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Monday, August 14, 2006

Am I better than you? Paid content writers vs. homegrown efforts...

I came across a post entitled "Paying for Content: Worth it?" at Devlounge, which is an interesting blog devoted to web design and related issues. The author of the post makes some pretty bold statements about professionally-produced content and I thought I would take a few moments to address them.

He/she (I don't want to incorrectly jump to conclusions re: AJ's gender) writes:

Don’t get me wrong, paid for content contributors can be great, but it depends on the type of site and type of content you have. In Devlounge’s case, I made the decision not to go with paid content...

A few things paid content seems to lack.

  • Real Meaningful Posts - No matter how well the writer is, and how much they know the subject they’re covering, in the end they are writing for commission, not for the benefit of the visitors.

  • Caring About the Community - When you have a group of editors willing to contribute freely, you get a more connected feel between your regular site visitors and your staff. There are follow-up posts, tips, comments from the autor, follow-up discussion, and you know the author was in it to help the community, not to help themselves.

  • It will come as no surprise that I don't necessarily agree with those statements overall. Although I agree with AJ that there are times when you might not want to call a pro, the idea that professionally commissioned content inherently lacks meaning or heart is incorrect.

    A good writer can and will produce meaningful material. That will be spurred by the good ol' profit motive (we like the money and don't like the idea of a dissatisfied webmaster taking his/her business elsewhere after we provide lame text), but it will also be motivated by a commitment to excellence and pride in the craft. Good writers do care about the audience and will write great pieces to capture their interest.

    Those lofty goals are reached because professional writers have the ability to write effectively. All of the respect for readers in the world won't amount to much if the person behind the keyboard can't effectively communicate. As a professional freelance content writer and copywriter, communication is my well-honed talent.

    So, even if my monetary motivations did trump my interest in quality (which they don't), I could still provide more compelling copy than many well-intended webmasters. I could go on to discuss the fact that I could do it efficiently and cost-effectively, allowing those webmasters to redirect their energies to pursuits that better matched their economic interests and skill sets, but that's another topic...

    AJ may have a point about developing a sense of community. A more personal, hands-on approach may work better in some situations where that sense of unique individuality is essential. However, those cases constitute a minority of content needs. Additionally, the overall increase in communicative quality may very outweight any disadvantage in terms of personalization. AJ goes on to discuss paid forum postings, which may be a perfect example of where homegrown writing makes more sense.

    The Devlounge piece later states:

    The best solution - write your own content.
    Have original articles written by yourself and a home-grown group of staff dedicated to contributing good, quality entries and supporting the site and it’s visitors.

    In a perfect world, everyone would have the ability to effectively communicate. Everyone who operated a website would have enough time available to write awesome content while still meeting their overall goals (financial and otherwise). Of course, things aren't perfect.

    When it comes to writing, I might just be better than you! Your homegrown text might have a nice genuine feel about it and it might feel good to know that you wrote every word of your message, but all of that warm fuzziness is meaningless if you don't communicate effectively. Doing it yourself can also detract from more efficient use of your time and energy.

    There is certainly a time and place for homegrown material, but don't fool yourself into believing that there's no place for professinally written content. Paid material can be more effective than many DIY efforts while packing a whallop in terms of efficiency and your bottom line.

    If you aren't a writer by trade and feel as though you must write your own material, at least have a professional work with you during the editing process. That can help you get rid of everything from awkward sentences to improperly placed apostrophes.

    I don't begrudge AJ for making the decision to handle content writing personally for Devlounge. I do think some editorial assistance could help make the posts there even more interesting and readable, but that's not really the point of this response. I just want to remind folks who are tempted to handle all of their content writing and copywriting personally that such a decision warrants consideration of what a professional can do for you on a variety of levels and that hiring out your writing will not inevitably result in a lack of meaning or heart.

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