I talk a lot about messy content projects.
Because so often, as many of us know, it is content that causes an exciting project to go off the rails. So often it is content that delays our launches, brings our project managers to tears, and keeps us up at night.
Content causes us so much stress because we know it’s important; so vital to a successful project. Content, my friends, is why people come to your website. As such, making your content as useful, usable, and polished as possible…well, it probably goes without saying that that is the most important thing we can do.
I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. You know content is hard. You know it takes a lot of thought and work. You know it’s the key to your success.
But do you also know that in wrangling messy content sometimes the best strategy is to take a cue from the world of print publications?
It’s time to get ourselves an Editor in Chief.
What is an Editor in Chief?
According to the internet gods (aka. Wikipedia), an Editor in Chief is responsible for pretty much everything having to do with the publication’s content, including:
- Deciding what gets published
- Editing and fact-checking all content (not only words, but photos and design as well)
At the end of the day, the Editor in Chief is responsible for making sure all content fits into the publication’s big picture by being the final pair of eyes on every detail.
When your organisation is taking on a big content project, this role can be the difference between a polished, professional online presence and a high bounce rate — particularly if you have multiple authors and subject matter experts contributing to your content pool.
So, how can an Editor in Chief help?
Here are three reasons we think your company could benefit from an Editor in Chief:
The more content contributors you have, the more chances for an inconsistent voice, style, or format. With a strong understanding of the organisational goals, content strategy, and style guidelines, your Editor in Chief can help unify content from various contributors—making your website and overall online presence feel more organised, trustworthy, and cohesive.
Having one final high-level pair of eyes on every page, post, photo, and form will also help you catch any incorrect statements, grammatical errors, inverted phone numbers, and other content crises.
And, finally, that shrewd, strategic Editor in Chief can help you ensure that every piece of content on the site meets your goals and lines up perfectly with your strategy.
Can’t our content strategist handle this?
The short answer on this one is maybe. There are two factors to consider here:
1. The strengths of your content strategist.
Content strategists have a lot of different specialties. And while one may be well suited to a role as your Editor in Chief, another may not. Consider this when choosing who you work with.
2. The size of your project.
Don’t overwhelm your content strategist. If your project is huge and multi-faceted, you may want to keep his or her focus on high-level strategy, messaging documents, writer wrangling, or process. If your project is on the small side, you have the budget for it, and your content strategist has the right specialties, Editor in Chief may be a perfect addition to his or her job title.
If it isn’t a content strategist, who fills this role?
You may have a senior writer, creative director, or marketing professional already in-house to fill this role, or you can always contract or hire someone with an outside perspective. The important things to look for are:
- A strong attention to detail
- A background in both big picture editing and line editing
- An understanding of and passion for your overall business and content strategies
- Strong communication skills
- The ability to manage writers and deliver constructive feedback
- The ability to juggle multiple deadlines one-handed
It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s your Editor in Chief
So, once you’ve found or hired someone who can leap customer support content in a single bound, make sure they’re involved in every step of your content process. Make sure to particularly fold them in for:
- The strategic briefing meeting: Your Editor in Chief is strategy’s advocate at the detail level; he or she should be intimately acquainted with its ins and outs.
- The site map finalisation: Your Editor in Chief needs to know what pages you’re creating and why—and what criteria to judge late additions or subtractions by.
- The first review: Your Editor in Chief should not only review all the content, but should have access to the feedback of all other reviewers so that s/he can incorporate that feedback into his/her final review.
- The final review: The last eyes on everything before it launches should be those of your Editor in Chief.
Print best practices, meet website processes
In summary: our online projects would do well to take a cue from the world of print publications. While in some ways online is very different—more fluid, more complicated, more easily altered after the fact—in other ways, it is very much the same—addressing busy users, entertaining, informing, or engaging, and needing to be professional and polished. Thus, the processes in place in the print world could also have a place in our website projects.