The many roles of a content specialist

Variety is one of the reasons I love my job.

I recently tried to create a diagram to show the many areas of input that feed into content production here at RSA.  In the absence of technical design skills, I’m afraid I ended up with a rather messy spider diagram.

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But having a broad understanding of business objectives and the end customer is no longer enough to provide content that really does its job.  A content designer has to also play the role of subject matter expert, stakeholder manager, project manager, and more.  Here are my top tips to succeed in each of the many roles we play to bring all this knowledge together into our work.

Strategist

Firstly, get to know your brand and customer strategies, and think about the role your content will play within these.   Identify the objectives of your content – for example if your customer strategy is: move all customers into online account management, the objective of your content is to increase online account servicing.  You might choose to achieve this through education, awareness, or a combination of the two.

But your digital team must work together, as you won’t achieve anything by words alone.  As your UX and design teams should be shaping the user journeys, insist as much as possible to start with what you need to communicate, then collectively think about the how.  I’m pleased to say this works really well here.

Researcher

Sometimes you need to be a detective to create good content.  Don’t be intimidated by approaching people you don’t know to ask questions; it’s when journalism training pays dividends!  But also if you need more time to create an article, don’t be afraid to ask for a deadline extension…it’s much better to ensure your content’s accurate than to rush it and have the errors pointed out to you later on.

Copywriter

I’m not going to dwell on this one, as I have a post on copy tips you can read here.  But one thing I will say is that you shouldn’t get complacent about your copy.  Peer reviews or a second pair of eyes can always help you improve your content.

Subject Matter Expert

Writing about a subject you have little interest in is hard.  If you’re not engaged you’ll struggle to engage others.  Try to absorb as much as you can from the subject matter experts you work with, and then find an angle that interests you.  If you can find a hook, chances are you’ll be able to bring that to life in your work, and also empathise with your readers.  This is something we tap into a lot with insurance – it’s not always something customers really engage with until they have to!

And don’t underestimate how much you can learn by offering yourself out for pair writing sessions with experts.  There’s a mutual benefit here so make the most of it.

Stakeholder Manager

I’m not going to lie, this one can be the hardest role to play.   I’m not sure I have ever found the perfect balance between keeping every single person happy and being happy with my own work.  Writing content is a bit like being the England football manager;  everyone has a view and most people think they would have done a better job than you.  The truth is that you’re the expert, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to people’s opinions, and where appropriate, make alterations.  But only do this if you feel it adds value or there’s a reason for making a change, and not just because you like to keep the peace.

Keep people updated on progress, or blockers, because no one likes nasty surprises.  And track your changes or log your content somewhere, as an audit trail is invaluable.

Editor

When critiquing other people’s work, I really try not to make subjective comments (even though I sometimes want to), you must respect other people’s writing style. However, I do feedback if it affects the tone of voice or the understanding, as this is not about my preferences; it’s about customer experience and branding.

Always give a reason for your feedback, or suggestions, so that you’re providing something constructive.  I try not to edit work directly unless time is of the essence, as I’d far rather let the writer understand the reasons for the changes and let them make them.

Project manager

When organising your own workload, my main tip for this is organisation.  If you need a task board, to do list, or spreadsheet, then do it, as time management is critical for meeting deadlines.  Block-book time in your calendar for the actual writing, and take yourself somewhere quiet or plug in your headphones to avoid constant interruptions.  If I need to work with UX or Design on some content mapping or IA, I’ll make sure I block out the time in their diaries too, and highlight these dependencies to my project teams.

You’ll get the best content structure from collaboration, so make use of their time as best you can, even if it means making a nuisance of yourself!