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The hidden pitfalls of repurposing content

Photo by Hannes Wolf on Unsplash

You can find plenty of articles about repurposing content – why to do it, how to do it. But few tell you the pitfalls. And there are more than you might imagine.

The concept of repurposing old content is simple and seemingly compelling. When we are asked to perform content audits at the beginning of content programmes (here’s what you need to know about content audits) ‘repurposing’ is always a choice of what to do with each historical item of content (along with ‘kill’ and ‘reuse’ as is).

There are two thoughts that go through lots of clients’ minds when they hear about repurposing. The first is that it will be easy. The second is that it will be cost-effective, in part because it’s easy.

That means there is increasingly a tendency to lean towards repurposing content above other options – including creating fresh content from scratch.

But this can be a mistake.

 

Repurposing’s pitfalls

Repurposing, by its nature, means working with something that already exists. But an existing item of content – and by item we mean anything from a social post, to a white paper, to a video and more – can be a month old or a decade old. I’d guess it’s typically in the 1-3 years old bracket. So some items need a lot more updating, just because there has been more change in the world since they were created.

Then there’s the question of consistency, which also relates to the authorship of those existing items of content. There has to be a call whether to keep a piece consistent with its original style or update that too, especially if an organisation’s style guidelines have changed. (Don’t know about style guides? You really should.)

This can be easier if the writer or other creative originally involved is still around. They might not be, especially if the work was done by an outside agency.

And on that matter, who gets the byline – literally the acknowledgement of who created a piece – when it’s partly one person from two years ago and partly a more recent edit? That’s not a common problem but we have seen it become one when the byline is between two senior peers at the same company.

Vertical, local

And all of this is to say nothing of two of the main reasons why an item of content is often repurposed. ‘Bringing it up to date’ is a less likely reason than ‘verticalising’ for a particular industry audience or localising for a specific geographical market – say Europe or Germany. In the case of the latter reason, localisation might also involve translation and changing content substance and style to match local conventions.

Verticalising content has especially grown in popularity over the past year or so. It’s also not the hardest thing to do. We’re fans. But the secret is to be sure-footed about which parts of an existing asset should stay exactly as they are.

And the key is in execution beyond repurposing, too. The recipient who works in healthcare of a white paper or email or other item should probably not see the generic version of the asset, and certainly should never see a version that is 20 per cent different aimed at their equivalents in banking or retail or manufacturing.

 

Oh… SEO

Another dimension is when someone then tries to optimise old content for today’s search best practice. Search engine optimisation (SEO) and a whole mini industry of SEO consultants can be valuable. But going back to old content to optimise for today is a decision to be made – preferably at the start of any project, not at the eleventh hour.

Also understand that today’s SEO best practice is tomorrow’s ‘avoid-at-all-costs’. Hands up anyone else who has shared an old infographic only to be contacted by its creators and asked to take it down or alter how it sits on a page because now Google is punishing them.

 

The bottom line is that repurposing can be valuable. But don’t always assume it’s the best way to go.

For all the reasons stated above, it can be complicated, time-consuming and costly. A great existing asset is often best served by creating a brand-new follow-up. That’s not always the case. But one secret content creators rarely tell you is that starting afresh can be one of the easiest processes of all, and cost about the same amount. Take their advice.

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Read Further

How to… develop a style guide

photo credit: With Associates The review part 6 via photopin (license)

Do a Google search for ‘how to develop a style guide’, and you’ll find tens of thousands of results. Rather than spending hours clicking links and browsing through various sites, you can save a lot of time by starting with a proven resource: an existing style guide.

As we’ve covered in the past, a style guide is designed to provide your organisation with a roadmap for clear, consistent communication. And—whatever your organisation does, whatever types of content you produce—you’ll likely find a useful, ready-made model to start with in one of several standard style guides aimed at different audiences.

For example, if you target a general-interest audience based primarily in the US, a good starting point will be the AP Stylebook. First issued by the Associated Press in 1953, the AP Stylebook is now updated annually and available online and via a mobile app, as well as in spiral-bound paperback form. For a slightly more formal style, there’s also the Chicago Manual of Style.

On the other hand, if your content tends to focus more on a UK/European audience, you could choose either The Economist’s or The Guardian/Observer’s style guide as a jumping-off point for your own in-house manual. And if your audience is technical or scientific, your options can include guides from Microsoft, the IEEE or the American Psychological Association.

 

Make it your own

Whichever style model you begin with, how do you go about making it your own? Experienced editors recommend kicking off with the style issues that have dogged your organisation most in the past. Are there certain types of corrections your in-house copy team regularly must make? Do company writers and freelancers repeatedly ask the same questions about preferred spelling or capitalisation conventions? Is there any unique rule or guideline you always apply during a final edit of marketing materials?

During her presentation on ‘Developing a House Style Guide’ at the 2016 conference for the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), Megan Rogers—communications assurance specialist for the National Court Reporters Association—said organisations should follow several guidelines when developing their own stylebook:

  • Decide which resources (other style guides, dictionaries, in-house style sheets) to start with and use as a guide
  • Choose someone to be in charge of the process
  • Involve your writers and editors
  • Focus on “unique specifics, deviations or missing pieces from primary guides, hard-to-remember rules”
  • Make sure your final stylebook is easily accessible to those who need it, and re-evaluate your guide on a regular basis

Throughout the process, also keep in mind why you’re developing a style guide in the first place. Ahead of The Guardian style guide’s 75th anniversary in 2003, then-assistant editor David Marsh wrote this:

“A style guide should be much more than a list of grammatical rules, enforced by what Steven Pinker calls ‘language mavens’. Rules change, and many (for example, those forbidding so-called split infinitives or constructions such as ‘hopefully it will be fine tomorrow’) are baseless. We follow a style guide to be consistent, coherent, and to make fewer mistakes, but above all because the style of a newspaper should complement what it stands for—in the way we write about such issues as gender, race, and disability, and the respect with which we treat those we write about.”

Language changes all the time, as Marsh noted. What’s important is making sure that how you use language reflects your organisation’s priorities and values as well as possible.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need a corporate blog but don’t have the time or editorial expertise? Try Speech-to-blog, a new corporate blogging service from Collective Content.

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Contact us

Contact us to find out how we can help you:

Email:  tony.hallett@collectivecontent.co.uk

Twitter:  @ColContent

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