Day in the Life of a Content Manager

My department has recently been conducting interviews for new marketing specialists and even a content specialist. One of the smartest questions I think a candidate can ask is: What’s a typical day like for you in this job?

A few years back, I actually recommended to different academic departments in our institution that they build out content around this question in relation to life (day-in-the-life) as a medical student, resident, fellow, nurse in training, and surprise! It does really well.

Screenshot of content created for Day in the Life content series | Day in the Life of a Content Manager
Example of content we create for “Day in the Life” type pieces. These are used for recruitment on our academic websites and tend to perform well, which in this case translates to roughly 80% higher time on page compared to most of the other site pages.

So, in lieu of my sometimes so-deep-we’re-gasping-for-air posts, I’ll just stick to something simple: Day in the life!

Background: I’m coming up on year five of being resident web content manager at University of Utah Health. The journey has taken me through many sidewinders and close to some fascinating dead drops, but through it to date, I’ve kept these skills sharp and picked up some new ones:

  • writing,
  • editing,
  • data analysis,
  • SEO,
  • managerial work,
  • reporting,
  • client management,
  • project management,
  • networking,
  • reading, and
  • strategic thinking.

At this point in time, my team manages roughly 30K webpages across five (give or take) subdomains. At any time we are each (there are three of us and an SEO/digital analyst) managing 15 clients personally in a particular week, but that client list rotates.

The work we do is assist in structuring content governance (as we can’t manage all the pages personally), information architecture, new website set ups, and then conduct more in-depth content work for department priorities (that hopefully align with business goals), such as writing, auditing, and optimizing various webpages/content types.

First Things First: Pacify the Inbox (9–9:30 am)

Every morning when I get in and turn on my computer to check my email inbox, I make sure my water bottle is filled up. I also usually say hi to anyone else on the floor or around me. I may not have time or be in the mindset to start a conversation, but individually acknowledging co-workers by name as I see them throughout the day is really important to me.

As I review any emails that came in after I left the previous day, I use this as a way to orient myself to the day’s work load. I also double check the day’s calendar. The best days are mornings with just a few newsletters and few to no client responses. That means I can begin work on something substantive.

Then there are the days that I have meetings right away. I try to keep meetings first thing to a minimum—and our culture begets a lottttttt of meetings—but I really need those first few organizational minutes turning on computer and reviewing my calendar for the day.

Calendar day from first thing on through | Day in the Life of a Content Manager
Notice the blocked out “work time” areas. When I have serious deadlines to make, I can’t be open to meetings all day, so I block off time to work. Sometimes it makes other people crazy, but it keeps MY workload sane…

I’ll answer any truly important emails or emails with quick-Q answers. Now I’ll take time to review my task list from yesterday. These are items to follow up on from that I didn’t answer yet or small maintenance Qs that I want to follow up on.

If I have a high priority project, however, I’ll start work on that in the morning, as usually I’m a bit sharper mentally at this time.

High priority projects could include writing or editing something, QA’ing a website, continuing a content audit, keyword research, work in the content management system updating CTA (call to action) links that aren’t working or have changed for some reason. Anything I have scheduled to complete in the sprint* or for a meeting.

Mid-Morning

Depending on the day, I’ll either be in meetings or I might be taking care of any of the following five levels of work types:

  1. Basic maintenance: Updates to contact info, updates to provider/doc lists on websites, vanity url requests, contact info requests (who can help me do XYZ?), and the like. We are lucky to have a person who manages the basic maintenance queue who can assist with these types of requests; though, my team does some of them as well. Rule of thumb: Requests that take 10 minutes or fewer.
  2. Content maintenance: This usually involves a request to add a content page on a site or add a significant content chunk somewhere. There can also be things we have to untangle as to who to contact to get an issue addressed. These are middle level maintenance tasks that take a little longer than 30 minutes to do but fewer than three hours.
  3. New webpage requests: These requests can come from departments that need a lab site set up or a folder structure done. Typically the client can add the content themselves, but it takes some time to set up the bones of the site and check that they have training. There can also be requests for page setups for new services, clinics, locations, or the like. These are hard to measure time-wise. I actually prefer a complexity level measure. The more stakeholders you have to work with at any given time, the more complex I consider the task. Sometimes they cannot be completed during a sprint, in which case I schedule them in an upcoming sprint.
  4. Feature requests or project requests. These are genuine I-need-a-site-rework, I-need-a-new-feature, I-need-a-content-module-created. These need to be broken down into our sprint time periods as they often involve meeting personally with the client or significant research or writing time and effort. For example, we have a new health center opening, which entailed a roughly 25-webpage build with about 35 stakeholders involved. Sometimes the client will want what I call a feature, which has to have a developer or UX (user experience) specialist work on. These types of tasks also have to be scheduled once we have gathered the basic client objectives and time constraints.
  5. Priority projects or department projects. There are priority services identified by our institution that our marketing department supports. These projects are usually driven by the fiscal year. Typically they involve a project plan (including an associated content strategy) and scheduling throughout each quarter. These involve lots of writing, editing, client time, SEO optimization, and support work.

