During our most recent live group coaching call with members of the programs I teach, I was asked what type of content is best.
The question in particular pertained to membership sites, and I was asked whether video, audio or written content was the best for keeping members in a program.
This is an interesting question. After three years of running three online courses, each with different types of content, not to mention blogging for five years using text, video and audio, I’m in a good position to at least have a perspective on the issue based on my experience.
So what exactly is best? Text, audio or written content, or is that even the right question to ask?
When I began blogging video wasn’t something you could easily produce and distribute online. There was no screen recording software or YouTube to help you host and share your visual creations. Webcams were just becoming popular, but the quality was quite sketchy.
Podcasting was catching on when I started my blog, however this was pre-iTunes, when podcasting was simply figuring out a way to record an MP3, sticking it up on a server somewhere and giving people a link to download the file. That’s not really much different from today if you think about it, although people now are used to listening to audio from the Internet, hence there are more tools to help you create and share audio and much more content available to listen to.
I started my blog by writing articles. I still consider writing my best craft, and certainly the majority of my blog content is written text. I enjoyed experimenting with new technology, which is why I began blogging in the first place, and shortly after started a regular podcast.
I experimented with Podcasting within six months of starting this blog, using my iRiver MP3 player to record some spoken words, which I then uploaded as my very first podcast. You can listen to it recorded back in May 2005 here – Audio: Location, location, location…Offline marketing for online business. I called it an “audio” blog post because I wasn’t sure people knew what the term “podcast” meant yet.
Podcasting turned out to be an especially effective tool the day I started recording interviews with other people. Although I can create content solo talking off the top of my head, having a two way discussion with someone proved a lot more popular. Interviews also led to forming relationships with important people, people who owned blogs with traffic and influence, which really helped my blog gain new audience when they linked through to the interview I conducted with them.
Video came along much later and in my case instead of jumping on the bandwagon early as I did with blogging and podcasting, I decided to sit back and wait for the technology to become easier to use. In particular I saw video as a good tool to help teach inside my courses, so most of the video I’ve published isn’t on my blog or in YouTube, it’s inside my paid-for training programs, in particular Membership Site Mastermind, which is made up of six core modules all in video.
Video also became a tool I used for namesqueeze pages, sales pages and although I don’t personally focus on it, some of my best students and colleagues have made use of videos as their preferred content choice on their blogs.
Video is clearly a powerful medium and it’s definitely gaining in popularity on the current version of the Web, but is it the “best” choice for content today?
The answer to this question isn’t actually any of the options – video, audio or text – they all make up part of the answer.
What we really want to know is what goes into good content, and if we only talk about the format the content takes, then we’re missing some of the most important aspects.
What I love about questions like this is how “fuzzy” the answer is because we are dealing with something intangible and undefinable. I can’t tell you what good content is because there is no general set of rules that defines it. What is good to someone is rubbish to someone else. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Our goal is to ensure that enough people have the perspective that sees our content of value, so we can meet our objectives.
What we can do is use guidelines and accepted practices to come to broad and at times general consensus on what usually results in producing valuable content. This is not a science, it’s an art.
I’m not going to dive into an in-depth discussion of what good content is in this article as I’ve covered at least part of this question before inside the Blog Profits Blueprint and in my article that defines Pillar Content. Have a read of those resources if you want a deeper look at what “good” content is.
For the sake of the discussion now, we’re going to assume that the core message you have to deliver is of value. What we want to know, as I was asked during the call, is what format is the best to distribute the value you have to give.
It’s safe to say as a definite conclusion that we are all different. What we like, and in the case of blogging and creating valuable online content, what people learn best from and enjoy the most, varies from person to person.
To improve our chances of meeting the needs of a diverse population, when it comes to format choice, the answer to what is the best is, all of the options available.
This is limited to our means of consuming information – we have to use the senses our bodies are gifted with – so in the case of interaction with the world wide web, we presently have the options of reading text, listening to audio, watching visual content, or mixtures of these mediums.
You can potentially figure out the “best” of these formats as it relates to your audience, if you have a means of contacting and stimulating a response from enough of them to get something statistically meaningful. As Frank Kern revealed in his Mass Control course, the target customer for his dog training business wanted video on a DVD format as their top choice. He found this out through surveys.
I’ve done surveys to find information about my audience, although I prefer conducting more passive observations by interacting with my audience and watching how they react to what I provide them. Forum discussions, comments left in reply to your blog posts, emails you receive, traffic response rates to the content you distribute, email open and click-through rates, and all kinds of other data are helpful to gain a greater understanding of what your people respond best to and want more of.
However as a rule you can’t really argue against the idea of offering everything in all formats. If you cast a wider net, you catch more fish.
There are strategic reasons to sometimes limit what mediums you publish your content, but in general if you offer content in text, in audio AND video, then you capture the attention and deliver value to more people.
Rich Schefren teaches a great lesson in content creation, which you can learn simply by taking his courses and watching how he teaches.
Rich creates a slide presentation, which he will then use as prompts to give a live presentation, which is watched as a webinar and distributed after the fact as a recording. All webinar recordings are also provided in audio-only MP3 format, and transcribed into PDF text. You can also download the slides from the presentation in PDF format.
This is the exact format I used for Membership Site Mastermind. In my first course, Blog Mastermind I typed out lessons, and then spoke out the lessons to record an audio version. Become A Blogger Premium is a video course presented by Gideon Shalwick and myself. The core materials are all videos, which you can stream or download to your computer, and each video is also available as a PDF text transcript. The audio interviews I release inside my programs, as well as my free reports are available as text and MP3.
Lately I don’t read books except fiction for entertainment. In terms of educational content, I prefer audio. I listen to audio books, or podcasts or the audio from video presentations, usually while exercising or traveling. I like to combine education when I’m doing something else. With reading I have to focus 100% on the words in front of me, I can’t be driving a car, or lifting weights at the same time.
But that’s just me. Everyone is different.
I’ve had many people complain about podcasts that don’t have text transcripts because they don’t have the patience to sit through an audio file. They want to scan to the best bits and they can only do this with text.
Some people are easily bored and need flashing lights, dynamic movement, or a personal connection with a real human in front of them in visual glory in order to keep their attention. Video in this case is the best choice, and is the only choice when you need to show someone how to do something that can only be taught visually.
What’s important is that you don’t make any assumptions. I’ve received feedback that endorses all formats, hence I know by providing as many different mediums as I can, I’ll satisfy more people.
My advice, especially if you are going to create an information product, is consider using the slide presentation model. Use Camtasia on PC or Screenflow on Mac, together with a slide presentation and sit down and record your talk as you move through the slides.
Take the recording and release it as a video, an MP3 audio file, a text transcript of what you said and a copy of the slides. This means you effectively create four different content resources using all three mediums and you only have to present it once. That’s pretty efficient. Instant product creation – it doesn’t get much easier than that!
I still consider text the most powerful medium online because it’s the easiest to create, can be downloaded in seconds and people are used to reading content online (and I’m bias because I enjoy writing the most). Others will argue that video is the future, and we all know that television killed the radio star.
There is no right answer here, and in truth if you have something powerful to say, then whatever content format you use will communicate well enough. The power of the message is always the driving force behind distribution, not the format it arrives in, but why not give yourself the best chance to spread your message as far as it can go by using all formats and as many distribution points as possible.