Don’t believe the hype, friends. Bad content is still bad content and can have lasting effects. (Shutterstock)

The biggest lie in digital media comes in a tidy, three-word package: Content is king.

Let me quickly make my case as someone who spent 36 years making content, including the last few years doing it for 20 million unique visitors per month at

  1. Bad content will always be bad content. 
  2. Bad content turns people off and makes them less likely to read, return or engage with your good content.
  3. The world is full of bad content.
  4. Creating good content is a wonderful first step. But if you’re creating content without an audience, that’s basically what I would call a hobby. 

Simply put, bad content is the reason so many digital marketing efforts get lost in the wilderness. Another reason is being oblivious to the different digital voices required to speak with authority from platform to platform or putting the wrong content in front of people you do manage to reach.

So, thank you to all you CEOs and decision-makers who try to fire up the troops with some version of Bill Gates’ Content is King essay. But it’s time to spend more time and money making quality content. And your digital content must have a specific strategy and purpose on every platform.

‘Throwing away $100 bills’

Just how important is a specific content strategy to knowing how and where to reach your audience? I asked Kevin Shinkle, an old friend from our Star-Ledger days. Shinkle has run newsrooms and Fortune 100 corporate communications teams and is now Senior Vice President and Chief Content Officer for Devine+Partners, a boutique, full-service PR firm in Philadelphia. 

“I’ve learned the hard way that content for content’s sake is not enough. With so much out there, your content better be fresh, original and journalistic-quality,” Shinkle said. “But that’s just the start. To be effective, content must be part of an overall strategy, advance specific objectives and target the right audiences in the right formats. Otherwise, it’s akin to speeding down the highway throwing $100 bills out the window.”

If you want to save a few of those $100 bills to boost some of your content or engage a strategic communications and digital media firm, here’s where I’d start:

    1. Talk it out and be intentional. Answer all of the following, at a minimum: Who do you want to reach? What do you want them to do? What are your KPIs and goals? Are you willing to course correct? And, of course, are you trying to build an audience of followers or drive people to the top of the sales funnel? 
    2. Make a map. You know who to target and your desired outcome, but do you know how to get there? Where will the content be created? What’s your timeline? Is your strategy built around paid, earned, shared or owned media? Do you have people in your organization who can deliver more than one of those? 
    3. Speak the language. The No. 1 lesson for me the past 15 years has been that digital is its own language. You can’t follow print content habits and schedules and succeed on digital. Your digital audience speaks a different language, and no one waits for your content to find them. It’s on you to meet them where they want to be found.
    4. Speak social. Once you understand digital, you can go to work understanding the languages of social media. Every platform is different, and every platform will tend to reward content that is native to social and written with voice. if you’re using social as a digital bulletin board, you’re losing.
    5. Keep score. Otherwise, why play the game?

Kevin Whitmer spent more than three decades managing large news operations and building digital audiences. He is a strategic communications and digital media expert.  


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