Meetings may involve various clients or stakeholders. Often if I have to travel to campus to meet with a client (our office is located in an administrative area further from campus, which is, however, better for lunch dine-ins or drive-throughs!), I’ll usually have to schedule two to three weeks out as travel time adds 40 minutes on to the meeting time and requires planning.

There are also interdisciplinary team meetings for priority and department projects as well as phone meetings/check ins for ongoing client projects. Then there are administrative meetings, like sprint planning meetings or project check-ins where we may be working with the devs, UX, or UI.

Lunch Time! Or Mid-Day Networking (11:30 am–1 pm)

Lunch is usually on the fly. I have long given up on packing a lunch as I never remember it. So, sometimes I’ll order in (I claim credit here for identifying a particular sandwich delivery service-to-my-desk option that the entire building uses). If I go out, it will usually be for a networking lunch with colleagues.

If I have a less intensive week with projects or deadlines, I use lunch as an excuse to keep up with friends in the department or do genuine networking. This also helps me remember to take some time for a break as even if I’m dug in to a project; my productivity is better if I take a breather.

It’s the same after lunch, except I stop answering emails. Anything that arrives in the email inbox after two or three gets pushed into the to-do task list that I answer on the following day. This helps me finish a project that needs doing or remain focused on a task. Around three I usually hit a slump period, so I may walk around (in an ideal world) or stop to chat with co-workers.

I also may *not-ashamed-to-admit* have hit up the caffeine machine for some Dewy goodness. (I do have a balance though – more water than other beverages goes in throughout the day.)

Towards the end of the day I usually get a second wind, but I may not be as clear headed, so I might work on optimizing a piece, keyword research, editing, reporting, but generally projects that are less cognitively demanding.

The Dismount (5:30-6 pm)

When I’m ready to wrap up, I’ll check what’s on the calendar for the next day. I rarely, rarely check or answer emails at home, so unless someone texts me, I’m off for rest and relaxation (AKA: cat feeding, grooming, and entertaining…).

Bitmoji goodness: What a day! | Day in the Life of a Content Manager
Day’s end—that’s a wrap!

And that’s a wrap! I really value the physical separation of work and home life. It helps me keep burn out at bay. Obviously there is no way to completely keep the two separate, but some boundaries always help in the pursuit of happiness.

And, as they say in Zombieland**, I try to take time to enjoy the little things.

*We use sprints in this case to denote bi-monthly cadences rather than in the true Scrum sense. The reason for this is to give us reporting periods. As a content practitioner, I find Kanban to be a bit more our style, but there are particular periods, like when working with developers, that sprints fit a work load.

I also find the terminology and concept of sprints a great way to communicate deadlines and work load to clients. If I indicate to them that we have a workload queue and give them some sense of measure to it, they are far likelier to have balanced expectations on project delivery.

**Random, I know, but I recently saw the reboot, Zombieland: Double Tap, and nearly cried I laughed so hard. Little things…

The Value Proposition & Cats

Outcome vs. Output, Quality vs. Quantity, Hybrid vs. Central

I was recently reading an article in Wired magazine that postulated time traveling (not surprising) and used it to put forth a commentary on our contemporary society (not surprising). They posit that a social scientist plucked from the eons of time is brought forward to 2019. Would said personage be “as astounded by our world as we like to think?”* The article author thinks not. And why not?

“Anyone familiar with the ancient Egyptian fixation on felines (cat statues, cat pictographs) and the mid-century American obsession with TV would at least have some pretext to accept that one of the largest conglomerates on the planet is the owner of a massive video site with millions of cat clips.”

— Zeynep Tufekci*
Cats laughing emoji

Now that was surprising! I could hardly contain myself!!! It’s totally true!! Our lives (or those of my friends and I) revolve around the feeding, cleaning-up-after, and placating of cats. That aside, humanity, if I can be so bold as to comment collectively, really hasn’t changed—despite the evolution of our tool set.

We remain as selfishly stupid and as supremely susceptible to the seven sins as at any time in history before. So where, I must ask, is the value proposition in that? And are ALL those cat clips really necessary?

Which leads me to the next rail car on my thought train: Outcome vs. output and how it contributes to value.

Outcome vs. Output

As has been documented many times over, we are a world obsessed with output. And our clients demand it. What they don’t tend to think about in marketing and content strategy is that to be truly successfully, content output must be matched up to a content strategy and an outcome. Otherwise, where is the value add?

To be truly successfully, content output must be matched up to a content strategy and an outcome. Otherwise, where is the value add?

