World Shut Your Mouth.

Technology has democratised written expression, but, writes Monticello LLP’s James Lumley, the rise of “content marketing” means that we are all in danger of being engulfed by a tsunami of shit.

The marketeers have got the memo: content is where it’s at. If you want to get your message out, and engage with your constituency, then you need to give them content. Lots of it.

You must load your website with articles and infographics. Season it liberally with Vines and top it with extra podcasts.

Make it content rich.

Business home pages all over the world, pages that once were dull, but informative are now full of… content.

I should be pleased. I am, after all, a writer, journalist and trainer. I’m somebody who has committed much content, and has armed others to do the same. Yet I am not happy. And many of my friends and colleagues who work in marketing and “get” content aren’t happy either.

The reason for this is simple: the cult of content has got out of control.

There are many businesses who are using, to put it at its most basic, words to engage and inform their customer base. But there are many more who have heard the content clarion call and are, bluntly, creating content for the sake of it, effectively becoming micropublishers. The result is untargeted incoherence and a huge waste of time.

While writing this post, I am also looking at the website of large international financial institution that deals with professional customers. One might expect it to be stuffy, but no, the site is eye-catching in the extreme. It looks like Buzzfeed on acid written by enthusiastic sixth-formers. The home page has a carousel of articles above articles, and more articles. The photos are dynamic. Racing cars. Space ships. Supercomputers. Big words. Big ideas.

The marketing department behind this website is doing to its customers what an irate farmer did last week to Emma Thompson’s anti-fracking bake off.

There are many websites like this. Marketing departments across the world are expending huge amounts of time and effort on them when they should really be…. marketing

When I go to a business’s website, I want to know two things and two things only.

1. What does this business do?
2. Why should I give a shit?

I don’t want the State of the Union. I don’t want metaphysics or philosophy. And I don’t want to be told who Becky With the Good Hair is.

Sure, engagement is key. Good articles and good infographics improve engagement. But all “content” must be focused on my two questions. Otherwise, it just becomes noise and it drowns out message.

A couple of weeks ago, while running a writing training day, I explained my formula for planning a nice, focused article. I demonstrated that, by using the formula in reverse, one can tell whether an article is useful or a waste of time merely by reading the first and last paragraphs.

One of the attendees asked the question that usually gets asked at this point: “does this mean,” he said “that most of the stuff I’ve been reading at work is total crap that I don’t need to read, and lots of the stuff I have been writing doesn’t really need to be written either?”

My answer was “yes”.

My students-for-the-day all resolved to write less, but make it better. They said that they would probably read a lot less too. The scales had fallen from their eyes. Content, to them, was no longer scary. It had become manageable.

So, content-creating marketeers: next time you sit at your keyboard with an idea for an article, ask yourself this: “is this content really necessary?” If the answer is “probably not,” make yourself a cup of tea, and do something more useful instead.

Read more in The Library of Progress.