Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don't keep yourself DRY; be REAL instead

If you look up DRY in Google you'll probably get as a first result the Wikipedia entry for:

Don't Repeat Yourself

"Every piece of knowledge must have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system."

It's an excellent principle for software development and comes from an awesome book called The Pragmatic Programmer that I highly recommend to anyone in the software industry.

But a problem with this principle for developers and non-developers alike is that people (even unwittingly) apply it to all situations in their life.

They decide they should never repeat themselves or anyone else.

If they've already written a blog post about a topic, the topic is dead. If someone else has attacked a problem with a business, there's no way they can can start a business to handle the same problem.

I want to specifically tackle the teaching/written aspect today. I see a lot of bloggers write once and then give up on the topic. Like it's a dead issue now to them and their readers.

Sure a minority of an audience can get a little cranky when they want more material and to be learning something new (see the 37signals example below). But a huge part of an audience needs to keep hearing a message continually. There's all sorts of evidence as to why you should be considering exploring the same topics over and over.

Look at this example from Richard Feynman

That's a perfect example of how one person gets a message by being told about it a certain way, and someone needs something else.

Another common "stat" brought up is how someone needs to see an ad or a message 7-9 times before they can recall it or are aware of it. I can't find where this type of research originated, but check out this recent study done by Nielsen and Facebook:

"Taking the look at organic impressions one step further, recall, awareness and purchase intent were still rising after 10 or more exposures to the message. These results stand in strong contrast to the scant four impressions that usually influence growth in these dimensions for standard display campaigns. What’s more, the jump in awareness between the consumers who were exposed to between three and nine organic messages and those were exposed to 10 or more was a considerable 15 points."

Awareness about a brand jumped from 13% to 28% when someone was exposed to a message 10 or more times on Facebook.

Now that's advertising, and just goes to show you how inundated we are with marketing and noise.

But I bet it's a similar problem just trying to get teaching across.

You want to blog about something you think can make your readers lives better? You are competing against all the other information they are churning through all day. So I suspect your luck in making them aware of your message is about on par with how often someone needs to advertise to someone on Facebook before someone is even aware that they exist.

Now here are a couple examples of how some folks benefit by repeating themselves.


They've just launched a best selling book Rework. It so happens that Rework is pretty much a polished up retelling of stuff they've been blogging and speaking about for years. Sure, a minority of folks are disappointed, but they do already have a ton of messages that ring very true and are very useful for a lot more people in this world who has never heard of them. Here's their take (a podcast) on that criticism.

They repeat themselves constantly. And it works. New audience members and old, get their messages. Their messages are even more polished than they were before. New analogies are found. New ways of pitching an idea are found.

Tim Ash

Tim is an expert at website optimization. He's even written a very well reviewed book on the subject.

I've recently seen two articles pop up from Tim: one on the ClickZ website and one in Website Magazine.

They're both about Influence and what he's learned from Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. as well as his own experiences. And if you read them you'll see that there is some duplicate content in the articles, but they aren't identical.

And why shouldn't he do this? I'm probably the only one who even noticed this. Especially if it's a message he feels is worth spreading to more people who haven't seen it.

So next time you're blogging, writing, or thinking about reaching an audience. Don't sweat repeating yourself. If you have some opinions or beliefs go out and share them even if you feel like you've shared them before. At some point and for some parts of your audience, you are probably going to feel you need to polish and find new ways of teaching that message like Feynman discovered, but just because the core of the message remains the same shouldn't stop you from revisiting the topic.

As a teacher, as a blogger, as a speaker, as someone who is trying to grow an audience, don't keep yourself DRY but keep it REAL.

What does REAL stand for? This is where I had some trouble. I wanted to find a kick ass acronym and I don't think I'm good at this exercise.

Repeat Everything Awesome and Legendary? :)

Anyone have anything better for an acronym? Was trying to play with WARM. Wisdom Always Repeats ... ummm Meatballs. Or WET?

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