January 19, 2012 - When we sign a contract for content work – whether it’s working with a client as a consultant or accepting a position within a large company – we do so with the expectation of deliverables. They are the things we make. They are often a symbol of milestone completion, or quarterly goal. They are CONCRETE. They are LAW.
But that’s not really what we’re doing, is it? We’re not handing over documents – we’re handing over the keys to a very large vehicle, and our biggest hope is that the people we hand it over to can drive it safely.
Content Strategy Begins at Launch
Content strategy is not about the content as much as it’s about the content-makers, teaching those who will carry the flag long after our leg of the march has passed. As we learned over and over again at last year’s Confab, this is a field of organizational change. The templates and aggregators will stand without us, but the passion will not.
Passion isn’t often passed around in the content strategy circles, but it should be. When we as editors and consultants and architects take on a project, we do so not to construct the project ourselves, but to share our knowledge. We may take the first steps; we write the first about page, or we reword a paragraph, or we suggest a new location for the news feed. But when we’re gone, we’re gone.
It’s this handoff that we plan for. The goal of any content strategy project is to create a better experience for the user. But it is also to instill our clients and companies with the passion and confidence to create their own content.
Client Work, Thy Name is Empathy
It’s important that we learn early on in our careers that the youthful arrogance that comes from being a beginner – the notion that we are now officially a .Net developer or web designer or information architect and we are in a position to inform and advise – is fleeting. Our professional beginnings are spent learning from those above us, meaning we have little with which to define us. We need to find ways to separate ourselves from the common folk. We look down our nose. We assume our clients are dumb.
The faster this goes away, the faster we can start doing the real work: understanding and embracing the needs of our clients and organizations.
In other words, the most important thing we can develop as professionals isn’t a perfect template, or a revolutionary card sort method. Instead, we’re charged to work with empathy, snaking through the objections to present a better environment for organizational change, which in turn will help us create editorial change.
Re-learning to Write
Most people – even those who do it for a living – are very self conscious about their writing and creativity, and this self-consciousness seeps into even the most simple of projects. The people we’re hired to help are no different.
“I’ve never been a good writer, so this probably isn’t that good.”
“Oh, ha ha, well, YOU’RE the expert here, so you’ll come up with something brilliant!”
“Don’t mind the copy – it’s just something I threw together quickly.”
These aren’t problems. These are symptoms. They are cop-outs. Either the wrong person is writing content, or that the right person is writing, but that person has no confidence.
This is when we spring into action.
Writing for the web isn’t creative – it’s a science. It requires practice. It requires time. It could be helped by a degree in English, but it doesn’t necessarily require knowledge of James Joyce. It requires understanding which words are useless, and it requires knowing who your audience is.
What we’re hired to do is consult our clients or companies on not only what should be on the website or in that email, but also to take those decisions on as their own. We’re not here to assume the client is a dummy, but to find the right writers and push that client out of the next. “Fly, friends, fly,” we say. “You can do it on your own.”
It’s the only way. As content strategists, we provide the tools. But can not always be around to remind them how those tools function. That takes organizational change, acceptance and confidence.
Begin the Begin
From the first meeting to the last deliverable, our overall message should be two-fold: “Message matters,” and “You can do it.”
Eventually, every great organization is governed by its people. Let’s never forget that content is the same way.