Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Being a digital generalist in a world full of specialists

I'm Becky and I'm a Digital Producer at Cancer Research UK. You're probably thinking "What's a Digital Producer?". People often don't understand what we do. Our job title is pretty vague. But that's because we're digital 'generalists'.

Back in the early days of the web everyone was a generalist ("Webmaster"): but it became apparent fairly quickly that there's more to creating and running a website than just buying a URL, sticking up some content and clicking publish. There's now a huge variety of ways you can become a digital specialist, from developing to diving into analytics - but being a generalist, like a Producer, is still a skill in itself.

What is a Producer anyway?

Producers have a broad understanding of all the digital disciplines and, while our role is difficult to summarise, we basically help teams understand what a good digital experience is and how to deliver it for their users.

We're responsible for working with our colleagues across the organisation to produce user-centric content, campaigns and products that meet the highest digital standards, follow best practice and represent our brand.

On a day-to-day basis we can be found:
  • creating or amending content on our content management systems
  • setting up and measuring tests
  • facilitating user testing/interviews
  • analysing metrics
  • writing user stories
  • finding great imagery and optimising it for the web
  • copywriting for the web
  • training people on all of the above, both formally and informally, and
  • supporting colleagues from across the organisation during Digital Hour, which I'll touch on later in this post

Team work makes the dream work

Of course we can't do all this by ourselves.

While we have knowledge of things like UX, wireframing, accessibility, content strategy, HTML, SEO, analytics and product development, we're part of a cross-discipline team which includes skilled specialists in these areas and part of our role involves knowing when to call in the experts, utilising their in-depth knowledge so we can make our digital offering the best for our users (and learn ourselves at the same time!).

Greg already shared how we communicate with each other, using software like Slack and Trello, and these free tools are vital in making sure we can work with our colleagues quickly and effectively. We also have regular stand ups and demos where we show what we've been up to and what we've discovered, so we're sharing knowledge, reducing duplication and all learning together.

Variety is the spice of life 

If you talk to anyone in my team, you'll quickly find the thing we like most about our job is that we get to be involved in everything. Really, everything.

We're constantly learning and having the chance to experience working across all the digital disciplines means we can find out what we'd like to specialise in in the long-term. Since I joined the team, just 10 months ago, I've seen 3 Producers move on to UX and Product Management roles. Getting involved is encouraged at Cancer Research UK - and it's really fun to have such a varied role!

We're also helping the organisation become more digitally empowered, which is saving money that can instead go towards our life-saving cancer research. For example, as part of a spoke to improve prospective volunteers' online experience, we built a registration of interest form so that specialists who want to share their experience in things like finance and photography can give us their details: we've seen 4 times as many registrations as we expected and these volunteers are potentially worth a staggering £3m a year.

Training and support

For colleagues who want to improve their digital skillset, the production team hold regular Introduction to Drupal training and, of course, offer ad-hoc help, guidance and support.

We also host Digital Hour twice a week, where people can drop in and see us with queries or refreshers on quick Drupal tasks, such as how to upload a web-optimised image and ensure it has an appropriate alt tag.

Besides the buzz we get from knowing we're benefiting the charity, one of the best things about being a Producer is getting to work with people across the organisation, helping them to realise all the ways in which being more digital can benefit them, the organisation and their users. It's incredibly rewarding and exciting.

Becky Colley
Digital Content Producer

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