Fighting Content ‘Selfie-ism’

February 1, 2016

[topic photo agency/canopy/corbis]
[topic photo agency/canopy/corbis]

Content has been transformed from a supply-chain mode to a demand mode, thanks to increased consumer empowerment. The demand is not necessarily for quantity, but for useful content. It’s surprising that most 21st-century businesses and organizations that depend on “connecting” with consumers have yet to adapt their communications style to the need to think, speak and write with empathy.

Many organizations that rely on outbound content still manufacture “dead messaging” or “inside-out” speak. As Jay Baer reminds us in his recent book “Youtility,” “smart marketing is about help, not hype.”

So for any enterprise, what you have to say must be couched in tone, style and language that is important to the audience. Unfortunately, that is generally not the case today. Instead, most messaging emanates from a selfie stick.

Engaging and benefiting audiences

Outbound content is often meant as a positive influence or transactional vehicle for a brand or organization. But if the communication isn’t relevant to the receiver’s eye or ear (i.e., it doesn’t sync with the target audience or isn’t constructed in the recipient’s language and point of view), then the message is likely a wasted missile.

The best example of “selfie speak” or dead messaging is the perfunctory, and usually self-centered, “mission, vision, value” statement that abides atop corporate messaging pyramids and stationery. A close examination of the revered talk tracks reveals that not only are they “all about me,” but they are also “for me” (the company).

Claims of value, integrity and performance in the first person (“I” or “we”) do not hold much water nowadays, and are most often seen as noise or self-serving braggadocio. Today’s digital readers are highly cynical consumers of information, who are empowered to separate chaff from wheat through their online search skills and are always seeking authentic information that benefits them.

This reliance on self-centered language also continues to thrive on the home pages of most corporate websites. Only a few category leaders have transformed their digital corporate presence into one of altruistic content and language. For example, American Express touts consumer and small business tips and trends, and Cisco shares the “upside of cloud adoption.” The array of its product attributes, bells and whistles is secondary on the website.

In an age when a sophisticated consumer is loath to connect to any communications perceived as propaganda, content must connect to — and benefit — the audience.

Enhancing messages

Pitching or selling situations are another battlefield where “selfie decks” are losing the war. Time and again, feedback from “shoot-outs” reveals that content that relies too early and too heavily on the “about us” section ends up in the also-ran column, and loses the business opportunity. New business success needs to be more about “you” — not “me.”

Today, communication and content must be more audience-centric and use language and material that aligns with the needs, tone, style and interests of the receiver. The resulting comfort and receptivity will enhance the effectiveness of the messaging.   

In short, creating content and communication means throwing away your selfie stick and focusing your lens on the target.

Business Buzzwords to Banish in 2016

Jargon confuses people and makes the speaker sound smug and intellectually lazy so, for a New Year’s resolution, Inc. magazine suggests banishing last year’s worst business buzz phrases. The in-vogue “sharing economy” may sound altruistic, but paying for the temporary use of a product or service — a ride in an Uber driver’s car or a night in a stranger’s home through Airbnb  — is “renting,” not “sharing.”

According to scientists, “biohacking” is a new practice of do-it-yourself biology in small laboratories, often involving DNA, such as taking genes from a bioluminescent jellyfish and inserting them into a plant to make it glow in the dark. But “biohack” has been misappropriated as a business buzzword, sometimes to merely mean substituting almonds for doughnuts as an afternoon snack.

Editors are urged to “curate” content, even when they don’t work in museums. The word’s misuse is spreading, with the New York City Ballet recently asking patrons to “curate the conversation.” Meanwhile, “authentic” has been rendered meaningless by marketers eager to join the artisanal craze, even when they don’t produce anything by hand. And “rock star” used to denote a debauched Keith Richards-type musician, and it is probably not an apt description for a top salesperson. — Greg Beaubien

Mike Greece, APR
Mike Greece, APR, a 30-year veteran of New York PR agencies, is now an independent consultant and principal of MG Integrated Marketing. He is also an adjunct professor at NYU. Email:


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