Despite the proliferation of texting, snapping, and sliding into one's DMs, the skill of writing is as vital today as it was pre-social technology. Especially in business.
If you aren’t blogging in your personal life, odds are you’re doing it professionally. If you consider yourself, or want others to consider you, a subject matter expert, you’re going to have to prove it. How? Write a post for your company blog, or a guest post for a leading industry blog. Write an article in a well-reputed trade publication. Deliver a speech at an acclaimed conference. Pull together a white paper, a How-To Guide, a Top 10 list...you get the point. Your company can't establish itself as a thought leader without publishing a sea of well-written, highly relevant, and supremely accurate content. Where does that content come from? You, my friend.
In his (1891) essay "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," Oscar Wilde wrote:
"A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist."
For the most part, I agree with Mr. Wilde and find his point of view poetic. Dishonest tradesman? Ouch. As a long-time marketing veteran, I've met my fair share of business artists – and I find business itself something of an art form. True, art for art's sake does not a fortune make, but if Mr. Wilde were alive today, I might do well to hold myself back from asking Dr. Phil's one-size-fits-all, "How's that working for you, Oscar?"
Today it is not wise for a business artist (author, creative designer, speaker, etc.) to create in his own interest alone. He should deliver his message, no matter the channel, with his audience in mind. Isn’t this called marketing?
Wilde insisted that, once an author writes to satisfy an audience, he is no longer an artist but an economist. Though some may agree, I myself propose that the writer who can both tell a relevant, engaging story and satisfy the needs of a particular audience in a way no other writer can…well, that person is more of an artist than he who spills flowery words onto paper and tries to convince the world that it’s literature.
"The authors who engage their audience and inspire devoted clans of fans have a leg up over those who sit back and let the publisher take care of that whole promotional thing or who hope lightning will strike on its own. There's no such thing as ‘just an author’ anymore, and I suspect there never was.”
Here's the deal as I see it. Successful companies spend millions to understand their ideal prospect. They work to deliver value in some tangible way. They measure success not only by the bottom line but also by the amount of value they manage to create for their customer and how quickly and consistently they increase that value. They expect their team members – all of them – to understand customer expectations, to develop real and long-term relationships with them, and to dazzle them with relevant ideas and products. There is no such thing as “just a customer” anymore – and I suspect there never was.
Writers may not have employees but they do have a specific audience with very distinct needs and wants. It is not nearly enough to write a good content piece and put it out there for the taking. Customers (readers) want to be dazzled by the writer. And they crave a professional relationship - on a personal level.
Banks call customers "Bill" and "Sandy" instead of "Account 52671." Credit unions call customers “members.” Auto manufacturers send personalized e-mail messages, birthday cards and anniversary wishes. Tech companies build software with intelligent, roles-based user interfaces and responsive design to allow for anywhere, anytime access. Lenders track online consumer behavior to offer low interest auto loans immediately after they Google a new car model. Communication today has to be personal.
We live in a social (media) world. Anyone with a connected computer can network 1:1 with anyone else in cyberspace. The more deeply our content connects with our readers, the more invested those readers will be in us and in our work. Yes, ours is a loud and cluttered environment (and the marketers said, “Amen”). Social feeds are all but littered. Consumers are overwhelmed – yet we want our voices heard among the chaos. Writers have a unique opportunity to be heard and, when a writer becomes the advocate of his audience, he gives them a voice as well!
Next time you put pen to paper, write with your reader in mind. Because when art meets business (cue Wilde turning in his grave), everybody wins. The writer has a reader, the company an audience, and the reader a satiated appetite. And your career will undoubtedly benefit.