What is content?

Robert Mills

Today I was asked the question, what do you mean by content?

The conversation that led to that question involved me talking to my pal Ed about an event where all things content related are discussed and shared (more on that soon!).

That chat was several hours ago as I sit here and type this post. The reason I felt compelled to blog is because that question stopped me in my tracks. I actually struggled to answer it without pausing and contemplating.

In my head I knew what content was in the context of what we were discussing but when I had to explain this to someone else it made me question my own definition. Sure the first thing I said was ‘words’ but I knew it was more than that and I had to give more detail.

Oxford Dictionaries defines content as, among other things:

The material dealt with in a speech, literary work, etc. as distinct from its form or style

Also as:

Information made available by a website or electronic medium.

After I said ‘words’ I went on to define content in my terms as words (articles, blog posts, case studies, micro copy on buttons, forums and comments etc) videos (animation, live action etc), images (photos, illustrations), social media content, charts and graphs, audio (podcasts) and infographics. Some content like adverts may bring several of those content types together. I’m sure I’ve probably made some stark omissions in this list too, but hopefully it demonstrates that content is far more than just words.

What struck me as I started to list some of these content types to Ed is that many people work with content in various ways but may not necessarily think of it as content.

Here are some scenarios of different roles and their relationship with content.

  • a social media expert that shares content across multiple platforms
  • a web developer who makes CMS recommendations based on content taxonomy
  • a marketeer who has a message to communicate to achieve business goals
  • a photographer/videographer who produces still/moving images
  • designers who design around/for content to meet a brief/goal
  • a data analyst that has to find insights within data
  • an animator/illustrator who uses several content types to create an image or film
  • a project manager who has to gather content, manage content or disseminate content
  • a salesperson who has to sell a product or service (using brochures etc)

Those job titles and the sectors they can be found in is vast. It fascinates me that content is used by so many people in so many different ways. It also fascinates me the amount of time in a typical day that we are exposed to different types of content, whether we consciously call it content or not.

So what is content?

I don’t have a definitive answer because it can depend so much on who you ask and in what context it is discussed. For me, content is any information type used to communicate a message to your audience.

Yeah, I’ll settle on that for now, but ask me tomorrow and I may give a different definition.

Ed was patient as my answer got longer and longer, leading to digression and posing even more questions, some of which will be discussed and answered here in future posts. Back to this morning though and one coffee, peppermint tea and lemon water later, our content discussion was done. Much like this blog post is now.