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6 Reasons Why Collaboration Doesn’t Make Me Cringe

kl

I’m well aware that the word collaboration causes many people to shudder. Believe me, I’ve been haunted by projects gone awry because of long meetings, dominating personalities, group think, or design by committee. I’ve been on the road to Abilene, and these experiences taught me to dread group work.

It’s true that collaborative efforts can be lousy and unproductive. But this doesn’t mean the idea of collaboration in itself is the problem.

As a writer, I love to collaborate. I know this sentiment is quite countercultural for the writing breed. Before I fell for collaboration, I’d throw on headphones and get lost in the cadence of my own voice instead of inviting other writers into my process. And when I came out of my hermitic retreats, it was tough to see how the ideas of an outsider could fit into my polished prose. I produced something great, thank you; I’m taking no comments at this time.

But, even though it’s in my nature to be the lone authoritarian of my written words, I’ve come to see that when I let other writers in, we produce something better than I could have alone. And because I want my writing to be its best, I now try to collaborate as much as deadlines allow (even if it drives fellow writers bananas).

Here are 6 truths that changed my mind about collaboration:

It makes me a better writer

We have a team of great writers here at Bethel. Whenever I let them speak into my work, I learn something valuable. With each revision and draft, I get more practice. And with more practice comes better first drafts.

It produces a useful product

In the end, what I write for Bethel is not about me.

I should care chiefly about creating the best product for my readers, audiences, and users, even if it means letting go of phrases I love. Having someone else read and speak into my work helps me focus on the bigger picture to make sure the words I’m choosing match the priorities of the project.

It creates consistency

Writers have a voice, a method, an approach to their writing that allows who they are to peek through. They have strong preferences about style and word choice. They believe in right and wrong.

But writing for Bethel requires that I quiet my voice and push aside partiality for the sake of the brand I represent. When other writers dig into my work, they take out the stuff that embodies too much of me and not enough Bethel.

It builds trust

I know I’m flattered whenever a teammate asks for my help. It validates my skills. It makes me feel valued, wanted, and appreciated. And I’m more eager to ask them for help in return because we’ve established an understanding that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to have questions. It’s healthy to rely on others and to support them in return.

It strengthens relationships

The pressure to write something useful each day is daunting, stressful, and draining. If I didn’t have such insightful and caring teammates, I’d be nearing the end of my marketing stint. So I involve my colleagues in my work because it creates meaningful conversation that builds our bonds. And it’s these relationships that keep me coming back to work each day.

It broadens my thinking

It’s easy to fall into familiar patterns for approaching the same content year after year for the same audiences. But when I invite a new voice to speak into my work, someone who has less history with what I do, they can help me break out of routines and habits. They free me up to take risks that might produce something incredible.

Ultimately, I do better work when I invite others to help me out. Sure, there’s often heated editorial debate and disagreement, but I believe the benefits of this tough work far outweigh the complications. And I always have a few personal side projects going just to feed my domineering tendencies.

So instead of shying away from feedback, I’ve learned that my work’s more fun when I have colleagues eager to pitch in and produce something great—together.

 

4 Tips for Writing Under Pressure

kl

As marketers and content creators, we’re under pressure.

It’s our job to dream up that next awesome campaign or turn a client’s musings into a profound message—as if a stream of clever copy rolls continuously through our minds.

But in reality, generating ace ideas for each new project is hard work—and some days, it’s just not happening. We’re human, after all, and no matter how easy Don Draper makes it look, brilliance doesn’t always strike when needed.

So how do you avoid panic when you’re out of inspiration? Here are a few tools I use at Bethel when I need to get the job done but can’t seem to cook up something fresh.

Strategy

When I’m stuck, I head back to the original strategy. Who’s my audience? What are their needs, goals, and priorities? Why should they care about this?

By articulating who I’m writing for and why, I can often reenter the project with a new perspective that’s grounded in the basics of what my writing should accomplish.

Brand

After defining my audience and what I need to say, I can then worry about how to say it. But if you have a good brand, this should be less of a chore.

A good brand sets the voice and personality for your writing. And a good branding guide helps you to get lost in your university’s culture—the language, life, and energy that’s unique to your campus—and infuse that culture into your words.

Your brand should also provide a solid vision for who you are and where you’re headed. It defines the characteristics that make your university stand apart, helping you tell a story that’s consistent and true.

Heart

In my struggle to craft the right message, I sometimes getting sucked into marketing speak and away from authenticity.

To get back to genuine conversation, I write down what I know and believe about Bethel. And when I write what I know, it tends to come from the heart. I know that sounds trite. But, for me, creative energy—and authenticity—begins to flow when I answer these questions:

  • Why do I work here?
  • What keeps me coming back each day?
  • What do I love about this place?

Clarity

When cycles are slammed or I’m hustling to wrap up a chaotic week, I don’t have the luxury of deliberating over just the right phrase. Instead, all I have time to focus on is delivering a clear message.

