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It’s time to talk about our content authors

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.)

Consider:

  • 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?

This post was written by Sally Bagshaw

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Stephanie Kapera February 3, 2013, 6:02 am

    Hi Sally,

    One thing I wish clients would understand: content writers need to be able to access whoever they need to access to do their jobs.

    I often see situations like this:

    -A small company wants to set up a blog. They hire a writer to guide them through the process, but when the writer asks for access to the company’s employees, customers, consultants, etc, the marketing director blocks her attempts for fear that things will get “too messy.”

    -An agency wants to hire a freelancer to blog on behalf of its clients but doesn’t want the freelancer to interact with the clients. Thus, all of the writer’s information comes secondhand and the content suffers.

    When clients trust us, our work passes on more value to end users. When they insist we do our work in a silo, they’re limiting its capacity to have an impact.

    • Sally Bagshaw February 4, 2013, 9:11 am

      I completely agree Stephanie. I’ve had some ad agencies a copywriting clients, and sometimes it’s hard to convince them to let me speak with their clients (the ones I’m doing the work for!).

  • Manon Schonewillw February 5, 2013, 10:44 pm

    Hello Sally,

    What is you take on the role of web editors in this?

    Wouldn’t you agree that in most companies content written by employees who do not write for the web regularly and who have not received training, just gets edited by a web editor before being used?

    • Sally Bagshaw February 6, 2013, 7:22 am

      Hi Manon
      Certainly, most organisations would be filtering web content through an editor/producer before it goes live. But there are still other types of content (think knowledge base content, call centre content, even some types of fact sheets) that may be produced and posted without that same scrutiny (maybe not on the main website, but other systems that are online).

      The point I’m making is we need to look beyond the traditional authors within a business and really understand who is producing content on behalf of the organisation. These people need to be part of the discussion around content modelling and other factors that will make our content more usable and adaptable in the future.

      Cheers

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