I’m returning to and rereading Violaine Truck’s post to the STC France site of a review of Content Strategy for the Web. Before you read this post, it might make more sense if you go read hers. Take your time, I’ll wait. After reading her post and then writing an overly long comment, I decided to turn my response into a blog post.
It all started with Twitter. Destry Wion’s tweet is how I found the book review, where he said, “Interesting review of @halvorson‘s book. As much an analysis of #contentstrategy in France as anything.” I am intrigued about the job market and the book itself, so I clicked through to the review.
Amazon tells me that my book, Conversation and Community, sells side by side with Content Strategy for the Web quite often. I am reading Content Strategy for myself and finding it complementary, with some concepts that are essential to understanding what is going on with the web. Thinking of a content audit on a single-sourced helpsite with 4,000 topics makes me want to cry inside a little. I say that only half-jokingly.
I read the review and my curiosity was piqued when Violaine said she’s a technical writer turned web content manager (with French job titles, naturellement). She asks in the introduction, “I hoped to find an answer in Kristina’s book to a prevailing question I (and presumably others) in France have: Is the title—Content Strategist—just a fancy name for one or more roles that already exist in the French job market…?”
I haven’t seen a job market yet where there is direct crossover between technical writing and web content jobs, yet in my book I believe in the future trends I see in technical writing and how we should be delivering our content with web content strategies adding value, especially for the social web.
Where are the jobs?
I have heard, “Where are the jobs that your book describes?” a few times since my book was published. I found one posting for a wiki writer that I blogged about previously. But I couldn’t directly point to specific job listings that combine all the skills and values my book describes. I went to lunch with a community college professor here in Austin a few weeks ago. He is so inspired by my book that he wants to write curriculum around it, yet he correctly hesitates and waits to find the right job description to teach. At a community college, their professors know that you don’t propose curriculum until there are job descriptions in the market. It’s wise to do this in the community college setting so that their degrees match the demand for workers.
I think Violaine’s post helps us all get the perspective of a working technical writer. It’s a tough market out there. And it’s only getting tougher to prove value – no matter what your job description or title, or location, I’d say. Here’s my take from where I sit in the job market in Austin, Texas. There are plenty of technical writer jobs where a doing good, quality job is undervalued. There are plenty of web content creator jobs where good content is undervalued. Seems like everyone has to prove their value.
Consultants have this viewpoint all the time, that they must prove their value through metrics, return on investment, and so forth. It’s extremely difficult to act like a consultant in many jobs. If I’m reading between the lines of her post, it’s tough to be strategic when you’re copying and pasting, right? I recently read a book called Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them. One mindshift that author tells you to do is to act like everyone is a client. You are the consultant.
Violaine has armed herself with the books that help prove a point – that a specialty does have value. It seems that’s only half the battle. The other half of the battle is to figure out where the value lies. Is it in business-to-customer interactions? Business-to-business? Is there a risk of inaction?
What are these jobs?
Finally, what are these jobs combining technical writing, content strategy, and web content? Colleges have web programmer classes and web design classes, because there is employer demand for those skill sets. I think there is an uncovered demand for web publishing and social web skill sets. In fact, I guess wrote an entire book about these skills. But just like technical writing, it’s difficult to teach, tough to evaluate, and often unfairly interpreted or undervalued in the marketplace. I think there are many job titles that fit that description. Community manager. Information architect. Technical editor. Program manager. Technical communicator. Business analyst. Web content manager. Web editor. We are not alone in this regard.
A fellow STC member, during an interview, asked, “In response to the current economic downturn, how do you think your book helps technical communicators weather the storm?” Thing is, unless you know the right keywords to enter into the job listings page, you won’t find the jobs, right? Do you search for “social media” – will that give you a lot of PR and marketing listings? Do you search for “web content” – perhaps, but again, will you find only ad agencies and newspapers using that term? If your specialty is technical writing, producing targeted documentation for a particular audience, what is your role in the web content arena? I think we’re inventing it in the jobs we hold today. Tom Johnson is doing so in the posts he’s writing now, in 2009. Rahel Bailie started the STC Content Strategy special interest group this fall. There are other examples of strategic moves in our field to deliver the right content in the right manner as the web and the social web change the rules, change the contributors, and change us.
But that’s just my viewpoint – what do you see from where you are around the world?