On Re-Using Content

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Creating valuable content is hard. Producing it reliably is even more challenging. Many creators are holding themselves back by believing that they need to create original work at all times. They think that re-using content is a cardinal sin.

I believe differently. There is incredible value in re-using your content.

There is a misunderstanding of what makes content valuable among many people building in public. By focusing only on originality, they miss the equally important but often neglected concepts of accessibility and timing.

If you want your content to have the highest possible impact, you should give accessibility and timing more consideration.

Content Accessibility

What good is a piece of content if the people it’s meant for can’t consume it? When I started the Bootstrapped Founder blog, I focused exclusively on written articles. Over time, more and more people flocked to the blog, and the number of people reaching out about alternative formats increased.

Some people don’t have the time to read your long-form content because they’re juggling their day job, side business efforts, and family life. Others are visually impaired or dyslexic. You can make your content accessible to these potential readers by moving it to another format.

After receiving a handful of those messages, I decided to turn my weekly blog post into a podcast. After writing the article, I record myself reading it aloud. With a short intro and an outro, that’s all I need to do to make my writing accessible every week. It may take me maybe twenty minutes of editing, but it’s absolutely worth it.

It doesn’t even have to be a different format to be more accessible; it could just be the distribution channel. Initially, I wrote blog posts exclusively. I release my article as a newsletter every week. It’s the same text, but it’s delivered to my readers instead of them having to visit my blog. The act of creating the newsletter isn’t even a five-minute deal: I can use my article verbatim and wrap it into a headline and a few lines of an outro.

The Flywheel Effect

It doesn’t even take me thirty minutes to turn my blog posts into a newsletter and a podcast episode each week. From one piece of content spring three distinct pieces with different audiences. This gives me a fantastic opportunity: I can build a flywheel.

Each blog post includes a link to the newsletter signup page and an embedded player for the podcast episode. Every podcast episode links to the blog post in the show notes and also allows people to sign up for the newsletter. Every newsletter episode has a link to the podcast episode and the blog.

Cross-linking your content variations will do a few things:

  • Cross-linked content allows people who have different preferences to find alternative, more easily-consumed versions of your work. Providing options increases your conversion. It also makes your content innately shareable in a medium that the consumer prefers.
  • Cross-linked content diversifies and cements your audience. The more people you can get to join your owned audience (such as an email list), the better. If you write on a platform like Medium or Twitter where a company has full control over your account and visibility, allowing people to connect with you directly is critical.
  • Cross-linked content gains noticeable SEO benefits from having links to your projects on high-authority websites such as podcast hosting platforms. The more Search Engines know about the connectedness of your content, the easier it will be found by those looking for it.

Good content is accessible. Now that we’ve figured out the “how,” let’s look into the “when.”

Content Timing

Where a lack of accessibility makes content hard to consume due to certain limitations, being exposed to the right content at the wrong time is similarly problematic. Imagine you write an in-depth article about how to publish a book, but the person reading it hasn’t even written the first line of their manuscript yet. They’ll need the insight from your work eventually, just not now.

Everyone is at a different stage of their journey. Whatever you create will resonate strongly with some and less with others. But that’s not a quality problem or one of not being original enough. The problem is that you “spoke too soon.”

The problem of not being able to time the release of your content perfectly for everyone has an easy solution: repeat yourself. When you write content that works best for any particular stage of the professional journey, post the piece of content again a few months later.

The risk of sharing your work over and over is reaching a point of saturation. Some people who have advanced past a certain level of skill might feel like you’re not talking to them anymore.

I saw this a few weeks ago. Florin Pop, a developer, teaching other developers how to make money from their craft, pondered publicly if Tech Twitter is dying after seeing a drop in activity and engagement with his sizable Twitter audience. I believe he is witnessing what can be called “Audience Graduation,” the process of his initial audience outgrowing the content he produces. Once you have taught everything you know, and your audience has absorbed it, you either need to find a fresh audience or change to cater to your existing audience’s new needs.

While this is a long-term problem, you’ll need to keep this in mind when picking the themes and topics for your work. Audience Graduation is a “champaign problem:” you’ll be glad to have it because it indicates that you have succeeded in building a sizable audience. It’s a problem nonetheless, and you should prepare for it.

Curation: re-using other people’s content

So far, we have only talked about your own written content. But there is so much more. Originality isn’t limited to creating something from nothing. You can also use other people’s content in an original way. Here are a few ways of adding value to someone else’s work:

  • Contextualization. Let’s take Florin’s tweet about his engagement problem. You can share it with commentary, adding your opinion on why he’s experienced this issue, pulling in similar tweets by other accounts, or linking to an article that deals with shifting audiences. You enrich the content with your own thoughts and insights, thus creating original content. Debunking an article can work the same way.
  • Summarization. If you read a long-form article in an online magazine, chances are you can distill it into a list of a dozen insights. That list is valuable, allowing interested readers to discern if they should spend half an hour reading the whole thing. You can become a trusted source of condensing knowledge. That much denser information is original content.
  • Recommendation. With all the social media noise, it’s hard to know what to consume and what to skip. Curating interesting resources, either by providing additional context or a quick summary, can be a viable way of creating content for your audience. You can even turn this into an info product eventually.

As long as you add value, it’s perfectly fine to use other people’s work.

Re-Using Content Involving You

Finally, there is an interesting in-between type of content that you can leverage: content with and about you, created by others. Be it a shoutout on Twitter, a short interview on a blog, or a fully-fledged podcast episode, anything that involves you will undoubtedly be attractive to your audience.

I have a list of all the podcast episodes I ever appeared in on my blog. Whenever a new one comes out, I heavily feature it on my social stream and add it to the list. Provided that the host agrees, I can even rebroadcast the episodes on my own show. This is advertising for the other podcast, and it brings some diversity to my show.

In the same vein, I have turned a lot of conversations on Twitter into articles and podcast episodes. Often, those conversations sparked a certain topic to stay on my mind for a few days to finally result in an essay on the issue. In the same flywheel-like way, this results in three pieces of content that spark further discussions on the subject, which leads to more ideas for content.

Creating original content is great, but it’s not the only way to provide value to your audience. By allowing for accessibility, understanding that different people need to learn about things at different times, and re-using content made by other creators, you can generate immense value for those who are listening to you.

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