Confession: A highpoint in my life is viewing a stymied subject matter expert, generally an MD in my industry, as I debate with them pros and cons of content output vs. content outcome. Does the content truly help us meet our goals? I’m sure my glee is palpable…

For example, here is some of our top performing content of all time: interviews with subject matter experts published with transcripts to our website.

A list of our top performing site assets (specifically interviews with subject matter experts)
Fig 1. Our top performing interview transcripts of all time on healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope; these 20 assets (out of 15,000) drive 20 percent of all our website traffic.

Out of all our content, approximately 30 assets (.002%) our of 15,000 drive almost a quarter of all our web traffic. (See Fig 1. Note that I added 10 of our top performing blogs to 20 of our interviews for the 30 assets, which I didn’t show in the figure—sneaky. Sorry about that. They do exist!!)

To me, this sparks multiple suppositions:

  • We should be actively promoting that content as part of our ongoing strategy.
  • This content clearly resonates with an audience and resonating with your audience is important.
  • We need to create more MORE!

In slowing down to consider more fully however, are these really should-do’s or are they rather could-do’s? Where is this traffic going after it arrives? And what outcome are we looking for? The further research I conduct into this question, the more I question our content machine.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe you must have that eternal balancing of the scales. A conglomeration of high performing cat clips was not established without much experimentation and mass quantities of cats. But I do believe we must create with an eye towards quality.

Don’t fret overly much about keeping the content scales balanced with both quantity and quality. A conglomeration of high performing cat clips was not established without much experimentation—and mass quantities of cats.

And I’m grateful to note that in my organization we are also becoming obsessed with outcome and quality of outcome.

Quality vs. Quantity

I find that sometimes our higher quality content is not necessarily our highest performing nor are we producing it in high quantities. Here I must pause and identify a value add for our organization.

For my team, we have determined that measurable outcomes consist of, essentially, lead generation. How many clicks on the “Schedule an appointment” button can we track? How many taps on the scheduling phone number? Can we get all this data lumped together onto a dashboard that reflects in a quantifiable number the difference our team is making?**

Alas, there are major gaps in our data collection. We cannot track if an appointment was actually requested once a lead has called the phone number. Nor can we track if a request form submission has led to an appointment scheduled. We also cannot connect whether a particular lead driven by video or written content has resulted in a higher value patient for the organization (namely resulting in a surgery—something our specialists find extreme value in—and not only for the revenue).

And for other teams creating content in our organization, quantification and value remains somewhat mystical. What is the value of that high performing content that drives so many site visits? Since it was technically created in the name of brand recognition, how can it hurt us to have such massively successful content?^

One also can’t negate the benefit of this content for our internal stakeholders. Is some volume necessary to keep the peace even if the long-term value is negligible? (Btws, I’d say yes. If you have to create something for a stakeholder to give them a twinge of joy or that, hopefully, leads to data collection on why it’s not a value add—BY ALL MEANS VINDICATE YOURSELF. And if you fail, it was in the spirit of experimentation. We must keep our sense of humor about us.)

But still I do pause to wonder, could quantity hurt us? When does quantity negate a value add? (More on that in an upcoming post as I have been watching some experimentation in our content ecosystem.)

When does quantity negate quality and therefore its value proposition?

Sidenote in the name of quantity: #DYK that the monuments of ancient Egyptian culture morphed from pyramids of massive size to smaller hidden tombs to temples that remain UNESCO heritage sites to this day? We all have heard of the Egyptian obsession with a life after death, but did you also know that they massively stockpiled provisions and small representations of servants (ushabtis) and the like to aid them in their next-life journeys?

Sometimes I can’t help but think that the ushabtis and cats mummified for this cause, while probably high in quantity and supportive of Egypt’s economy, probably did not return the value expected by their purchasers…

Enough already now though of the musings and questions and assumptions. Let them have solutions! Let us unsheathe the teeth and claws. Which of these propositions leads in a bid for value?

Hybrid vs. Centralized

I dare you to identify frameworks in your life that are hybrid partners vs. centralized in nature. A few come quickly to mind:

  • Pointillism: The foray of Georges Seraut into complete paintings made of dots that unify to create figures and forms (the forerunners of pixels).
  • The EU: A union of countries vs. Great Britain standing independent. #Brexit
  • Fashion: Mixed prints over matchy-matchy, both of which schools of thought vie for dominance.
  • The US of A: An experiment in democracy that resulted in independent states in tenuous balance with a unified (supposedly) federal government.
  • Google: Which business model focuses on global dominance but also opens numerous projects and businesses in the name of innovation and experimentation.
  • Alpha cat (me) vs. baby cats in my household.

Notice that in all of these situations, there are a variety of models, from rebel (Seraut’s points) to central (Google) to hybrid (the US of A). There is no clearly dominating model that seems to work better than any other.***

Dennis Shiao, for Content Marketing Institute writes that companies, much like those parallel examples above, organize around content in three different models (as illustrated in Fig 2):

  1. Rebel
  2. Hybrid
  3. Central

And here I make my stand and offer my solution for the pursuit of value: With the caveat of leadership influence, I make a bid for the hybrid model.

