empowers us to transcend our considerable physical limitations, to form a “group mind” of sorts. As much as we trumpet individualism, our true strength is our deep interdependence.

Armed with the knowledge and infrastructure crafted painstakingly by countless generations, humans can kill large, strong, toothy predators at a safe distance with a gun. Or better still, we can avoid them altogether by learning from others where those beasts are and how they hunt. Without this cumulative support, most of us would find it hard to contend with a determined raccoon – let alone a cougar.

In short, without communication there would be no “long term” or “big picture.”

CONSTRUCTIVE COMMUNICATION: IT’S NOT JUST A NICE IDEA, IT’S YOUR LIFELINE

Obviously, a tool as powerful as communication is a mixed blessing. Any person or group can easily use communication in destructive ways – from “You’ve got cooties, ewwww….” to “Aw, can’t you take a joke?” to “This pharmaceutical has been voided from our formulary as per section 325.49(b)” to “Kill all the Tutsis!”

Nevertheless, it seems to me that everything useful, good, beautiful, and healing that humans have created relies on communication – either between people acting together, or by individuals acting on what they’ve learned from others. This communication can be direct (face to face), or via media (from cave paintings, to books, to the internet). It can transcend space and time.

A sound, effective content strategy is constructive. It relies on leveraging common goals and interests. It’s about creating resonance between you and the people you need to reach so you can build value together. It’s about clarifying and contributing to the common good – whether you’re a student, a business, a coalition, or a government. Ultimately, we’re all just people.

Sure, it’s possible to develop a content strategy that relies on deception, concealment, polarization, obfuscation, exploitation, intimidation, or stonewalling. However, these false strengths are surprisingly easy to undermine – simply because people talk. And when people talk, stuff starts to happen.

THE PUBLIC CONVERSATION: YOU’RE LIVING IN IT

There’s a public conversation going on. You’ve always been part of it. So has your family, your school, your employer, your local newspaper, your bank, your city council, your critics, and the government of your nation (and every nation). Much of the public conversation is out in the open, but much of it also happens in hidden, “unofficial” backchannels.

  • Participating in the public conversation means listening and speaking at many levels, to many kinds of people.
  • Behaving constructively means extending the transparency, respect, goodwill, critical thinking, and compassion you’d like to get from others.
  • These points apply to everyone, from multinational corporations to illiterate peasants. Again, we’re all just people, whether acting alone or in groups.

Individuals and groups who participate constructively in the ongoing public conversation tend to flourish. This communication helps them learn, grow, and adapt. Those who try to ignore or control the public conversation tend to wither, fracture, drown, or implode. Sometimes those consequences take a long time to manifest – but if you take the long view of history that pattern is hard to miss.

So, again: Stop taking communication for granted. Stop using it destructively, unconsciously, defensively, and reactively. You’re sabotaging yourself, and you’re probably hurting (or at least annoying) a lot of other people, too.

Appreciate the public conversation and your place in it. Start listening more. Start communicating like a human being, rather than an officious, ambiguous entity. Start envisioning the best long-term goals you can achieve – and whose help you’ll need to make them happen.

This big-picture awareness will make all your other content decisions much simpler.

And you’ll be much better off than the average raccoon.


NEXT: What is content, and what can it do?

Intro and index to this series

3 thoughts on Why Communicate at All? (content strategy, part 1)

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  1. I just stumbled across this blog and was very happy to add it to my daily reading list. I’m a Director of Communications with on going challenges in ensuring our internal audience retains information in a communication top heavy environment. Big challenges there. Your content also works well as I continue to build my personal blog for my own selfish writing addiction. Thank you!