Content strategy Making corporate web

Talking Author Experience with the guy who wrote the book about it

When I first met Rick Yagodich in 2012, we got talking over lunch about his ideal CMS. I may have been slightly hampered by a karaoke-related hangover at the time (thanks, CS Forum), but as Rick raced through his incredibly detailed plans for keeping information in its context, for putting references and cross-references at the forefront of information management, and for pushing content presentation way down the list of jobs a CMS does, I realised that this needed more than a chat over a meal to explain. “He should write this down,” I thought. “Maybe then I could keep up.”

One very simple idea was at the heart of things, though, and that was to make the job of authoring and maintaining content as simple as possible. The actual experience of being an author hasn’t been taken seriously enough, which causes a lot of common problems with content. That was something else that I though Rick should write down.

Two years later, bingo. Author Experience: Bridging the gap between people and technology in content management lays out all this and more. My copy arrived this week, but by then I’d already read a draft version (and found myself mentioned in a footnote. Mum! I’m in print!).

I’d also chatted with Rick about introducing AX to the enterprise. Like most of the larger problems we content people face (or imagine ourselves facing – this was very much a theoretical discussion), a lot of it came down to interpersonal stuff, and politics, and money.

We kicked around some big questions about selling in the new idea of AX to large organisations, resistance to change, and educating both authors and managers.

“You sell the system on the idea that it will give you perfect structure. The structure provides power and flexibility. You can manage content with ease. But, only insofar as authors use the system responsibly. In a wonderfully structured system, even the smallest bit of unreliable data can muddy the entire set.

It’s a problem with every system ever invented. But there’s a definite risk, especially if – as you say in the book – so many writers feel unappreciated and underpaid.”

Corporate content comes from a lot of authors. Very few of those authors are what I call “pure believers in words as a way to communicate information”. Most of them have an agenda above simply communicating facts to an audience. To pick a classic example, marketers want to sway opinions. That they must produce content to do so is an incidental task, rather than a professional calling.

In a lot of ways, Author Experience has more obvious benefits (and therefore appeal) to the smaller, purer group. Technical writers would be a good example.

So how do we sell it to the bulk of content creators – the authors who probably don’t think of themselves as authors? I possibly wasn’t at my most charitable when I decided to take a pain-based approach:

“There is one way to get authors to understand the cost of their content: make them do a content audit. That is often the first step from saying you’re a writer to saying you’re a content strategist. That’s where you learn the pain. That’s where you start to appreciate the cost of bad content, and understand that a bad author experience contributes to it.”

Big questions, for sure. And we don’t have all the answers. But it’s great fun to be thinking about such things as Rick starts to bring AX to the content world.

The whole transcript, which is part of an interview series, is up on the Author Experience site.

By Max Johns

Content strategist and web writer.

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