So, what did I learn? Well, for a start, establishing a content team involves a lot less content work than you’d expect. I’m a big fan of Brain Traffic’s content strategy quad, which places as much emphasis on the people involved in content creation as it does on the content those people actually create.
With this in mind, it’s probably no surprise that building content strategy up in your organisation relies on building relationships with the people you work with. And there are a few things I’ve found that help to do this.
Think about how your world connects to the big pictureIf you’ve been hired to establish a content strategy team, then you’ll need to accept there probably isn’t a huge culture of content strategy in your organisation. So stop and ask yourself, “Is there something similar to content strategy I can piggyback onto to get my message across?”
When I started, content was definitely something we all knew was important. And we were being strategic about it in pockets. But did we have one, unified org-wide approach to our content? Not so much. Luckily we had a well-established UX team who made it their mission to put the user front and centre of what we do. I soon found getting buy-in to content strategy was a lot easier when I spoke about how it relates to UX.
In all of these cases I was fighting the good fight, and doing all the things a good content strategist should. But I was positioning the conversation in a way that spoke to the values the organisation felt were important.
Figure out who likes you, and who doesn’t
One thing I learnt early in my career is the rule of thirds when you start a new job.
A third of people will be thrilled you’re onboard. They’ll get the value of what you do and they’ll see the knowledge gap you’ve been hired to plug in the organisation. They’ll probably even challenge you (in a good way) about the finer details of your experience.
A third of people won’t be too fussed either way. They’ll need a bit of convincing about what you do, or perhaps how it applies to their own role. But generally, once you start demonstrating your value, they’ll see you as someone who is going to help make their life easier.
And then there’s the final third. These guys will see you as an open threat. Maybe there’s a perception you’re stepping on their toes. Or perhaps they’ve worked with someone who did what you do before, who just wasn’t very good. Either way, these people want to actively stop you doing your job. They’ll be the ones at the back of every meeting rolling their eyes and shouting you down.
As the person selling content strategy, it’s pretty much your job to move people between these categories (hopefully in the right direction!). And what’s the best way to do that? Well, in my experience, most problems in life can be solved with a Twix. And this is no exception.
Offer to buy them a coffee and a cheeky Twix* and try to figure out why they see you as a threat. It’s probably because they care so much about their job they’re worried you’re going to steal responsibilities away from them. Or perhaps they're just not used to hearing the user-centric, agile and MVP based jargon that you take for granted. Whatever the reason, if you say to someone “Let’s talk about how I can help you” then deliver something that provides tangible benefits for them (even if it’s perhaps not what you’d consider ‘best practice’), it gives you influence. And influence helps you move them into being, if not BBFFs, then at least pleasant acquaintances.
And for those people who aren’t too fussed either way about you arriving? Well, do the same. In this case, spend more time talking about who they are and what they do before diving in and offering help. What motivates them to come into work in the morning? What are their pain points? What one simple thing could they do with content that’ll impress their boss? Here it pays to be a bit more strategic. If you can use content strategy to help them secure their next promotion, they’ll quickly move from being indifferent to a real cheerleader for content strategy.
And what about those people who are already onside? Use them to spread your influence. Talk to them about your big plans. Excite them about how you’re going to be the most content-y content strategist in the history of content strategy. And, again, explain how it’s going to benefit them. Not the organisation’s content, not even the organisation – but their team, their career. Them. Once they’re excited enough they’ll be singing your praises far and wide. Because they’ll know your vision and buy-in to its importance.
In the interests of fairness you should still buy them a Twix though.
Be aggressively nice!
Justifying your existence in an organisation can feel like a pain at times. After all, you know the value of what great content can bring to the table. Is it really your fault if people can’t see that? Well, maybe.
I’ve found this stuff gets easier if you just remember 2 things about most people you meet at work.
- They want to do good work and help the company succeed.
- They’re doing their best.
It’s not exactly rocket science, but there are lots of people out there in the digital world who get their kicks from proving how clever they are, and how no one else could possibly understand their area of expertise.
In my mind, a key skill of a content strategist is the ability to empathise with people. Start off from the position of “how can I help you?” and, over your Twix, explain how you can help them build great stuff, and how you recognise they care deeply about what they’re doing.
Create content that rocks
Whether it’s the people you’re creating content for (your users), or the people you’re creating content with (your stakeholders) it all comes back to helping people feel like a rockstar. If you can do that, and do it in a way that makes it clear you genuinely do want to help them, then it’ll make it very hard for them not to come with you when you embark on your content odyssey.
And if you don’t like being helpful and making people feel good? Well, you should find another career – content strategy probably isn’t for you.
*if they turn down a free Twix then they may be a lost cause. Never trust anyone who turns down a free Twix.