What are 3 resources that help you keep up with current thinking on content strategy?
I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Medium, mostly when I’m commuting or switching gears at work. So many of my industry colleagues are great writers, and love to write, so there are fantastic articles out there to be found about UX, the web and content strategy. I especially love “Write Like a Human” or Facebook Design’s publications on Medium. UX Booth is also a great resource for industry trends and relevant perspectives.
Describe a typical workday:
There are usually a lot of meetings. I’m the first in-product content strategist to be at Adobe, and one of my big tasks is to start a practice from scratch, so I spend a lot of time time doing meta-work — explaining content strategy, how it intersects with design, and how it diverges. And because it’s brand-new here, there’s a lot of demand, even though there’s just one of me (for now!). I do have to say “no” a lot.
But, in an effort to turn that into a “yes, and…” and still build some visibility within this huge company, I started weekly content strategy office hours. So if it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, you can probably find me in a booth in the cafeteria meeting with designers and product managers and advising about the language they’re using in their product. I don’t have the time or capacity to do a lot of tactical work there, but I try to advise where I can.
What led you to this field and what do you like best about what you do?
I started my career in digital marketing — planning strategies for and and executing upon social media campaigns for clients at a little agency in the midwest. While I loved the editorial aspects of what I was doing, the marketing work didn’t speak to me. It’s a noble profession, but personally, I felt like my goals were sometimes at odds with the user, whose needs and experiences should be paramount.
I started looking seriously at UX and product content strategy, which felt like a better fit for me. I was suddenly thinking about terminology in interfaces, language systems, taxonomies, information architectures and other messages rather than the very marketing-driven messaging I was before. There’s a lot of amazing work to be done on the marketing side of the aisle, but I realized it just wasn’t for me.
I love that I can build systems and virtual experiences using words and ideas like designers use visuals — words matter, and it feels good to be a tireless advocate for those words.
If it doesn’t violate any confidentiality, can you describe a recent challenge and how you solved it?
I’m pretty new at Adobe, but I’m quickly learning the most effective thing I can do at this point is to be an advocate for content strategy, or at the very least, help product teams think more about the language in the experience. How do I balance the need to go deep on a product to demonstrate value, as opposed to making a wide but shallow impact to increase visibility? Pretty early on, I interviewed a lot of coworkers in various roles, set up a process for how I would engage with the team, and how they’d like to engage with me. It’s important to be flexible, of course, but it’s more important to be clear and transparent in how you work and what you bring to the table.
How do you see content strategy evolving or changing in the next few years?
I guess it’s a bit cliche to mention, but as chatbots and voice interfaces become better and more prominent, I think that we’ll see visual design and language design merge more and more into one design singularity, but maybe with specialists within that discipline. When I was at Facebook, I experimented with a designer on a voice interface, and we quickly realized that we were doing the same work; structuring sentences, thinking about stress cases, researching natural language, et cetera! It was actually really fun, and it helped us develop some empathy for each other and our respective disciplines.
What would you advise someone who wants to get into this field?
Content strategy is a hard thing to grasp to those who are new to it. I always recommend reading a couple of introductory books to see if it seems like a good fit for you: Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane and Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson are my favorite. If those books speak to you like they did for me, proceed!
Also, be sure demonstrate your ability to think in systems. At least for UX or product content strategy, I think that’s often what recruiters are looking for in candidates besides being a strong writer. By "systems thinking", I mean that in product content strategy, we need to be able to think about the whole end-to-end experience, and how words and design elements interact with each other. It has a lot to do with using terms and phrases consistently, but also takes into account where a user is within the process of what they're doing.
What are you doing when you're not at work?
If you stalk me on Twitter at all, you’ll find that I’m a bit obsessed with wooden pencils and stationery. I have a blog I’ve maintained for years about pencils, and in the last three years, a couple friends and I started a podcast about the same, and built up a pretty decent audience. Turns out analog tools of creation are still relevant in a super-digital world.
And if I’m not working on those projects, I’m probably at home hanging out with my cats or exploring the city with my partner.