This Blog is On a (Permanent) Break :-)

Yes, I’m the first to admit there’s an unequivocal irony to the fact that a professional content nerd’s blog is gathering dust. Talk about the cobbler’s kids going unshod. It’s nothing I haven’t berated myself with countless times.

But you know what? I’m realizing that’s okay.

I’ve been lucky enough to be inundated over my career with challenging, exhilarating, and exciting content strategy, content marketing, and digital media projects. I’m busy wordsmithing and strategizing and talking content all day, every day. I’m getting my writing jones fulfilled non-stop.

And when I’m not working, I’m spending time with my two glorious kids, my wonderful husband, my nutty dog, my fabulous friends, and trying to find some time for exercise and balance. And sleep.

And that’s important too.

So I’ve decided that much as I love my blog, it’s going to be taking a break. For a while. Maybe for always. (Update: Yes, it looks like for always.)

So if you like my writing, feel free to take a look at my older posts. Or drop by once in a while to see if the cobwebs have cleared.

But for now, I am going gentle into that good night.

Good night.

Why Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

6188177297_a4d8c3017bNo one wants to look stupid.

Fact of life, right? We all want to be the smartest person in the room, or at least have people think we are. Who wants to admit to being uninformed, out of the loop, out of touch? Raising your hand and asking a question or (gasp!) requesting an explanation, especially in a group setting, seems tantamount to admitting weakness or a fatal flaw.

Understandable. But when it comes to making strategic decision, ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s hell. Why? Because ignorance leads to bad decision-making. It leads to confusion. It leads to blown deadlines, miscommunications, and massive project failures.

Actual conversation I’ve had in the past, with an ignorant person I’ll call Iggy:

Me: “Can we export a list of all content assets and tags from our CMS?”

Iggy: “Um…yes. Yes, we can easily do that.”

Timelines and budgets are built on this assumption. Project managers whirl into action. Two weeks later, Ignorant Person returns with the surprising (to her) news that the vendor who custom-built our CMS does not allow direct export, for various reasons.

We end up needing to build our own database crawler/query tool, which costs us time and money and incurs the ire of the tech team. Then the database crawler crashes the servers, leading to furious customers, scathing emails from upper management, and more time and money spent fixing things. At the end, the output of the crawl is so garbled and horrible we end up needing to do a manual (as in, people clicking through the CMS) content inventory anyway.

Think it might have been a bit easier if Iggy had checked out her assumption before blurting out “yes”?

I learned long ago that “faking it” in journalism wasn’t an option. You just can’t be an expert on every topic you write about. Nor can you pretend to be, because your chain-smoking, hard-drinking, eagle-eyed editor will catch your goofs and come down on you like a ton of bricks, and then you will be relegated to covering PTA meetings and ribbon cuttings. Not that I have any personal experience with this.

So I pretty quickly developed an arsenal of questions that didn’t sound particularly clueless, but ended up with me gathering a lot of information: “Can you tell me more about —-?” “I’m not completely clear on what that means; could you go into more detail?” “How does that work?” “What does that acronym stand for?” “How is this different from —-?”

I also learned that the litmus test of whether you truly understand something is whether you can adequately explain it to someone else in plain English, without jargon or doublespeak. It’s one thing to parrot buzzwords and say, “We’re going to implement a responsive design architecture to leverage our web assets across multiple platforms.” But if you can say, “We’re going to build a website that is smart enough to adjust its size, display, and content based on whether someone’s coming to it from a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone” — well, know I know you understand what you’re talking about.

The same goes if someone asks you a question you can’t answer. Don’t mumble some half-baked response and hope they bought it. Instead, come clean: “I don’t know the answer to that, but I can find out.” If my old friend Iggy had taken that approach, a very large corporation would have been saved from some massive headaches and cost overruns.

The moral of this story? If you don’t know, ask. I work with one very dynamic, bright, and hugely successful CEO who has absolutely no qualms about calling a halt to someone spewing jargon and saying, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. What does that mean?” As a result, he makes decisions based on sound information and a clear understanding of what’s at stake. And no one for a second questions his IQ or business acumen.

So raise your hand. Challenge the buzzwords. Ask for more information. Admit when you don’t know something.

You’ll look a lot smarter than you think.

(image by Flood via Flickr)

My Favorite Content Strategy Word is ‘Why’

The word "why"

Always ask "why?" before you build a strategy

I recently read a blog post from Rod Brooks titled, “If You Don’t Know Why, Your What and Your How Don’t Matter.” He said that “why”  is one of the essential, central questions in our lives.

I agree. As Rod noted, children are incessantly asking “Why?” (and we are just as constantly answering with the annoying, “Because!” — which obviously isn’t really an answer). And they’re on to something.

Because I strongly believe that  “why” should be at the foundation of all your content strategy decisions.  In fact, it should be at the core of all business decisions, says Rod:

In business, it’s critical that we are able to clearly define and communicate our mission… Why do we exist? Why are we in business? Why does what we do matter to the people we do it for? Why is doing business with us, better for someone than doing business with one of our competitors? Why?

This is something I deal with all the time. A client will say something like, “We need a Facebook page!” and everyone around him will nod excitedly. “Yes, that’s it, we need a Facebook page!”

As a content strategist, it’s then my job to say, “Okay, you think you need a Facebook page. Why is that? What are you hoping to gain from it?”

If the response is dead silence, I know I have my work cut out for me, because they haven’t thought this thing through and now we need to determine if in fact there IS any benefit to having a Facebook page.

But if they come back with, “We need a social channel to increase our brand exposure and engagement, and our research shows that 80 percent of our target market is on Facebook,” well, then we’re in business. They have a solid business reason (the “why”) for doing it. They’re not just bandwagon-hopping or doing it because they “should.”

Asking “why?” to everything might sound like a chorus of negativity to you. But it’s actually fundamental to creating and delivering a sound content strategy. (I’d also like to throw in that “who?” is a close second — as in, who is your audience, who are you writing for, who will maintain and create your content, and so forth. But that’s for another post.)

What do you think? Do we ask “why?” often enough?

Photo: Flickr/quinn.anya