Fig 2. Visualizations of content organization models: 1) Rebel (or as I like to say—singular sensation), 2) Hybrid, and 3) Central (around our mummified cat of course)
Fig 2. Visualizations of content organization models: 1) Rebel (or as I like to say—singular sensation), 2) Hybrid, and 3) Central (around our mummified cat of course)

I proffer the proposition that true value lies in a balance between the content created by rebels and the overlord conjointly, for these reasons:

  • Agents of chaos can sometimes make amazing content.
  • Without centralized and singular guidance, mavericks can lack backing to move a project forward and harness the quality of their content for the most value.
  • Too strongly centralized methodology can establish a series of hoops so discouraging that it precludes any creativity or timeliness.
  • Conflict between methodologies can lead to sparks of genius that would otherwise never achieve combustion.

And therefore, my value proposition: Don’t dismay if you have content creators who aren’t following all the best practices or centralized standards. Some of the stuff they create is amazing and resonates with an audience.

Do strive to represent a unified brand and style guide to represent consistency and quality in your work. Do work towards data collection and quantification of output in the hopes of demonstrating good practices.

Hybridize and experiment.

My value proposition: Work towards a hybrid content model where you empower individuals but maintain a strong centralized brand and structure around desired content outcomes.

While I like to think that I am the alpha (and can site evidence towards this theory), I must acknowledge that I often bow to the vagaries of my felines. Without their hidden depths and uncanny ability to surprise me, however, I would not be such a delightfully centered eccentric.

We are, of course, each a singular sensation.

Sketch of mummified cats from the British Museum: A Guide to the Third and Fourth Egyptian Rooms, Natural History Museum, London
Sketch of mummified cats from the British Museum: A Guide to the Third and Fourth Egyptian Rooms, Natural History Museum, London (altered)

*”Free Riders” by Zeynep Tufekci. Wired Magazine Sep 2019

**Let me refer you here to an amazing podcast from Brain Traffic with Kristina Halverson and some content data analysts at Harvard who have been able to create such a magnificent dashboard. I am simultaneously immensely envious that they have an actual data scientist and extremely chuffed that my department is also dabbling in this. Democratizing Data at Harvard

^I want to assure you that I have plans around establishing and assigning a measurable value to this. If only I could find the time for the analysis!!

***I’m ignoring the fact here that Google basically owns all of us.


Content Creation & Bias

Recognizing Our Own Cognitive Biases as Content Creators

Note: In this post I mention the phenomenon of “fake news”. Please note that this is to give contextual reference to ideas in this post, and I apologize beforehand to those of you who feel as thoroughly sick of the phrase “fake news” as I do.

Fig. 1: Bias <noun> prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair

As a community, whether we wanted to or not, we were recently brought face to face with news about ourselves we didn’t want to hear (and may still deny). We are inherently biased in our viewpoints and opinions.

For some people this is not a shocker. For most of us, the fake news phenomenon that hit rock bottom with the recent presidential election was a wake-up call whether we wanted it or not. It was a moment to look in our social media mirror and see writing on that mirror that pointed out the flaws in our reflection. (So very meta!)

Self reflection: several mirrors

I use this metaphor to say that the content we chose to consume, on whatever internet channel we frequented, was implicitly biased to match our own viewpoints, and we were forced to recognize this. (Which totally sucked. #amiright?)

We are biased in the content we consume. How biased are we in the content we create?

As we are so biased in the content we consume, how biased then are we in the content we create? And how do we combat that bias or at least become aware of it in our work?

Assumptions We Make Personally

I have always been aware of the concept of bias. Growing up in a household governed by strong and divergent views of our reality, this was readily apparent to me, and as a fairly judgmental teenager it was easy for me to see the biases of the authors I read, the teachers I listened to, and the views of the people around me.*

This led me to a deep skepticism of journalism. Not journalism in and of itself, which is incredibly detail oriented and well meaning, but of the belief that true journalism is unbiased and objective. This struck me as ludicrous. Anything a human individual writes is biased; therefore, anything we write as content creators will reflect our own personal biases, whether intentional or not.

Entering the world of content creation, I assumed that others had this same viewpoint. It was no challenge for me then to become a content creator for a brand/company/institution, since I assumed that my readers would be as educated as I was and be able to discern somewhat the biases inherent in the content I wrote.

The recent, unfortunate, phenomenon summed up by the phrase “fake news” reminded me that many, many people do not have the education or privileges of my own background, and that prodded me to be more aware of my own biases. Imagine how fascinated I was then to discover that there are multiple defined types of bias, called more specifically cognitive biases.^

Cognitive Bias: The Types of Bias & How They Work

Fig 2: Cognitive bias: deviation from rational judgement

There are, apparently, over 200 varieties of cognitive bias! Can you believe that? Here are three prevalent types of cognitive bias:

  1. Optimism bias: A bias that causes someone to believe that they themselves are less likely to experience a negative event (also known as unrealistic or comparative optimism).**
  2. Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias).
  3. Normalcy bias: A bias that causes people to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects, because people believe that things will always function the way things normally have functioned (or normality bias).

