The question of whether or not to repurpose content has surfaced, and resurfaced (pun intended), a number of times in the digital sphere. The biggest concern lies in the fear that little to no initiative or originality goes into repurposing old content. According to Chris Brogan, marketing genius and author, the act of content repurposing is a sign of laziness.
A quick history leading up to content repurposing
At first glance, it doesn’t inspire much dialogue. In unpacking the grandiose act of repurposing old content, it is best to establish the proper meaning of the term.
Let’s go back in time. To be more precise, let’s go to 28 September, 1928.
It’s a cold Friday morning in London. Alexander Fleming, scientist extraordinaire, is busy cleaning out petri dishes he had been using to test the effects of bacteria on. However, in cleaning his work station, he finds a spot of mold growth, around which there is no evidence of bacteria.
This was the birth of penicillin. Eventually it would become a range of antibacterial drugs, and a metaphorical pot of gold for pharmaceutical companies the world over.
Fast forward to 1954 and we find the interesting story of Teflon. Back in 1938, Roy Plunkett made an accidental discovery when he cut open a canister of tetrafluoroethylene, only to find that the gas had reacted with the iron in the canister’s shell and created polymerized polytetrafluoroethylene. While DuPont laboratories knew this waxy, water-repellent, non-stick substance had to be useful, it wasn’t until the wife of French engineer, Marc Grégoire, asked her husband to coat her cookware with this amazing PTFE that it’s true use had been discovered.
While the Kellogg-brothers observed that wheat off-cuts and leftovers would lead to corn flakes, naval engineer Richard T. James, found that the springs used to stabilize sensitive maritime equipment made a fun toy, which was eventually called the Slinky.
For those who dislike history, you can read on from here.
What exactly is content repurposing?
The accidental discoveries mentioned above, are prime examples of the most basic repurposing of material. They may not have been intentional, but each discovery was still finding a new purpose for something which previously had an entirely different purpose, or had been rendered purposeless. So, in bringing it back to the technological age, where well-written evergreen content suddenly has value, you have to be able to spot an opportunity.
I completely agree that punting old, unaltered content, does not show much inventiveness, or even resourcefulness. While Ted Rubin, a leading social marketing strategist, believes that “if your content is good, you should be able to ride it until the wheels come off,” I am sure he didn’t mean basic repeating of content.
In the manufacturing world, repurposing means that an item had undergone some change, or had at least been removed from a completed product and become a product on its own. By this measure it would be safe to say that taking old content and effectively turning it into new content, is content repurposing. Seeing an opportunity to rework content, is definitely not an indication of laziness. It is brazen initiative. More often than not, it is also memorable.
One might even go as far as viewing the resizing of current content as repurposing. This would mean turning a longer piece into smaller bits and sending it out on platforms where content consumption is faster and more demanding.
In the same vein, even adding a backlink and redirecting traffic to old content that is still relevant could also be seen as repurposing old content. But don’t ever copy, paste and repost. That is just lazy. And you WILL be found out.
An example in newsjacking
I have found the best examples of repurposing coming up during successful newsjacking efforts. For those who don’t know, newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story to elegantly promote your content or your ideas. This can obviously backfire if done too hastily or too blatantly.
Here is a hypothetical scenario to illustrate what would be good repurposing of content:
Looking at the picture, let’s assume the burger on display was prepared and photographed long before the thought of Trump running for President had even entered into anyone’s mind. It wasn’t, but play along for the sake of making a point.
Let’s further assume that this content was initially intended for a campaign to promote Gourmet Burger Kitchen’s biggest burger ever or its first rump burger. And then Trump happened. Someone in the marketing department sees the play between rump and Trump, and they jump on it.
If this had been the case (and I’m sure it was not the case), would it have been any less effective or any less brilliant? Most certainly not! While still marketing the same company in a similar manner, the content has been completely repurposed. It worked because it was current, tongue-in-cheek and catchy.
In 1996 Bill Gates had the insight to say, “Content is king.” That statement has proved to be true many times over. Content turns into lead generation, which, if used accurately, turns into sales. Reworked old content can be used (or reused) to lead a potential customer down the sales funnel.
So, if content really is king, does it not make sense to put as much effort into repurposing content as you did in creating it the first time around? In this manner, content repurposing is definitely a good idea.
In a content-driven age where speed to market is of paramount importance, there is a huge advantage in out-of-the-box thinking. The one who spots an opportunity in repurposing old content successfully will be worth his or her weight in gold.