The Innovative Marketer's Blog

On Content: Don’t be a Robo-Blogger. Write Like a Human

Posted by Matthew Cook

robo bloggerMaybe it’s because so much of it is ghostwritten. Maybe it’s because so much of it is whipped off in an hour or so in an attempt to “just get something up there.” Maybe it’s because marketers are more concerned with keywords and clicks than quality. Whatever the case, as blogging has caught on as a reliable method of attracting visitors to business websites, that one essential element of good writing—the human element—has become increasingly scarce.

I call it the rise of the robo-blogger.

Does this sound familiar?

  • “In this modern era, [keyword X] is a critical element of succeeding in [industry Y]. If you are in [industry Y], here are 10 things you need to know about [keyword X]…”

What’s wrong with that kind of writing? Besides the fact that any blog post that begins with “in this modern era,” “in this complex business environment,” or “in these challenging economic times” is derivative before it even gets off the ground (people of every era since the beginning of time considered themselves modern), this kind of writing smacks of automatism. We know it was written by a human but it just doesn’t feel that way.

I’m not writing this article to convince you why your business blog should read like it was written by a human. I’ve already covered that. All I’ll say is to think about the stuff you read. What makes you respond to a piece of content, share a piece of content, think about a piece of content weeks, months, and years after you read it?

To engage readers with their content, writers must themselves be engaged with it, or at least give a decent approximation of engagement. The only ones who get anything out of robo-blogging is robots, and as recent changes by Google and other search engines have made clear, even the robots are losing patience.

Are you a robo-blogger? Here are few ideas for bringing out the humanity in your writing.

1. Actually, yes, talk about yourself

The first advice anyone gets when they launch a business blog is this: “Don’t talk about yourself.” This advice is so prevalent you can almost call it the called a golden rule of content marketing. I completely disagree.

Of course you can talk about yourself! Normal people—human beings—talk about themselves all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that. If the point of business blogging is to inform and educate your readers, a necessary part of that is not only telling your readers what you know, but why you know it. What happened to lead you to these conclusions? When did you put this idea into action and how did it work out?

Personal experience can be a powerful rhetorical device and when you deprive yourself of yourself, as a writer, that’s a serious handicap and there’s no good reason for it. It’s like a lawyer asking for an acquittal without calling any witnesses. Where’s your evidence, counselor?

Of course, I understand how the exhortation not to talk about yourself came about. It’s well-meaning enough. But the advice should be, “Don’t talk about yourself the way a salesperson talks about himself.” This, I agree with. If all your content says is, “Buy our product. Our product will solve all your problems,” then, yes, it’s going to drive readers away when all they’re looking for is some information and answers to their questions.

But, if you’re trying to share with readers your unique approach to a particular business problem, and you’re trying to convince them why that approach is better than all the others, there’s no better source of evidence than your own experiences. Maybe you tried the other approaches and they didn’t work out. Write about that.

This is the way humans communicate.

If you’re struggling with writing about yourself without lapsing into sales-speak, here are a few questions to get you started.

2. Stop telling me what I need

I’ve been seeing the word “need” pop up with increasing regularity in business blogging, in the blogs I read and from the clients and writers I work with—“need,” along with other, similarly imperative words like “critical” and “necessity.” “6 Things You Need to Know About…” “To be successful, you need to…” “It’s critical that you…” The preaching has got to stop. I’ll decide for myself what I need and don’t need, thank you very much.

The truth is, in business, as in life (how’s that for a cliché?), there’s very little that we actually need. There are ways to do things more easily, more efficiently, more profitably, but there’s not much that we can’t do without. It’s easy to forget this when we’re excited about our ideas, but human beings are different and have different ways of doing things. Sometimes we’re used to the less efficient process and don’t want to change. Sometimes one of us is willing to take a bigger risk when others prefer to play it safe.

Don’t tell me what I need to do. Tell me what works for you and why it works for you. Tell me what you’re thinking and why you think it. Maybe I’ll see your point of view. Maybe I’ll come back to you with some questions. That’s ok too. What I’m saying is, respect your readers as real people who can come to their own conclusions and they’ll respect what you have to say.

3. Avoid using these words: Awesome, epic, killer

Epic HeroAlso, ninja.

The only thing worse than a robo-blogger is when a lazy, uninspired robo-blogger attempts to humanize his content by throwing in whatever adjective is trending online. Unless you’re a Beowulf scholar, I can pretty much guarantee whatever you’re writing about is not epic. When you use those words, you don’t come off as cool. You come off as awkward and desperate.

Adjectives don’t inspire humans; ideas do. Write boldly and with honesty about what’s on your mind. Be critical. Be skeptical. Be enthusiastic. Be sarcastic. Be joyful. But don’t try to force it.

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Topics: Blogging, Content Marketing