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Content Strategy

Let context be your guide

Robert Mills • 4 minutes

This video is the nineteenth in our Content Strategy Advent Calendar series.

Bradley Fields, content strategist at Oregon Health & Science University, talks to us about content strategy, context and managing expectations. The advice is relevant to all who work in this field, and therefore, the video is unmissable.

Content strategy advent calendar: Day 19 – Let context be your guide, by @bradleyfields

Video transcript

Hi. I’m Bradley Fields. I love content strategy. It’s a pursuit that needs awareness, reflection, and imagination to work. But more than anything, it needs actual humans.

It needs their dynamics. And not only how they react (or don’t) to the work we create. But how they engage every step of our processes. It means managing human circumstances along the way—not just at publication, not just at launch.

So, for the next few minutes, a few ideas about handling those circumstances as an employee. For making the work of content strategy adapt to some of what we experience. Specifically:

* Getting an opportunity in content strategy

* Contributing, once you do

* And dealing with a tension I’ve experienced while trying to figure out how to contribute, even once it seemed the opportunity is mine

So first, be about the work, not the job title.

Our best work happens when we put people first. When how they’ll actually use what we make for them is more influential than how we think they will or how we think they should. In other words, when we always let their context be our guide.

When companies post job descriptions, they’re sharing clues about a problem that they have. We add context to those clues by reading their sites’ about pages, sifting through their Medium posts, and scanning their Twitter timelines.

If we see all this context but dismiss it for not using our jargon—for not matching our keywords—we dismiss opportunities. There are so many companies that won’t articulate their needs the way we would. That doesn’t mean they aren’t open to what we can do for them.

Finding a content strategy job is hard. Don’t make it harder by focusing only on descriptions or titles that read like the content strategy articles we read, write, and share.

Second, put your work to work for you.

Getting a new job is an accomplishment of its own. Remember to celebrate that.

But once you’re in, it’s super unlikely that the story of your work life would read like your favourite content strategy playbook. You may have to kickstart your own flexible pursuit of better content. And you’ll have to deal with the unique people around you to make it work.

If you’ve been to a content strategy event ever, you’ve probably heard someone ask this question: “How do I sell content strategy at my company?” And if you’ve been to several events, you’ve probably noticed a pattern in the answer. It usually goes a little something like this: “Well, it depends…”

That’s because the answer is your work. Put your skills to work for you. In the specific context of pursuing better content at our companies, we don’t have a universal audience. We have a unique one. And thinking that way gives us a huge clue about where to start: research.

We have to find out what our leaders and peers respond to, much like we’d do for the people we create digital experiences for. So, do what we do best. Read what they write. Pay attention to how they behave—how they sit, how engaged they are, who never contributes to certain things in meetings. Never presume what’s best for your company is a strict academic approach. Let their context be your guide.

Third, take care of yourself.

There’s another kind of context that matters: that’s you. And as someone whose identity is under-recognised in tech, that context is hard to protect well and safely. In the next four years, maybe more so than ever.

Many of us don’t get the privilege of shrugging off the power dynamics of employment itself. But content strategy often means having to challenge an organisation’s most defining traits and practices. How it organises its people. How it brands itself. The processes it invests its money and its time in. This means challenging where the power sits in an organisation. This means interactions laced with real-life risk, real-life implications.

That’s not ever easy to manage. It’s even harder if you’re The Only One in the Room. Or if you’re at a company that’s only ever had hetero, white cis men in The Room Where It Happens.

“Will I be the Angry Black Male if I argue for diversity in our work?” “Do I have to compensate for their perception of my experience by working twice as many hours to get four times as much evidence for this proposal?” “I’m probably already paid only 70% of what my peers make, anyway; can I afford to take a risk I’m not sure will work?” “And if I don’t get this right, will they ever hire another person like me?”

People in under-recognised and underrepresented groups ask themselves these questions all the time.

So, if you find yourself there, what do you do? Be as aware of your own context as you can. Know what it means for you to be successful. Know what kind of failure, struggle, or loss you can afford and for how long. It can be easy to experience identity tensions and route your energy into super-heroic work effort—into indefinite efforts to prove, secure, or justify. But the work won’t save us if we lose ourselves.

Instead, value your wellbeing—whatever that means for you—over the work. Let your context be your guide.

And this is important: This doesn’t mean suppressing your identity or muting your voice. It doesn’t mean never challenging others. And it doesn’t mean tolerating hate or insensitivity.

It means you’re powerful and effective—two things you’re going to have to be to change the way organisations work—when your decisions always account for your own needs.

It means being intentional. It means the right choice for the work is a healthy you. And when you find those forces in conflict, choose you, every single time.

Thanks for your time today. Have a happy new year.

About Bradley


Bradley works at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon, managing one of their digital teams. He believes content is conversation and wants to help people have better ones. He’s worked mostly on large sites with deep content catalogs and varied audiences. It’s meant bringing structure to complexity. But it’s also meant not letting story get lost in the order of things. Want to connect? Find him on Twitter.

Content strategy advent calendar: Day 19 – Let context be your guide, by @bradleyfields

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Robert Mills

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