In our latest job Q&A, we head to Geneva, Switzerland, where Alex Faundez works as an intranet content manager for the United Nations (UN). Alex specialises in online communications, primarily content management and content strategy. Here he explains more about what his work involves.
Check out more Q&As with digital communication professionals in our other areas of recruitment.
What is your job title?
I am the Intranet Content Manager at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), a secretariat of the UN, based in Geneva, Switzerland.
My title, as set by the UN rules, is ‘web expert’. I don’t want to sound too pretentious so I rarely use that title. I prefer Intranet Content Manager.
What does a typical day involve?
My main tasks evolve around content strategy and content management, all within the scope of web projects I either run or am involved in. I’m currently managing various areas of our intranet platform: content, information architecture (IA), training, collaboration and social.
Before that, I managed the intranet development project (SharePoint 2013) and was responsible for the content strategy and the IA.
What background do you need for content management?
Two main types of expertise are involved in my job: web project management and content strategy. I have a background in linguistics and online communications so this has helped me in understanding the importance of content. But as Richard Ingram pointed out on one of his presentations at CS Forum 2011 in London, there are many skills or backgrounds that can lead to similar jobs.
What is your biggest challenge?
There are three main challenges:
Our IT people are not content people. I have to spend quite some time explaining that content is the essential component in everything we build, be it for the intranet platform or for web projects we deliver – somehow, intranets and public sites are quite similar when it comes to solving content-related issues. This applies to the labels we choose for the user interface components to the way we model content elements.
The second challenge has to do with the user-centred approach to development I believe in. The team I work with is still learning how to put users at the centre of their work: when gathering user needs, when testing a prototype, and so on. Users (UNCTAD staff for the intranet; delegates, journalists, academia, etc, for the public site) need to be part of our development process and content production. We build these tools and create content for them, not for us.
The last challenge is broader: very few people in my organisation understand the concept of ‘content lifecycle’. For them, web content people are just putter-uppers: we publish whatever they send us. So my job is to sit down with them in the early stages of their content creation and show them how it can be published to reach their goals.
What is the best bit about being an online communications specialist?
You get to interact with everyone in the organisation and create things with them. Since the UN is a cultural melting pot, I get to speak English, French and Spanish almost every day. I love that part of my job; it’s really interesting to see how culture and language affects the way people see the world and describe it.
Any advice for someone trying to break into your field?
Understand human psychology: how to read people, how to manage their expectations and change in general. Understanding what they need is essential but understanding how they think and how easy or difficult it is for them to change their working habits is even more so.
What is the rate of pay?
The UN has its own salary scale so there is no specific rate for this speciality.
Is there job mobility and security?
The UN now understands the importance of content managers, whether it’s for managing public sites or intranets. This is an important step in the right direction (which is: away from a webmaster wearing many hats).
As far as content strategy is concerned, I think there will be more and more a need for people who understand the value of content for any organisation. The UN is a bit behind compared with the private sector so I haven’t seen many job offers for ‘content strategists’.
What about training and development options?
Get involved in the content strategy community. Attend conferences and workshops. Subscribe to the Content Strategy Google Group. And read books. My recommendations are:
- Communicating Design by Dan Brown
- Real Web Project Management: Case Studies and Best Practices from the Trenches by Thomas Shelford and Gregory Remillard
- Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson
I also have a list of content strategy books on GoodReads.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I really love anything that has to do with content strategy and content management. I want to focus more on content production and management rather than managing web projects only. And why not try the private sector? My whole career has been with the UN but I am curious to see how others practise online communications.
Do you have a motto or guiding principle when you work?
“The user is always right. Just stay away from users who think they’re web experts.”
Alex Faundez is Intranet Content Manager at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), a secretariat of the UN, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Last year, he managed the UNCTAD intranet redesign project, and, prior to that, worked for UNCTAD’s web team, first as a content person, then as a web project manager and finally as a content manager. He also founded and ran the Geneva Content Strategy Meetup between 2010 and 2013. Find our more about Alex at http://about.me/alex.faundez.