Our Biases as Content Creators

In the ‘verse of content, those three biases might be defined something like this:

  1. Optimism bias: Creating content, any content, will surely be good because content marketing is a cure all (and my client wants it), or maybe, we have a content strategy and while it might not be documented or well defined, it’s probably effective.
  2. Confirmation bias: The content we are creating is valuable to my company, brand, industry, or subject matter experts; therefore, it will be valuable to my audience. The way we approach our content from a company viewpoint is the same way our audience approaches it.
  3. Normalcy bias: The type of content I am creating has proven valuable in the past, therefore producing more content structured in the same way will continue to achieve the desired results.

Content biases can range from our beliefs about how our content strategy is working (optimism bias) to the format in which we structure our content (normalcy bias).

I looked at some of my own work through the lenses of these biases, and here are some things I discovered.

Optimism Bias

In our organization, we produce, on average, 65 pieces of content per month. This includes the following:

  • Evergreen webpages
  • Press releases
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts (which become webpages when transcripts are posted)
  • Article/feature style pieces
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Print pieces

I have been more studiously auditing our organization’s web content assets (4K+ specific to content marketing and roughly 30K+ to evergreen web pages). At a certain point, you have to ask yourself if this is sustainable. While we work to abide by best practices, I sometimes wonder how effectively we are abiding by those practices and what assumptions we are making about the success of our various content formats.

We also have multiple content creators spread across multiple teams. The standards they employ and consider normal and not always what I think of first as normal! My content is always biased towards either tracing the efficacy of content towards ROI, meaning I write and maintain a lot of content targeted to potential patients or students.

The best practices that work for the content I create do not apply to content created by other teams. My sphere of normalcy is not the same others’. This is a bias that I try to be aware of when I’m working with other content creators. But boy is it hard!!

The best practices I apply to the type of content I create don’t necessarily apply to content created by others. While we start with standard practices, we don’t necessarily end up there.

As Robert Rose recently said in a webinar I watched (through the Content Marketing Institute), while we start with standard practices, we don’t necessarily end up there. And what’s normal for us may not work for all of our stakeholders. It’s a good thing to remember.

Confirmation Bias

A good example of confirmation bias in my work is a written piece we created for our joint replacement services. Our ortho services identified this specialty as a priority, so we determined to write something targeted to potential patients to help them decide if it was the right time to get a joint replacement.

We initially assumed that patients would approach this job, of finding information about a hip or knee replacement, in the same way that our specialists (and we!) think of it as: “When to Get a Joint Replacement”.  (Can you already see the problem here?)

Fully expecting the piece to have a good traffic footprint, we pulled data for the page after six months. We were shocked to discover that it was performing abysmally! A little keyword research analysis later, and it was clear why that was happening.

People looking for information about hip and knee replacement don’t think of it as joint replacement. We separated the content out into two different pieces: “When to Get a Hip Replacement” and “When to Get A Knee Replacement”. Traffic improved 450 percent comparatively—I kid you not.

Just because we are used to regarding a content topic from a certain viewpoint—involving jargon or with an industry-focused approach—doesn’t mean our users do. A lesson we technically are intensely familiar with, and yet we still create, on occasion, a piece that is biased towards our industry and not our user.

This was a good reminder to focus time and effort around identifying not just what may help our potential audience but also to explore their approach to it and not our own.

Normalcy Bias

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about the symptoms of heart disease called “When to See a Cardiologist”. It was structured as a listicle, as that was (and still remains I believe?) a popular format to consume content.

Within a few months it became the most visited page within this subsite and even translated to clicks on the associated call to action “Schedule an Appointment.” This was undoubtedly a success, and one that we use frequently as an example for our clients of what specifically targeted content can do for our audience.

Imagine my surprise then to discover a few months ago that traffic to this piece had dropped by 25 percent! Not gonna’ lie—I experienced some panic. My team and I started to look into when and how this had occurred. We couldn’t necessarily pinpoint the exact cause, but did connect a few dots.

With the introduction of the Google answer box, which wasn’t necessarily that recent, this piece of content showed in search results in a different format to users. While best practice dictates that the heights of achievement are unlocked when your content shows in an answer box, the way our piece showed now could be considered detrimental to us, if our success measure was solely to drive traffic to our website.

Fig. 3: Google query search return from 2018 showing the content piece in an answer box with almost the entire list in an abbreviated format. Since the list is the main structure for the piece, a viewer might wonder if there is any truly pertinent information left on the page to justify a click.

