Firehead interviewed our author Rahel Bailie, the Mother of Content Operations, on her winding career definition in moving from techcomm to content management to content strategy to content operations. I say “winding path” because so much was developing along in parallel about content needs whilst she was progressing her career. Maybe the world was only ready for “content operations” now?
Rahel has watched ContentOps develop and come into its own
She’s has been working with content strategy since 2010 – and now there’s this new thing coming out everywhere called “content operations”. What’s going on? One of the ways to look at this is historically and to look back at the origins of the field.
She now says she has started shying away from titles as an expression of anything meaningful these days. There are so many functions and so many names (buzzwords too) thrown around, it’s often hard to match things up in a way that makes clear sense for what’s really being done.
Some questions content professionals still ask themselves; “Do I do only content strategy?” “Am I a management consultant?” “Am I a digital transformation consultant?” “Where will this all lead for my job?”
Rahel remembers back to about 2001 or 2002 calling herself a “content strategist”, but nobody knew what that meant. It was too early. They would say, “Well, no, we want somebody to help us figure out our content. We want, I don’t know, a tech writer.” So she dropped that.
Then she started calling herself a “content management consultant”. But that meant everyone thought she wrote code. She thought: “No, I’m on the content side. I analyse content, and I work on systematising content.”
So, she went back to “content strategy” and then content strategy became a trendy word after a big recognition push in the field about this title, and it kind of caught up with not just her but a number of other people calling themselves that. She called herself “consultant content strategist” long before it was a popular term. But what did that matter to the clarity of the profession?
In the Europe and the UK, for example, you’ve got content strategy, and content design. Content design means you actually create the content. But Rahel designs systems – she doesn’t write content, except maybe example content to show how to apply a content model. To clarify: “This is how you would take this piece and chop it up.”
Once again, in Europe and the UK, they call those folks who are really concerned about the UX of content “content designers”.
In North America, everyone is called a “content strategist”, whether you’re a content designer in other parts, or a content strategist. In North America, you are simply a “content strategist”. Can you see where the confusion comes from? We can’t even get the understanding of names of roles clear in a standard way.
There are still many people who still don’t get it. I know agencies that still ask “And you do what, exactly?” to content people trying to register with them, because for them, they’re looking at a formalised “ list of professions” to work from.
And content is always right at the bottom where you find writing and editing. That’s why they think all content people do is writing. So when you don’t do that, you kind of shy away from that approach if you want to get hired to do the content job you really mean to do.
Content operations consulting isn’t for newbies, or for content people who have worked with one kind of content in a single company. The best training to do content operations consulting is to get as much exposure as you can to different aspects of content production.
Go understand how creative operations works for marketeers. Go understand how tech writers produce content. Learn how to use a HAT (Help Authoring Tool). Learn about how a Translation Management System works. Learn how to use a Semantic Suite. Learn how much time something like Grammarly can save on continuous audits. Look at the range of software out there that has different kinds of content, and figure out which types of systems work better in which set of circumstances.
A lot of what a content operations person does is implement a content strategy, and figuring out how to implement the strategy is what distinguishes you from all the others out there. If you’ve got a lot of experience under your belt and are looking for new ways to use your skills, this could be for you.
This self-paced video workshop presents the core principles of content operations and guides you to apply them to the content you need to operationalise.
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