A Method to the Madness

“Websites still have the same problem they’ve always had: Writing good, consistent content that people care about is hard.” – Justin Jackson (@mijustin on Twitter)

It’s very chique right now to acknowledge that our job is hard. We’re not wizards, and we’re not do-gooders, cheering one another on to save the world with content. We’re people, finding ways to engage, educate, and delight other people through words, images, sounds, and the combinations therof. And, it turns out, it’s hard.

But I worry when I hear people communing over our hardships. I worry that we’ll get disheartened, or jaded, or lose ourselves as a community and stop crafting beautiful messages and detailed strategies.

I Have a Dream

Back in high school I noticed there were two types of A+ students. There were the students who just seemed to know the answers inately, and then there were the students who struggled, asked questions, and slowly but surely gathered a strong grasp of the subject. In English, I was the first. In Math, I was the second.

Those who innately understand how a subject “works” are rarely the best teachers. It’s difficult for them to explain why something is wrong; they just know when it’s right. But for those who struggle, they begin to understand the process behind finding the answer.

Many of us came into content strategy through writing, or SEO, or social media. We found that we created voices naturally; just as we always knew to say “yes ma’am” to our parents but “uh-YEAH! Duh!” to our friends, we didn’t really need to consider why a museum would want an academic yet friendly voice, or why the personality of Microsoft’s copy was so very different from that of a startup. We just did it, and it worked.

But content strategy is about more than content creation.

Making a Method of the Madness

“Most content problems exist simply because no one has ever asked the right kinds of questions…” – Halvorson and Rach, Content Strategy for the Web

The difference between a great content creator (copywriter, videographer, social media expert, or otherwise) and a great content strategist is the ability to teach. We need to create guidelines that others can look at and follow, so that any copywriter can write with the voice we inately know is the right voice. We need to set up governance tactics so that long after we leave, our clients will be able to maintain appropriate content across their sites and applications.

In order to be great content strategists we need to embrace the difficulty of our jobs, and search for the right tools to make our work easier. Tools like:

“Hard” does not mean “Impossible”

Our job is hard. We tackle a lot of areas, and the process is constantly changing. We must be flexible as well as structured, and creative as well as organized. Many of us intuitively grasp content creation, but we must learn to teach, to help our clients learn the ins and outs and details that put it all together.

So let’s make sure that our communing never becomes mere whining. Let’s recognize the difficulty, pat ourselves on the back, and move on. Because I’ve got a secret that’s not such a secret: content strategy is fun.


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