Human content in a digital world

This article was originally published by The Guardian in May, 2014

Content marketing has always existed, but the world around it has changed. Successful companies are now media outlets, with customers expecting immediate access to personalised information, helping them to make better decisions. The in-built bias towards information that’s easy to get hold of means that it’s more important than ever to make it resonate and stand out. Therefore, content not only needs to be good, but it needs to be human, and that’s far easier to achieve than people often think.

Good content only actually needs three things. Firstly, it needs to be interesting, which is as simple as creating something that your customers will find genuinely useful. Secondly, in a world of bad news and rising anxiety, being positive is hugely important, engaging with people’s hopes and ambitions and encouraging them to share the excitement and intrigue with their friends, family, and followers. Finally, the most difficult to achieve is relevance. Given that we all suffer from an inherent present-focus bias – prioritising our current wants and needs over those of the future – delivering content to your customer at exactly the right time can be challenging. That’s where understanding and engaging with your customers on a human level can make the difference.

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Of the top thirty most-followed Twitter accounts, 90% of them are real people, with only three being companies. Those three – YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter – are all about connecting people, with the same being true for the world’s most used Smartphone apps. Most lists that are published show the usual suspects above, as well as Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Google Maps (which is, of course, used to help people find each other).

So, even in this increasingly digital world being human is as important as ever, and the brands that are able to bring the human touch to their content will be the most trusted and successful. In essence, being seen as ‘human’ in your communications ignites three key traits that modern companies need to survive: transparency, empathy, and trust.

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The past few years, with economic crashes and whistle-blowing contractors, have driven a consumer demand for greater transparency from companies. Whether it be how they operate, make money, or pay employees, transparency is no longer an option, it’s an expectation. Open, honest, human content can demonstrate that trait, giving an air of approachability.

Customers and companies can find it far easier to empathise with one another on a human level, too. Think about the last time you made a complaint – it’s far better to have a conversation with a real person about the problem than send an email to an anonymous account. You’re more likely to feel listened to, and understood. The same applies for content written from a human perspective. It resonates more greatly, being put in the right context for the customer and allowing the company to have a better chance of reaching the customer at the right time for them.


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However, the most important reason for ‘human’ content is that companies have to re-win the trust of their customers every day, continually earning the right to their attention and their loyalty. We’re far more likely to engage and trust another person who shares our view of the world than a large organisation, and most of us suffer from ‘authority bias’, giving more credence to information which has come from (what we perceive as) a greater source of trusted expertise. Therefore, having positive, relevant, and interesting content written on a human level is more likely to resonate with our customers.

Luckily for most companies, they already have the people who can provide this human content on their payroll. However, all too often when an employee passes through the security gate of their organisation’s office they forget that they, too, are a customer. They know the products, services, and inner workings of that company better than anyone, whilst also being someone who experiences the world and the emotions that go with it. This puts them in a unique position of authority on the subject, creating a great opportunity to design relevant content for their customers, and a positive perception of their brand.

The old adage of ‘write about what you know’ couldn’t be more relevant to content marketing and brand journalism, and those companies who truly understand and relate to their customers’ perceptions will have the greatest chance of building human relationships in a digital world.

I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.

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