I don’t know about you, but looking at that result (Fig. 3) as a user, I’m suddenly much more confident in making a decision about whether this content will help me find what I want to know. It’s also easy to assume that the 10-item list may not be detailed enough information for me.

In the future, I will be doing more research on whether a list format is the approach I want to take when creating a content piece of this type.

Content Bias in the Process of Content Creation

I hope my examples of content matching the specific cognitive biases of optimism, confirmation, and normalcy have given you some ideas of your own regarding bias. While the fake news travesty continues to make my own biased viewpoints resonate in frustration, I am making an effort to think about issues from other points of view. It sure ain’t easy!

Also, I plan on exploring more information regarding the types of cognitive bias. Understanding the biases of our audiences obviously is essential for us as content creators. It’s also important that we separate the inherent biases of our organizational need vs. our user need. I really can’t emphasize that enough. While we may think we are aware of that bias—believe me—we aren’t completely aware.

What biases can you find in your industry and more specifically your company? How do you approach them when you create content? It’s a question we are all going to have to be more honest about on reflection if we want to be successful in connecting with not just our users, but ourselves as well.

*Naturally, as a judgmental teenager and later college student, I was less aware of my own personal biases.

^While watching some continuing education videos for my project management professional certification, I listened to a fantastic presentation by Mario Alt titled “The Mission Critical Project Manager” that discussed cognitive bias.

**Wikipedia

Content & The Editorial Workroom: How to Begin Tracking Your Content

No Content Strategy? Try These 3 Things to Start Moving in the Right Direction.

Raise your hand if you have no content strategy.

Raise your hand if you have a partial content strategy (in the clouds around your head, somewhere…).

Raise your hand if you are a genius. All of your hands should now be in the air, ‘cause you can point your organization in the right direction towards a content strategy by starting with these small steps (and always claim to be a genius—humble brag my people).

Recently at work, in tandem with multiple fortuitous circumstances, I was able to assist in setting up some editorial management for content. It’s just a start, mind you, and rather opposite of the “ideal” methodology (business goals –> content strategy –> editorial calendar –> content creation and maintenance, #amIright?). But if you, like us, need to work with priorities that change on the fly, demanding clients no matter the validity of their requests, and a multitude of contributing teams, you might try some of these first steps we have taken.

1. Compile Task/Work Lists

Ideally every piece of content would roll up to a top-level strategy. But sometimes it’s necessary just to gain that measurement of the current state. This can be difficult, however, without a spreadsheet or task management system of some kind. In our office over the last two years, we have slowly consolidated into one main project management system, Asana.

Everyone enters their projects differently and even uses different tracking methods (my team uses complexity scores; another team relies more on time logs; yet other teams rely on output). The one thing we all do, however, is enter our content-to-be-done into Asana as tasks. Knowing that the majority of our teams enter the majority of their content as tasks into the system (or spreadsheets, which can be imported into Asana), I thought I’d take a stab at organizing it all into an editorial calendar.

List of content assets in Asana
Fig 1: All the content assets/tasks in Asana

In Asana, this meant setting up a project and literally just tagging each content task as part of the project (1 hour – that’s all it took).

Calendar view in Asana
Fig 1.5: Calendar view of content assets/tasks

You Don’t Have a Project Management System (& Heads Will Roll Before You Get One)

You don’t need a project management system to make a list, however. The good, old-fashioned spreadsheet will do just as well. It’s true that you probably can’t rely on all your content creators entering things into a spreadsheet, and that might not change, but change for good sometimes rests on the shoulders of you—the superhero in plainclothes.

Spreadsheet version of editorial calendar
Fig 2: Y’all are best pals with the spreadsheet, cheap, easy, but hopefully not that easy…

Writing things down holds people (yourself included) accountable. It’s something to measure. Lists are the best friend of measurement and tracking; they are data points in and of themselves. They are also the easiest place to start.

Generally, people just need a rallying point. It’s not that they don’t want glory, lauds, and honor, it’s just that they don’t know how to go about it. All it takes is that one person starting the process.

2. Assign Categories—Thereby Setting Up an Easy, Quantifiable Way to Show the Output You Are Creating

One thing I would add to your soon-to-be-editorial calendar is categories (tags/columns—whatever). Why? These categories will help you see what track your content is on. Who’s your audience? What type of content is being created? Categories will section your content and add that special razzle dazzle to a spreadsheet or list.

On our editorial calendar (notice it’s not a list anymore—IT’S A CALENDAR), we use these categories:

  • Audience
  • Content Type
  • Marketing Priority (if aligns with specific)
  • Service/Topic

This gives you an immediate view of what’s been done and where the majority of your time and budget commitment is going. While it doesn’t equate with the complexity of creation or the time spent on it, this data is still an easy, quantifiable way to show the output you are creating.

Fig 3: Content created for University of Utah Health during August, 2018, sorted by audience; I wish the color palette was different, but I tried to limit myself to something others would find professional.

