In the wake of coronavirus, I want to talk about two types of viruses that I think are at odds with one another. One attacks the immune system, the other attaches itself to human enthusiasm.

I don’t know if I had coronavirus in February but I had something pretty nasty. Good thing I don’t have to read you my emails in person.

We – internet-savvy knowledge workers of some kind – have a huge advantage: because we’re used to working with each other remotely through the Internet.

As we read about the millions of people around the world testing the waters of telecommuting for the first time we should be grateful we have this skill.

Though I think it’s still far too underdeveloped in most of us.

Coronavirus isn’t nearly as murderous as was the Spanish flu of 1919, the first H1N1 virus, or its 2009 cousin, swine flu. The Spanish flu took the life of my great aunt Letitia at the tender age of 23. In fact, in the US and many countries around the world, everybody knew someone who died. In the US, it took the life of about one in every 150 people – adjusting for the current population it would be as if 2.2 million US-American lives were claimed today.

That’s not going to happen with the, apparently, much less lethal coronavirus. But it may certainly infect that many people – or more.

I  thought about all this over the past few weeks, as I lay bedridden  wondering if I’d somehow contracted coronavirus. As I slowly started to come back to life this past week, I read some good articles on the subject, including Seth Godin’s Thoughts on a virus and Philip Morgan’s Resilience.

In the latter article, Philip makes the case for remote work as the antidote to contagion:

I enjoy some amount of travel, but I’d feel like I’m doing something wrong if I had to travel more than a half-dozen times a year for client work. This is a case where I’ve let me personal preferences set a constraint that dictates how I design my business.

As a result, I’ve worked steadily for years now to figure out how to deliver remote, online experiences for my clients that are really valuable in their own right. 

The half dozen metric feels about right for me too, maybe a dozen tops. But he also makes the flip side pretty clear in discussing recent in-person work-related experiences:

I got to experience the flip side: in-person engagement. It was eye-opening. The potential richness and impact of in-person experiences is profound, and I can see how it’s not a fungible thing.

For me, in-person is not so new because I did quite a bit of it as a consultant at Blackbaud. I did gradually less and less while I co-owned my own firm but I still traveled to conferences quite a bit.

The takeaway here is that, yes, in-person interaction is irreplicável, as the Portuguese say. Ideas develop more easily when you are sitting next to someone. But in keeping with the idea of different but not necessarily worse (sauna/beach, beyond-burger/hamburger, etc), running a remote business can also be better than an in-person at delivering value.

From here there are about 1 to 10 more takeaways but here’s the one I think matters most, the hammer I always like to hit you with, dear reader: content marketing.

The Content Marketing Virus

The other stuff is incredibly important. A non-definitive list of how to achieve “remote excellence” includes:

  • Minimum viable (semi-)automated tech stack, providing self-service trials, demos, meeting-bookings, payments, etc.
  • Clarity/quality of voice and video. You might actually get more facetime through a high quality video call than through in-person meetings
  • A professional yet idiosyncratic workspace environment
  • Thorough and authentic testimonials
  • Polished and coherent copy across your website, LinkedIn, and the web
  • Clearly articulated brand purpose – vision, mission, values.

All of these things have to be better for us to thrive in the coronavirus era. 

But highly personal content marketing is the crown jewel of building trust remotely. What does this person really think? What is their opinion and how do they put it into words? Writing is the foundation and voice (eg. podcasting) is how you build on it – one of the reasons I have been working on producing an audio version of this newsletter.

The pushback I usually get is, “I’m not a writer”, “I can’t write”, or “I’m not a good writer”.

But you don’t have to be a good writer (and you can’t be, anyway, without practicing by publishing your writing; chicken and egg). What you do have to be is effortful. When I took a studio drawing class from artist Carrie O’Coyle, she taught us the art of the critique. She repeatedly made this point: if the painter or draftsperson puts significant effort into what she draws, there will always be something to critique, no matter how little technical ability she may at-present have.

In other words, some value will always be created through effort.

So it is with content marketing: what matters first is effort, not talent. But effort is hard to muster when your health is compromised. Take Seth’s advice and take calm precautions against COVID-19, Philip’s advice and cultivate delivering value remotely, and my 2 cents: try to infect yourself with the content marketing virus – you will benefit from it when the coronavirus is but a distant memory.

To your health,