Recycled blog content. God says “NO”!

October 1, 2013 •
God says no to recycled content marketing

Would you sit through last week’s church sermon again? No? Then why make your readers do it?

One of the most common cries from content marketers is “recycle old content.” “It saves you time,” they say. “It’ll help you become part of the conversation,” they say.

I say otherwise. And so does my good mate, Anglican Lay Preacher and relationship counsellor, Greg Colby. (Alright, you got me. He’s not God, exactly. But he’s a big man, with a big voice, and he IS a preacher. That’s close enough isn’t it? 😉

All blasphemy aside, men (and women) of the cloth have been doing content marketing for more than 2,000 years! So if anyone knows how to keep it fresh, they do.

Today Greg shares a few of his secrets with us…

Question 1: Greg, how many sermons have you given in your time?

I’ve been preaching sermons on an off again since 1986. As a lay preacher I get to preach probably once per month, and there have been times where I’ve had to come up with a sermon every week for a few months. So let’s call it 200 sermons and about 100 reflections or meditations for different groups I’ve led over the years.

Question 2: Do you find it hard to come up with something new / original / thought-provoking each time?

In one sense, yes. Although the range of areas in life that theology speaks to could be seen as limitless, it is hard to come up with something new and interesting each time I speak. There is an old church joke that says the point to any sermon can be condensed to ‘God’, ‘Jesus’ or ‘the Bible’, and every sermon is a variation on those themes. The way I have approached sermon writing each time is to look for the ‘touch point’ – that aspect of the scripture reading I’m preaching on that speaks loudest to me… If it matters to me, its very likely it matters to someone else as well. It’s easier to speak passionately about something that matters, rather than just waffling for the sake of filling 20 minutes between hymns! It is vital that some time be spent in teasing out that ‘touch point’, researching how it might impact others and what ‘authorities’ have to say about the topic. In the case of preaching, the authority is the bible, or perhaps reading about what other theologians have had to say. Just sitting down and trying to write doesn’t usually bear much fruit. The 5 Ps are still important (Prior Preparation Preventing Poor Performance).

Question 3: I read a post today that said recycling content is about, “…taking existing content and adding to it to create something slightly new. For SEO reasons…” To me, this is a ridiculous approach. The only reason they’re not simply duplicating old stuff is SEO! The author went on to say, “Recycling content makes it easier to supply all the different channels you have to fill…” Do you ever just recycle content from a previous sermon? Do you ever just fill the gap?

The temptation to recycle is always there. I do know preachers who have been in ministry for many years who have a file of sermons that they just regurgitate every three years (the cycle of readings through the bible in the church calendar). Their theory is that no one really recalls their sermons anyway! And whilst that may be true, you can hardly present with as much passion something that is just a re-hash. Something that is fresh and real for today’s audience or congregation will result in a far better presentation. I sometimes use the same examples – but I try to ensure that I point out ‘as I’ve said in other sermons…” Because really, congregations aren’t dumb, people know when you’re giving fresh ideas and when you’re not.

Question 4: How do you keep your sermons fresh and engaging? How do you keep people coming back?

I try to relate what I say to today’s world and to today’s important issues. I try to ensure that at the end of my sermon, people have heard how what happened 2,000, or in some cases 4000 years ago, is still relevant to our lives today. I also like to tell personal stories. People love to know how my life has been impacted by what I’ve read and researched, how knowing what I know and believing what I believe has changed my life or made it richer and more fulfilling. In Real Estate it’s all about Location, Location, Location. In sermons its all about Relating, Relating, Relating; if there is no point of connection with the hearer, they turn off pretty quick and start updating Facebook instead of listening to me!

Question 5: Anything else you’d like to mention?

The real joy of delivering a sermon, for me, is articulating in language that connects, what to many people can seem to be the mysterious and difficult to understand themes of the bible, so they go home feeling they have a point of relationship with God and the text of scripture, or an understanding that they didn’t before.

A final word from Glenn…

Firstly, a quick thanks to Greg. He’s a busy man, and I appreciate his time.