Once again, organizing by category will tell you if what you are creating is directed at the audience you are trying to reach. You are using your list as data points, in this case to tell a story about your current state.

For example, in Figure 3 you can see we are creating content for all the inhabitants of Noah’s Ark a lot of people. While the content is pretty evenly divided along what the organization prioritizes, this graph brings up interesting questions. Should we be spending so much of our creative power on content for patients? What are we asking those patients to do when they come to our content? (More embarrassingly, do we have calls to action on our content for that particular audience?)

For some people, understanding what’s happening right now helps them to focus on where they need to go. Plus, people really like graphs and charts. Trust me on that one.

Graphs and charts from content report
Fig 4: Charts and graphs created in Excel showing the content lists sorted by different categories; 15 content pieces aligned with clinical marketing priorities and 14 with academic. Btw, 91 total assets was like a freaking miracle for us at U of U Health. I think we broke the bank on that one.

3. Communicate the Work That’s Been Done

Once you have compiled your list of what content has been published in the past week, month, quarter, I recommend posting it somewhere. You could:

  • post the list on an internal intranet/blog.
  • email the list to your department at large.
  • email the list to your boss.
  • email the list to other important stakeholders.

Anywhere you can communicate the work that’s been done is good. People want to be recognized and included, particularly if upstairs is impressed by your organizational and list-gathering capabilities. You might even get people to commit to—wait for it—deadlines…

Action, Information, Reaction: Feedback Loops Can Lead to Change!

What you have just done in compiling this list and emailing it out is create a feedback loop. You have taken what everyone mostly already knows and just made it available real-time. While some would write this off as so easy – then why haven’t they done it yet?* Research has shown that feedback loops help us change:

“Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors. Action, information, reaction.” —Thomas Goetz, Wired Magazine

By compiling this list, you are helping people see some organization in their work. You are showing people what was accomplished in a certain period of time and how that could possibly influence the future. You are helping people engage in—eek!—thinking about cause and effect, value, return on investment.

Those Fragile Toes We Stepped On—Change Is Hard

As change does, this will step on some toes. Even if you try to communicate when, where, why, and how what you are doing is a force for good, someone out there will claim that they never knew about it and why didn’t you tell them?^

This work-culture attitude, that change is hard, takes work. However, few things are more motivating in favor of change than these things:

  • Inclusion
  • Competition
  • Appearance
  • Demonstration of advantages

When faced with someone who hates what I’ve done, the only thing I can say is this: Sorry to tread on your toes. Please give me your feedback. I would love to involve you as your work is an important part of our content initiative.

Is it Flattery or Genuine Appreciation?

Occasionally I mention to people that I treat all my clients like they are unique and special. This includes co-workers, collaborators, and upper management. Some would call that cynical and manipulative. The difference is that I actually (99.99% of the time) mean it!

There is something to appreciate in everyone. If you can find it, you will succeed. That doesn’t mean sidestepping accountability, but appreciating what your co-workers accomplish.

Benefits of Measuring Your Current State –> The Editorial Calendar

Some may say that if you don’t have a strategy, why bother with an editorial calendar? It’s true that an editorial calendar does not replace a content strategy; however, sometimes it’s enough to start with what you have and make incremental changes in the direction you would like to go. Even little changes can lead to great waves.**

The benefits of gathering this information and putting it in one place are these:

  • Help instill a feeling of unity between content creators (technically, you are working towards the same goal).
  • Foster collaboration.
  • Gain a true appreciation of just how much work others are doing.
  • Communicate that you care about the content being produced.
  • Nudge content creators towards thinking in terms of audience-based content.

This is a simple (but often boundary pushing^^) step in the right direction. Sometimes it’s a gargantuan effort, particularly if you are working with people who don’t play well together, but often the initial act of compilation can push your team/s towards seeing the current state of things. On the path to Valhalla, we heroes must create the path. After all, nobody starts out a hero. It’s the journey that truly defines you. (See Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007, Bloomsbury Publishing.)

P.S. You also don’t have to tell them that next up, you are going to start examining vanity metrics more closely for patterns and that you are going to point out holes in your current content assets and maybe challenges in the creation process. World domination takes time my friends.

*This is a defining concept of modern art. Just think—we could all be smearing ketchup on weird glass blocks and have a show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. But we didn’t. So we can’t.
^Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. Stress at work can lead to hair trigger tempers when it comes to change. Not that I have ever gotten upset like that…
**Sometimes only clichés can accurately capture your truth. Is that lazy writing though? A question for another day.
^^Hello paradox, my old friend. Why is it so hard sometimes to take one step forward?

Setting Up Your Employee to Succeed: An Astonishing Idea

I literally never heard or read of this concept until this last year, 2018. I’m not kidding! Who knew that not only was there a philosophy and school of thought RE management, but that some organizations literally structure a plan for their employees to succeed!

