How to future-proof our authors
It’s an exciting time to be working as content strategists. Not only has there been a growing awareness of what we do as a discipline, we are also making some very smart moves toward future-proofing our content so it’s ready to take on whatever the web throws at us.
Everyone is talking about structured content, content for mobile, and content for responsive design. We are demanding better CMSs, an increased focus on metadata, and bigger roles for taxonomy experts.
It’s one big future-proofing lovefest.
So far, much of the focus has been on all the cool results we can achieve with structured/responsive/mobile content. The output. There hasn’t been as much talk about the people who are going to have to write all of this flexible, functional, go-anywhere content.
Our authors. The input.
We can structure our content until the cows come home (or maybe until the robots are our friends), we can design fluid layouts that work on any device, and we can put mobile first—but our shiny new systems aren’t going to work if the actual content going into them is crap.
We have to remember that people are a vital, yet often the messiest, component of our content strategy.
Content creators are a mixed bunch
In an ideal world, we’d all have high-performing teams of skilled content writers generating these neat bite-sized chunks of content. They’d all understand the nuances of web communication and behaviour, they’d be interested in what’s happening in the web industry, and (although not technical experts per se) they would be able to grasp some of the tricky mechanical aspects of managing content and how this applied to their role.
And the results would be beautiful.
Hopefully you do have a fair share of champions who are enthusiastic and motivated to do good, and who can see how important their role is to the business. But you’re also likely to have a share of the ones who begrudgingly manage their content, or who go against rules and processes and simply do whatever they want.
They aren’t creating content just for the “web” either. Call centre staff, IT help desks and other business areas may be authoring content in knowledge bases, intranets and social media—and it’s just as important to make this type of content useful and usable too.
And even though modern CMS's are starting to put more focus on the author experience (thank goodness!) there are still many, many out there that are complex, hard to explain, and easy to forget if you’re not doing it every day (which a lot of authors aren’t).
Then what happens once you’ve identified your authors, trained them in the CMS, and taken them through a writing-for-the web program? Too often there are new people suddenly in the role, and you have to start all over again.
Keeping authors skilled is vital but time consuming. It’s a delicate balance between providing enough education and support and prioritising what’s actually essential for them to know.
So where does all this leave us as content professionals?
Power to the people
It’s vital our campaign for future-ready content includes future-proofing our authors too:
- Let’s start thinking about what we should be teaching our authors to make all of these smart new ideas about content work.
- Let’s get the discussion fired up about how the way we write for the web needs to adapt and change to make our content efforts effective in this new world of structure.
- Let’s talk more about content teams and what mix of skills they need to be successful.
These are some of the challenges I’ll be addressing in my talk at Confab London. In the meantime, tell me: How are you preparing your authors for the future?
Sally Bagshaw is this week’s guest blogger, and she’ll be presenting at Confab London in March 2013. This post is a preview of her talk, Future-Proofing Authors: The New Rules of Writing for the Web.