Repurposing content isn’t fast or easy

Ever heard this one? “We’ve got all this unused material from Project X. Let’s repurpose it into articles. It’ll be easy!”

This is the equivalent of a movie studio saying “We’ve got all this footage we cut from the movie. Let’s put it together into a totally different movie. It’ll be easy!”

That second example is absurd and we all know it. So why is the first example any different?

The goal of this piece is to provide you—the diligent content marketer / editor you are—with ways to push back against repurposing requests. My hope is that you’ll be able to minimize the impact of these projects and avoid the unnecessary work and frustration they carry.

What do you mean by “repurposing”?

I have a specific definition of repurposing. I see it as the act of transforming content from one form into another form with minimal effort.

Here’s a few examples:

  • Copy/pasting blog posts into an ebook
  • Posting an unedited transcript from a webinar or podcast
  • Publishing book excerpts without custom headlines and web-appropriate formatting
  • Turning a slide deck into a blog post with limited refinement, and/or publishing articles as slide decks with little customization

Repurposing is the content equivalent of shovelware.

To be clear, repurposing content is different from creating additional content or building new content from old material. Writing a blog post to accompany a research report is a great idea. Shaping a pillar page from shorter blog posts is a useful exercise. I don’t consider these to be “repurposed” projects because they lead to the creation of new material that has purpose.

So, why is repurposing bad?

First, it’s harder than you think. Taking material built for one thing and turning it into another thing is at least as hard as creating content from scratch. In some cases, it’s harder. That’s because you’re encumbered by the material’s original purpose. It wanted to be something else. It’s hard to shake that.

Second, repurposing is insidious. At first it’ll seem easy, but the hours and frustration will mount. Only at the end will you understand the true scope of effort and cost.

Third, it lacks purpose. The content you create as a content marketer or editor must connect the dots between the needs of the audience, the value the content can offer that audience, and a natural next step that benefits the business. Content marketing doesn’t exist to fill space. It exists to have purpose, and purpose can only be crafted with forethought and careful execution.

Fourth, repurposing is the perpetuation of mediocrity. I believe most people want to do good work and create things they’re proud of. No one has ever been filled with pride after copying and pasting thousands of words from one format to another. Uninspired work from uninspired people leads to an uninspired business.

What to do instead

Saying “what’s wrong with you people?” to colleagues and leadership can end poorly. Saying “how about this?” is more productive.

When presented with a repurposing request, consider the following polite alternatives.

Ask about outcomes

See if you can understand why folks are so interested in repurposing the material. Maybe there’s an underlying goal that could be better achieved with a different approach.

Related: Use your content strategy to evaluate outcomes. If a repurposing request will block projects that are already mapped to your content strategy (which itself is mapped to company goals), it’s easier to push back. Or, in the rare case when repurposing aligns with your strategy, you’ll discover a new and unexpected opportunity.

Mine the content for story ideas

Ask for time to evaluate the content. Perhaps there’s a nugget or a gem or another small and hidden thing of value that’ll inspire a new piece of content that connects to your strategy and is worth creating.

Emphasize quality over quantity and back it up with research

Google kicked content farms in the shins many years ago, and for good reason. Low-quality content doesn’t help anyone. Most people have figured that out, so round up usage studies, best practices, and your own internal metrics to emphasize the importance of quality-driven content. The goal here is to reduce the subjective through research (this is a great insight I picked up from John Bennett).

Propose an experiment

If you must repurpose (sorry), try to minimize the impact by suggesting a time-limited experiment. Define a goal for the experiment and figure out how you’ll assess it. Then track the results and report back on your findings. If the content doesn’t perform, you’ll give people the chance to reach that conclusion on their own. And if it does perform, you’ll have a proven tactic to add to your content strategy.

One last thing

If you have experience repurposing content you probably have some harsh thoughts about it. Those harsh thoughts may disproportionately shape your response to new repurposing projects. Put that aside if you can. The people making these requests haven’t repurposed material. They don’t know how problematic it can be. Try to keep that in mind as you redirect their energy toward more productive paths.