Secondly, I wanted to reiterate his closing point from question 3: “…people know when you’re giving fresh ideas and when you’re not.” You may think you’re fooling people with recycled content, but you’re only fooling yourself. They may not unsubscribe (yet), but it won’t be long before they relegate you to the ‘Read If You Have Time’ basket. You want them to look forward to your content, not to approach each post with a vague sense of Déjà vu.

Feel free to comment...
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Gary Matthews wrote on October 1st, 2013

Bravo, Glenn! You often say what I'm thinking, and now you've gone and done it again. Recycling is just lazy "writing". As long as the world keeps changing, writers will always have new stuff to write about. Plus, writing should be fun, and regurgitating something old isn't fun!

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Glenn Murray wrote on October 1st, 2013

I think you've hit the nail on the head, from a writer's point of view, Gary. Nothing worse than having to 're-purpose' stuff. (Especially if it was shite to begin with!)

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Greg Colby wrote on October 1st, 2013

I really enjoyed the opportunity to be interviewed for this article Glen, it reminded me of satisfaction I get each time i do write an original sermon adn it hits home with people! You mighnt liek to check out what some 'real' ministers do and how much time they spend, when they are preparing their sermons! http://www.pastoralized.com/2013/09/26/the-number-of-hours-keller-piper-driscoll-and-5-others-spend-on-sermon-prep/

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Glenn Murray wrote on October 1st, 2013

As usual, Greg, a pleasure to have you. Not in the biblical sense, of course. You're too hairy for my liking! ;-)

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Sarah Mitchell wrote on October 1st, 2013

Hi Glenn, The point that jumped out at me was the same one you used in your summary, “…people know when you’re giving fresh ideas and when you’re not.” Greg goes on to say his goal is to provide relevance and you can't do that if you're recycling content. I think where a lot of content marketers go wrong is confusing recycling with repurposing. It's a great idea to use research or content developed for one medium and repurpose it for another. For example, if you've written a 15-page white paper, by all means develop the main themes into blog posts. Take a blog post and use the information to create an infographic. Make a podcast out of a presentation. Create a YouTube video of a presentation you did. This is how you extend the life of your content and gain new audiences. Throwing the same, tired rehash at your audience is not content marketing, it's lazy marketing (and stupid). Thanks for the great post and insight from someone who is continually challenged to find new relevance in familiar content.

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Glenn Murray wrote on October 2nd, 2013

I agree, Sarah. There's definitely more legs in re-purposing than recycling. But even there, you have to be careful. If it's the same audience, they probably won't think much of you if you flat-out turn a blog post into an infographic, for instance, or a preso into a podcast. I'd only do that if it adds value to the same audience. EXPANDING on points previously made, on the other hand, is a great idea.

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Sarah Mitchell wrote on October 2nd, 2013

Ha! I would argue if you have the same audience on every channel, why bother to have multiple channels? But that's another post. And, yes, shaping the content to fit the medium is really important. Sometimes that means expanding and sometimes it means contracting. It could also mean using images instead of text or using sound instead of words. There's a lot of ways to repurpose and make it interesting as long as you don't recycle the same old thing.

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Glenn Murray wrote on October 2nd, 2013

Oh I didn't realise you were talking about different channels. If there's very little overlap in channels (e.g. email list vs Twitter followers), then I think recycling would be fine. I was assuming we were talking about the same (albeit growing) audience...

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Sarah Mitchell wrote on October 2nd, 2013

Now I'm depressed. The thought of recycling the same content in the same channel wears me out. I think marketers - and content marketers in particular - show a complete lack of respect for their audience when they do this. That's not to say we can't reiterate the same messages; of course we can and it often makes sense to do this. But I would like to see a stronger commitment to the content part and less focus on the marketing part of content marketing.

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Glenn Murray wrote on October 2nd, 2013

Grrr. Just re-read my previous comment. Not at all clear. What I meant was it's fine to recycle old content so long as it's going to a (mostly or entirely) new audience. Never to the same audience.

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