Table of Contents
This is the second part of our series about digital literacy and the mastery of creating content online. You can read part 1 here.
What is digital literacy?
As we discussed last week, digital literacy has three dimensions: Cognitive, Technical, and Social-Emotional. Within those dimensions are concepts such as Finding, Understanding, Evaluating, Creating, and Communicating. We’re currently talking about the fourth of these concepts, Creating.
The social/emotional dynamics of creating content
Creating content can be an emotionally fraught experience. You pour your heart into a project. You polish it until it's the best it can possibly be. You hit the publish button and then…nothing. No views. No likes. No comments. Faced with deafening silence, it’s easy to give into despair. or to assume that you must’ve messed up somehow and are in urgent need of a course correction.
In situations like this it’s important to take a step back and gain some perspective. The truth is every content creator has their New Coke moments. But that doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel or immediately change direction. Reacting impulsively is a great way to make terrible decisions.
This Fundeavour article is a great read when you’re faced with a slump. They talked to some of the leading content creators in the video game space about how they deal with dry spells. Notably, many of them emphasized the importance of being yourself rather than trying to chase the latest trends. Take VaatiVidya, for example. At first glance, one might not expect his content to be popular. His videos are often long, and they delve into the lore of games made by From Software, a studio known for its subtle and esoteric storytelling. Yet he currently has 2.73 million subscribers on YouTube and his Patreon has over 1,600 members. He’s clearly doing something right.
While silence from your audience can be disheartening, getting feedback can sometimes be just as frustrating. Negative comments often feel like a punch in the gut even when they’re delivered with all the tact and sensitivity in the world. But as my colleague Jason pointed out, you’re not obliged to accept every piece of feedback, no matter how valid it may be. Person A might tell you they wish your content was longer, but if you immediately start churning out 5,000 word behemoths, you may get a message from Person B complaining about the endless walls of text!
Ethical considerations in digital content creation
The ethical aspect of content creation often feels like it’s overlooked, but it’s absolutely vital, particularly if you’re hoping to create authoritative content. Given the pressures of content creation, it can be tempting to cut corners and use click-bait sources or ‘borrow’ other people’s arguments without proper credit. But the long-term damage you’ll do to your personal brand far outweighs any short-term benefits. Trustworthiness is essential when it comes to authoritative content because readers aren’t just looking for a quick diversion–they’re looking to learn something. Moreover, they want to learn from someone who is capable of adding genuine value by providing their own unique insights. Articles filled with regurgitated facts are a dime a dozen on the Web, but genuine insight is far less common.
Writing on LinkedIn, Aisha Butt offers the following tips for producing ethical content:
- Verify your sources
- Avoid sensationalism
- Engage in meaningful dialogue with your audience
It’s also a good idea to ensure that you aren’t plagiarizing content. As you probably learned in school, plagiarism is when you take someone else’s work or ideas and claim them as your own. While plagiarism is often discussed in an academic context, it’s something that all content creators need to be mindful of. Bear in mind that incorporating others’ ideas into your work without attribution is considered plagiarism even if you’re expressing them in your own words. You don’t need a citation if you’re referencing something that’s common knowledge.
This isn’t just a moral issue–infringing someone’s copyright can put you in serious legal jeopardy. Kent State University’s Division of Information Technology provides a helpful overview, but the gist is that people found liable for civil copyright infringement in the US may face damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed. Criminal copyright infringement, on the other hand, could result in jail time and/or a fine of up to $250,000 per offense.
US law does allow creators to use copyrighted material in certain situations, a doctrine known as ‘fair use.’ As the Copyright Office explains, this protects the use of “limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports.” California State University San Marcos has a list of tools that can help you determine whether you’re staying within the limits of fair use. Note, however, that fair use isn’t just a question of quantity, and the circumstances of each case ultimately determine whether or not there has been copyright infringement.
Putting theory into practice
Let’s say you’re a journalist writing an article about Baldur’s Gate III. You mention that the game was developed by Larian Studios, but you don’t need to cite a reference for that since it’s a widely known fact. It didn’t come to light as a result of someone else’s research. But let’s say you want to mention another journalist’s take on the game. That would require a citation because you’re drawing on someone else’s unique work. This is true even if you aren’t quoting them. If you’re incorporating material they’ve created, you should cite their work.
Bear in mind that citing others’ work doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use the kind of footnotes or parenthetical references that you learned about in school (though many content management systems do support this functionality). Giving them a shout-out in the text (“As Jane Doe of BigSeriousGamers.com observed…”) with a hyperlink to the original source is often sufficient.
Best practices and strategies for effective content creation
Of course, quality is also an important part of content creation.You want to make sure that you’re providing your readers with genuinely valuable information that is a comprehensive treatment of the subject. You also want to make sure your prose is polished and doesn’t look like your cat walked across the keyboard.
Telling a story is also a good idea. Storytelling is a great way to make abstract ideas more comprehensible and simplify complexity. It doesn’t have to involve unicorns or eldritch horrors. Consider Warby Parker’s history page. Emphasizing a relatable anecdote from the life of one of their founders establishes an element of relatability and humanity. Asking yourself questions like Who? Why? and How? can help you craft a compelling narrative. Studies have also shown that narratives with emotional content can instill feelings of empathy in readers, while reading different genres can impact our mood. This means that, if you center a piece around a happy story, it can actually make your readers feel happy as well. Being mindful of the ways in which your work can influence your readers can help you tell better, more impactful stories.
We’re living in an age when, for the first time in human history, almost anyone can create content and make it available to a wider audience. It’s a world where a game review written by an avid cRPG fan from Boise can have a reach that rivals that of traditional journalists. It’s a world of tremendous opportunities, but one that requires care and attention to navigate successfully. There will be times when it feels like you’re a solitary voice in a vast, empty cavern. It’ll be tempting to change tack or resort to cheap gimmicks, but you’re better off staying the course. Always create with integrity. Give credit where it’s due, and don’t assume that virality is the only metric worth pursuing. If readers know you produce trustworthy, high-quality content, they’ll reward you for it.