I am still dumbfounded by this concept in the context of a goal that leadership or management would strive to achieve. And I think it’s just that the idea is so new to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had great bosses (at least one) that gave me what I needed to succeed, but I also recognize that not every boss will intuitively understand every employee enough to do this. Each employee is unique; therefore, their way to success will be different as well.

Expectations

In the past my experiences as an employee have always been focused around figuring out what the boss likes and trying (or not) to please them. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. Never, in my life, did it occur to me that a boss could give me parameters around which I could build my own success OR that they might allow me the freedom to define my own success.

My personal cultural background operates around a concept called servant leadership.* Namely, the leader is there to make sure the employees get what they need rather than making themselves an all-knowing figurehead who directs from on high. But there is (and I have yet to meet a leader who truly practices this) an element of pride in this concept: that I, as the nominated leader, somehow know better than the team what each team member needs and will elevate them through my own personal wisdom.

This bullsh&$ is actually kind of the opposite of truly helping your employees succeed. Setting yourself up as all-knowing intermediary is a flawed approach because none of us are all-wise, and all of us are generally affected by having power over others.^

In my first management position (by title), I had 10 dressers (assistants to actors with costume changes). One day one of the young dressers asked me a question and I absolutely beamed. She had figured out that my definition of success was not that the dresser was busy every minute, but that they were available and made sure all work that needed to be completed was done.

And that was the very question she asked me: Was anything else that needed to be done? Suddenly, she gained mega points in my mental tally, simply by figuring out what my expectations were.

I realized as I thought about this later, that one aspect of helping your employees to succeed is making known your expectations. You can’t expect anyone to read your mind.

In fact I did my employees a disservice by not communicating these expectations. Whether or not they cared about “succeeding” (via my definition) in this position, I certainly didn’t help them out.

But, are our personal expectations of our employees (and ourselves) truly the measure of success? Success certainly becomes far more tangible if it is tied to an overarching goal or objective.

Tangible Goals & Strategic Objectives

How many of you know what your institution, department, and/or team goals are? Our department worked very hard to define goals and outcomes in the last couple years, but a recent leadership departure has scattered those foci out in the proverbial wind. Granted, the industry (if you can call it that) of the academic medical center certainly doesn’t help anyone out since it’s so immensely divided in strategic objectives it’s nigh impossible to meet all the expectations.**

But, defining goals and/or objectives at any level (and writing them down) will help everyone succeed. Suddenly, you have something that can be defined and measured. You can break down these end games into an achievable journey. And not only is your end game achievable, but you with your employees can customize the way you achieve these goals.

I once thought that there was only one way to do things. That is absolute rubbish. There are not only multiple ways to do things, but there are pros and cons to all of them.

There is a difference, however, between skills and methodology. Skills are like facts, the building blocks of specialty, craft, or trade.

When you sew a seam in a costume, there are techniques to achieve quality. Once you have learned the basic techniques and skills of your specialty area, then you can explore methodologies. Another example: There are different methodologies of project management; however, they are all based around certain skills:

  • Time management
  • Resource management
  • People management

The way you approach those can define your success.

True employee success comes however, I believe, when your employee feels empowered to take their individual skill set and map out a way to achieve the overall goal themselves.

Simple Steps to Prime Your Employees to Succeed

As Steve Jobs said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Your employees should be skilled people in their specialties. You, as their manager, may have some of these skills, but you will be most successful yourself if your skill set is in good management. (But more about that some other time.)

Here are some simple steps to prime your employees to succeed:

  • Know and communicate the endgame
  • Tie in team and employee goals to the endgame
  • Clearly communicate your expectations
  • Allow your employee the freedom to work as suits them best
  • Hold your employee accountable; review and check in as needed

Of course, now that I write that, I realize none of those steps are really simple. Each one involves skill sets that are difficult to master in and off themselves—communication; candid conversations about difficult topics; a modicum of self-mastery so that you don’t project your own emotions on your employees; the ability to accept failures and move on; and, perhaps most important, the ability to listen.

And celebrate your successes!

If you are constantly focusing on where you need to go without appreciating the work that’s been done, how will your employees ever feel successful?

So, it turns out that while I could teach skill sets and I have some good management skills, there is still much to learn. And I can help my employees to succeed if only by acknowledging their expertise and specialty level and not assuming my methodologies are the only way. I can also help them to define (alongside myself) a set of clear achievable goals towards our endgame.^^

And I’m wicked good at throwing celebrations…

 

*Very Christian actually
^And if you think you don’t favor a particular employee, you’re lying. Every manager has a favorite or one they listen to more than others.
**Patient care, research, and education. Those are three wildly difficult areas to define success measures for, so in an institution that has them all squished together—welcome the woes of too many masters.
^^It’s true that the institutional endgame might not be defined or be somewhat nebulous, but you work with what you have…