Aristotle, Austen And Ethical SEO…

What do these three have in common? They all advocate building relationships by being helpful and being nice, whether you are a Victorian aunt or a digital marketer…

“I have always maintained the importance of aunts”, wrote Jane Austen in a letter to her niece.

Austen’s interest in aunts is clearly shown in her novels: aunts abound. Some are married, some are widowed, some are rich and some poor, but one thing they frequently express is their Victorian sensibility to be useful, especially the unmarried ones: “How can I be of use?”

Engage Your Inner Auntie

Once you’ve decided who your audience is, engage your goodly ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ self and ask ‘How can I be of use to this reader/audience?’

By asking this question, it bypasses confusions about how to be your ‘real’ self, which let’s face it, might takes years of therapy and a mountain of cash. And you need to write this article today!

I am an aunt, and I have good relationship with my niece. My intention, in that relationship, is to be useful, generous, kind and respectful, and of course a good laugh. It is one step removed from the intimacy of being a mother, and I am careful to act as an equal, to avoid superiority, dogma or judgment at all costs, and to remember how sophisticated she is. I really like her, so it’s not that hard.

Aristotle’s Book of Friendship

To write well I want to like my reader, and to feel they like me. Central to this is the idea that my audience is my friend. Or at least, someone I respect.

Wayne C. Booth wrote about how he saw certain favourite authors as his friends, someone he trusted and admired, who shared his values but who helped him be his better self.

Seth Godin is a good example of someone whose writing takes on the warmth, and insightful intimacy of a friendly, reliable uncle. His kudos and his brilliance help, but the egalitarian manner and generosity with which he does things have attracted and influenced a plethora of adoring Godin devotees.

In ‘Nicomachean Ethics’, Aristotle prescribes what elements are required if a friendship is to be successful. I think those rules apply well to content writing and the implied reciprocal relationship of reader and writer:

  • The Pleasurable:

Make sure your writing entertains and stimulates the reader. Pleasure in fiction instigates the active desire to move from A to B, in other words use plot and story telling. If your reader is engaged enough to get to the end you’ve succeeded. Use passion and/or emotion to engage a reader with your story, don’t be shy of using personal anecdote or experience – we all love the human narrative.

  • The Useful:

Engage your helpful self. Provide fresh information and valuable content that your reader will benefit from and make it credible and usable with properly researched proof and evidence. Be empathic, once you’ve decided upon your implied reader, think about what they might want or need, how can you help them in some way? What might they be afraid of, frustrated by? Can you comfort them?

  • The Virtuous:

It’s a loaded word, but don’t be put off. Being authentic and honest comes under this category. Try to be positivity and compassionate and if possible, retain some degree of humility. If a story touches on some human theme of value then your reader might be inspired to action because you have appealed to their better nature. Check out how Seth Godin does this in this recent post…even if the action is simply to ignore the critic!