In March I will be speaking at Confab London (wow, that’s next month!). The title of my talk is Future-Proofing our Authors: The New Rules for Writing for the Web. I’ve already written a bit of an intro to the talk on the Confab blog, but want to explore some of the points in a bit more detail here.
Writing for the web isn’t a new topic, and neither is structured content. But when you combine the two a whole range of challenges emerge.
As businesses embrace a world where content can be better viewed and used across devices (and channels), the most sophisticated systems and technologies won’t make up for the fact that the output is only as good as the input.
In other words, crappy content will still look crappy. Badly written content will still be badly written. And problems with consistent voice and tone, style and messaging will only become more jarring for the customer as the same snippets appear in different places.
Some of this can be addressed by updating the mechanics of writing for the web best practice (short sentences and good headings are here to stay people), but a lot of it will come from taking a fresh look at how we can better serve our authors.
Customers don’t care about our content types
Our customers consume our content how and when they want. They don’t differentiate ‘web’ content from ‘social media’ content, or ‘help’ content from ‘product’ content. They expect and deserve useful and usable content regardless of what they’re reading.
So why do we treat the authors of these different types of content differently?
For a lot of businesses, it’s the web author who gets the writing training—yet there are plenty of other people out there creating content on behalf of the business. This is all content that has the potential to be better structured and re-used online.
We mustn’t overlook the people who are producing other types of content:
- Social media content is an obvious one, even now many businesses are using Twitter or Facebook feeds on websites to create pages that seem ‘fresh’.
- Product and catalogue content that’s coming from a printed or third party source.
- Help or call centre content that may be generated by customer service teams speaking to customers on the phone or via instant chat.
It’s more than knowing how to write well
OK, so your authors aren’t all sitting in a dedicated team of writers. This can be tricky. The more business areas, departments and layers of management that are involved can quickly increase the impact your organisation’s internal politics and culture has on how you can manage your authors.
(I’ve always said content is easy, it’s the people who are the messy part. That’s why governance is such an important part of content strategy.)
- How do you balance the different needs of authors? You’ll have some who regularly write content and some who only make occasional updates.
- How do you prioritise what authors need to know in order for them to do their job? Everyone doesn’t need to know everything.
- How do you insert author requirements into other business areas? How do you convince the organisation that all employees are potential authors?
What do you think?
In preparation for the talk I’ve been Skyping, calling and even Google+ hang-outing (if that’s even a term) with other content folk to talk about their experience with the changing needs of authors.
But I’m keen to hear from you too. Who are your authors? How do you manage their requirements?