Posted on Fri 15 August 2014

Eat your own content

dogfood can

There's a term in the startup world, dogfooding, which comes from the phrase "eat your own dog food". Eating your own dog food means using your own product. Being your own customer. Understanding what you've built from your users' point of view.

Shortly before I left Buffer I read a story about a startup founder whose company died—according to him, mainly due to building something nobody on his team was dogfooding. He since moved on to building a company that sells socks—such great socks that he happily wore them every day. His new company was doing really well.

When I read this story I was reminded how important dogfooding is when you're building a product, but I also saw that the same concept applies to creating content. You should be your own reader. Your own viewer, your own listener. You should be eating your content dog food.

Thinking about the story later, I suddenly realised that I had stopped dogfooding some of my own content a while ago. Not all of it, but the content that I wasn't interested in or that didn't apply to me—mostly content about social media.

Once I finished editing those pieces and got them ready for publishing, my contact with them stopped completely. I didn't share them on Twitter, I didn't engage in the comments and I didn't even read through them after they were published. I was writing for an audience I wasn't part of, which was disrespectful to those readers, and a bad way to use my time.

Dogfooding your own content will make you a better creator for two reasons: you'll approach your content from the audience's point of view and notice what does and doesn't work, and you'll have more fun. When you enjoy creating content because it's interesting and meaningful to you as the reader, the process is more enjoyable and the resulting content is higher quality.

I sent this email to Leo the day after reading that story:

email to Leo

Not long after that, Buffer began to focus more heavily on social media content and I began to focus more on my own startup, Exist, so we parted ways. In all the freelance work I've done since, I've done my best to create content that I want to read. I've even turned down work that was focused on an audience I wasn't part of, rather than doing those readers a disservice by guessing at what their needs are.

If you're managing content for your own company, think hard (and be honest) about whether you're dogfooding your own content. Do you look forward to creating content because of what you'll learn along the way? If you have other writers, do you look forward to reading their work? Do you understand your audience because you are the audience?

If you're not dogfooding your content, it's not the end of the world. You can change the content you're creating without making a huge change. For instance, I wrote this Google Analytics post for Buffer from the perspective of what I wanted to know about it. Selfish content is often the best kind!

You can also try adjusting the content format. If you're keen on interviews or video content, give those a try. If you like reading longform posts, write some of those. You might find your audience has the same tastes you do, and you just didn't know it.

In my case, I ran out of steam for writing about social media. Forced dogfooding isn't the answer. If you really are your own customer, you won't have to force it. You'll be so excited about what you've created, and what you learned in the process, that sharing and discussing your content will come naturally.

When I said I was writing Buffer posts in four hours by the time I left, they were the posts I dogfooded—they came more easily than anything I forced myself to write.

Take author Austin Kleon's advice, and write what you want to read:

Not write what you know. Write what you like.

P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

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