The phrase "Content is king" has become the go-to sound bite for emphasizing that original, user-focused content should be the foundation for building any digital experience. While I wholeheartedly believe that what users want and need (whether it's interactive tools, transactional or educational information, articles, or videos) should drive the content strategy and digital experience, I think the concept of content being king is a bit of a misnomer.
If you're working in content strategy and take a look around, you're likely to see yourself surrounded by a lot of incredibly intelligent women. Colleagues, friends, and I have often wondered why this field is predominately female. My hypothesis is that women inherently bring to the table key traits needed for creating great content strategies: they're empathetic, they plan ahead, and can let go of their ego.
Empathy Is Everything
Empathy is having its moment. I recently attended Confab in Minneapolis, MN, and many of the talks touched on, well, touchy-feely topics - specifically, empathy. Corey Vilhauer's session, aptly titled, "Empathy: Content Strategy's Hidden Deliverable," focused on how being empathetic toward clients, as well as end-users, can improve a project's overall process and execution.
Being empathetic means understanding someone else's perspective, and realizing how that informs her wants, needs, and frustrations. Content strategy is built around the ability to empathize: we need to understand the current situation (audits), know what's working and what isn't (gap analysis), and acknowledge limitations or things to consider for moving forward (requirements). While men are clearly capable of being empathetic, I think it's fair to say that women are more inclined to establish emotional bonds with others. In my opinion, this tendency to be conscious and considerate of others' perspectives helps make women natural content strategists.
Content, unfortunately, doesn't magically fall onto a page. It requires a lot of planning, particularly more so now that adaptive content is a necessity. Unless you have psychic abilities, you don't know whether a user will be accessing content from a computer, smartphone, tablet, or some yet-to-be-invented digital device. Without knowledge of the user's context, we have to plan for all scenarios, and every detail. This means chunking content for a variety of user experiences, prioritizing content based on context, and creating rules for how content will display across devices.
When it comes to planning the details, women tend to shine. From organizing trips to finances to family gatherings, most women carefully prepare for future events. Men, on the other hand, are often content winging it. Although men may argue that women get overly hung up on specifics, it's this very attention to detail that helps to create thoughtful, well-executed content strategies. While both genders have the ability to plan in advance, I think women come out ahead.
This Isn't About You
Recommending the right content strategy requires letting go of your ego, and this is particularly true if you're working as a consultant. While your suggestions for adding, eliminating, or maintaining content may seem like obvious choices, your client is likely to disagree at some point. The client's dissent can stem from a variety of issues: budget and technology limitations, organizational politics, and personal attachment to content that's been created. Responding to critical and often negative feedback requires a thick skin, but also a humble ego. As consultants, we're hired to solve problems for others, not create solutions that best showcase our talents.
When it comes to putting others' needs first, women are arguably hardwired for it. Whether it's our maternal instinct or selfless nature, women more readily put their own demands aside in favor of the greater good. Although we're opinionated and willing to fight for our ideas, we know that solving problems for others isn't about gratifying our own thoughts, but rather is an exercise in humility. In consulting, women are more inclined to let go of ego and accept that great ideas are useless unless they actually solve a client's problems.
Although both sexes have the ability to be empathetic, to plan ahead, and to let go of ego, these traits seem to come more naturally to women. So, when you're planning your content strategy, you'll likely benefit from having a woman on the team - or at least a man who thinks like one.
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Megan is a writer, organizer, and systems thinker. She creates communications and experiences that are simple, clear, and useful.
Megan is an expert at making complex information more intelligible - whether it's online or off-. She has helped many of Siegel+Gale's clients - including Bank of America, Aetna, Nationwide Insurance, as well as the IRS and the SEC - provide a clear and intuitive roadmap for information, enabling people to find content quickly, easily, and intuitively.
Among her many responsibilities at Siegel+Gale, Megan simplifies customer-facing communications, collaborates with graphic and information designers to create new design systems, and leads workshops on best practices for content strategy, information architecture, and plain language writing.
Megan graduated with a BA in English from Grinnell College. She also earned an MA in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University where she focused on plain language writing and communication design.
March 19, 2014