Bill Gates - Writing Tips Blog - Content is King

“Content is still king — which makes you royalty!”

A few weeks ago, someone called us royalty. We were flattered. And may have spent the rest of the afternoon speaking with British accents.

Of course, he was referencing Bill Gates’ 1996 essay “Content is King,” in which the founder and former CEO of Microsoft waxes poetic about the companies who will reign the Internet, those that find innovative ways to provide content to inform and entertain. These companies will thrive, according to Gates, in this booming, new, exciting digital highway:

When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide. For example, computer software is a form of content — an extremely important one, and the one that for Microsoft will remain by far the most important.

But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.

In recent years, marketing and advertising experts have expounded upon Gates’ shortlist of predictions about the fledgling Internet. Nowadays the consensus seems to be, “Sure, content is great and all, but without engagement or distribution to back it up, what is it really worth?” If you don’t have a marketing strategy, a means of outreach or a persistent, interesting touch with social media today, content is useless.

Or, as Buzzfeed’s Jonathan Perelman, GM of Video and VP Agency Strategy and Development, has been oft-quoted as saying, “Content is king, distribution is queen, and she wears the pants.”

That is something we can absolutely agree on. Yes, great content alone is not enough. Yes, you require a creatively designed and fully functional website across platforms that is user-friendly, easily navigable and easy on the eyes.

But why do we have to choose what abstract marketing concept gets to wear the crown? Let’s acknowledge that a combination of great content, stellar design and strategic distribution create a powerful marketing plan.

And let’s acknowledge that at the base of it all is content. Without content, without words for your readers to consume, for your clients to learn about your company, where’s the virtual foot traffic for your business? The goal is to keep your visitors at your site and, even better, keep them coming back for more, and, on top of that, give them more options to engage with you on a level that’s more than just the business transactions you make. The only way to form relationships in the digital virtual world is through words, a genuine conversation, an honest expression of yourself and your business.

So before we knight something like analytics in this court of King Content and Queen Distribution, here are three predictions Gates made in 1996, and how we can utilize them in your business today.

1) “…anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create.”

What do you have to say about yourself and your company? How can you say it? Communicating your goals, your services and your experience is key to earning a visitor’s engagement, and you can do that in a variety of ways. Your company website is the first place most people will learn about this, but social media and blogging provide other outlets for this information.

Everyone is an expert at something. Ideally, you are an expert in your industry. Why would you be in it in the first place if you weren’t? Make your voice heard and make your company stand out by starting a blog. Consider the meeting ground between what your company has to offer, and what skills and expertise you can share. Blogging can help drive traffic to your company’s site, and also solidify your voice as one to whom prospective clients can turn.

2) “The Internet also allows information to be distributed worldwide at basically zero marginal cost to the publisher.”

Used to be you’d have to take an advertisement out in a newspaper or magazine to be seen. While you will have some start-up cost with registering a domain for a website, you now have a plethora of social networking options at your fingertips — all at no cost to you. Start a blog, launch a Facebook page or a Twitter account, post to Instagram or Google+. You don’t have to part with one dollar in order to quickly get on potential customers' radar.

And in regards to blog posts, you can have your posts shared across social networking sites — an opportunity to generate conversation, spread your company’s brand and learn more about your customers. That’s what we mean when we say “engage.” You have a direct contact with them, can immediately hear their comments and questions, and find out what’s important to them as consumers.

3) “If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will.”

I know Gates didn’t mean how you will physically reward people for visiting your site, although some companies do hold contests and the like to increase their presence on social media and give users an incentive to share and like and follow.

Maybe the incentive is a repeating type of post or link you share. A weekly look into your old photos for a Throwback Thursday. Or a biweekly blog post you share on Mondays. Something that you share on a regular basis that your followers come to expect and becomes a reason why they return.

But even deeper than that, we think this point goes back to your goals. What do you want people to remember about their online experience with your company? How do you get them to return, and in turn, share their experience with their own friends and followers? And perhaps the best answer to that is the heart of your company: the quality work you provide gives voice to the content you create that makes for a repeat customer.