If I make clarity my priority, I can at least ensure my message is understood, even if it doesn’t tug at the emotions.

In your work as a content creator or marketer, may you find a bit of peace amidst the stress knowing that you’re not alone. The pressure to come up with great ideas is draining—and you won’t be at your best every day. So when you’re feeling the weight, get back to your strategy, focus on your brand, and write something clear from the heart. It might not win you any awards, but it will help you do more than just get the job done.

Our Content Philosophy: 7 Guiding Principles

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Last month, my boss challenged our team to spend a few days away from the office to answer this question:

If you were just starting your job at Bethel, what would you do first?

To begin thinking about my answer, I went straight to Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web to reacquaint myself with her eloquent, yet simple, definition of web content strategy. In her words, as a web content strategist, I’m here to support the creation, delivery, and governance of Bethel’s web content.

But in revisiting this definition, I got spooked. This is a mega responsibility. If that’s really what I’m here to do, I have no clue where to start.

So I spent the next 20 minutes feeling completely intimidated. And then I forced myself to begin free writing. What emerged was an answer to new questions:

What do I believe about web content? What’s our content philosophy?

The result was 7 principles—7 beliefs about web content—that drive our strategy here at Bethel.

1. Start with Content

We approach all projects from a content-first perspective. Most of us would likely chuckle at the thought of laying out a magazine feature without first planning and writing the content. So why would it be any different on the web?

Without content, we don’t have a website. That’s principle number one.

Putting the principle into action: Plan content before jumping to tools or solutions. Encourage colleagues to think through their messaging before beginning any new web project.

2. Put Users First

Content exists to help users accomplish their goals. It’s not here to support our egos or personal interests. It’s here for our visitors, and we should put their needs, hopes, and desires above all else.

Writing content with our users in mind keeps us from throwing useless content on the web.

Putting the principle into action: Ask good questions before agreeing to (or asking for) new webpages or websites.

  • What’s the purpose?
  • Who is it for?
  • What are our users trying to accomplish?
  • How can we make it easy for them?

3. Support University Goals

In addition to helping users accomplish their goals, we also need to know what the university is trying to accomplish. We need to know what degree programs we’re looking to grow. We need to keep up with new program launches and brand initiatives.

Our website is the front door to our university. It should accurately reflect what’s happening here and where our community is going.

Putting the principle into action: Know the goals and aims of the university. If you map out how you can support these goals, you’ll better anticipate what priority projects might be coming your way.

4. Create Sustainability

Sustainability is my mantra. And it’s a huge challenge in a massive, distributed web system.

But I believe all content must be reasonably supported. If it’s not supported, it needs to go away because it’s only annoying our visitors and poorly representing our institution.

Putting the principle into action: Plan for the life of your content after the launch. Protect your website from content bloat by asking:

  • Does someone have the cycles to support this?
  • Can this be sustained by the person coming after me?

5. Practice Useful Consistency

Consistency makes our webpages more useful for visitors. It helps them predict patterns and know what to expect.

This principle is especially true for large, institutional websites. We continually face the challenge to represent ourselves as a unified university rather than a loose assembly of schools and programs. This principle reinforces the need for university-wide headers and footers. It also gives us the drive to maintain a consistent voice and tone for our web content.

Putting the principle into action: Think about the predictable patterns you can create with your web content. Here are a few:

  • Use consistent headings to make content scannable.
  • Give calls to action a consistent feel and format.
  • Take time to think about your site’s organization, architecture, and navigation.

You can also use your CMS to help create consistency and repeat these patterns. Think about using templates for events, news, scholarships, and other content types.

6. Think Beyond the Desktop

At Bethel, we’re working hard to break old habits. Web content is no longer tied to a single webpage that’s accessed from a desktop machine. And this new reality completely changes the way we should think about our work.

We know that visitors use all kinds of devices to access our pages, and we can no longer predict or assume what they’d like to access with those various devices.

Putting the principle into action: Recognize that changing your mindset is tough. Start small. Take notice of how you use the web from other devices.

  • How do you use the web on your phone or tablet?
  • What frustrates you? What’s helpful?
  • Does this change how you look at your web content?

7. Build Relationships

Web content is only as successful as the people creating it. If they’re not happy or properly supported, it will show through their work.

Although time and resources significantly limit our ability to build relationships with the hundreds of potential clients that could show up in our office suite, we know the quality of our content depends on us doing whatever we can to help them navigate an increasingly complex landscape.

Putting the principle into action: Balance policy with empathy. Listen well, and be open to changing your methods and plans. But remember that by trying to make every client happy, you’ll likely forget to serve your web visitors. So also be honest and candid about the realities of the web.

That’s our web content philosophy here at Bethel. It’s just 7 basic principles that we believe in and try our best to put into action.

What guides your content? If you’re not sure, or if it isn’t clear, I hope you can take some time in your busy week to check out, clear your mind, and define the principles that guide your work.