“It’s just ink on paper”
That was the comment I got one day from an (acting) VP at a large company who had just taken over our division. We were going over the product schedule as a team, and in my position as the new content editor and team manager, I raised issue about the product technical content not being planned for in the overall product schedule. The VP dismissed my concerns with that flip comment.
Now, I am not picking on this one executive, although he was an extreme example of a very real problem. Content is often considered an afterthought at most companies, and even more so at startups.
To some degree, yes, this is the rant of an often-frustrated content creator, editor and manager. However, that doesn’t change the key message: In an era where “content is king”, the attitude that “the engineers can create technical content” is not only obsolete, it’s downright dangerous for your corporate bottom line.
Content is King
Content is King is something you hear a lot now. But when this concept collides with engineering organizations – and most technology startups are basically engineering organizations that have decided to stop developing and actually make money – you get a problem. As you might imagine, this problem is even more acute and dangerous in a startup environment.
Every startup begins with an idea. “Let’s make a Dick Tracy WatchPhone!” Whatever; it doesn’t matter. It’s almost always dreamed up by a hardware or software engineer (“Hey Biff; I have this great idea for a game!”). The idea person convinces Biff to help them develop this idea, often just because it’s fun and cool. Then they decide this could actually make some money if fully developed, and maybe one of them has tried starting a company before, or at least has connections. Maybe a friend at a VC. So,they make a go of it.
And in most cases at this point – as my friend Margaret points out in her post about why start-ups need marketing expertise earlier in the game – the company is run by engineers, with a complete and total focus on engineering, and nary a thought about marketing. And often little about anything else—marketing, support, QA, sales, or anything else.
And just as you need an experienced marketer right from “go”, you need a strong technical and marketing content person.
What do we need a content person for?
I know, I know; “There’s no product to write about! What do we need a content person for?” Not only that, but in my experience there is a subconscious belief among almost everyone—not just engineers—that because they can speak English just fine, they’re perfectly capable of writing content, too. Certainly the technical content, and probably any marketing content, too; how hard can it be?
Let me be a little Socratic here:
- What is your content strategy? Are you going to want a website up to impress potential investors? To give you an early toe-hold in the marketplace and to start brand visibility? To encourage people to consider jumping to your new company? How is that site going to be architected? What tools are you going to use to create it and maintain it?
- Are you going to use a CMS? Are you going to tie your content source control system into your software source control system? Do you know systems that can handle multiple types of content and still provide you with version control, branching and other key capabilities?
- Are you going to have a wiki? Who is going to create it? Is it going to be open to customer interaction, or closed and branded? How will you be taking customer feedback?
- Will you have a company forum for customers? Who will maintain it and respond to inquiries? How will that information be migrated into your bug control system and then into the official company technical content?
- How can you leverage your support knowledge? Get it out of your engineers’ heads and put it someplace the customers can find it! How will customers find information, anyway? Who will oversee that your company’s message to the world is consistent? How do you make sure it’s not just engineering speak?
In short: Do you want it to seem as if 30 different people created all the external, customer-facing content—some of it quite obviously written by people with a poor feel for English—or do you want it to look unified, professional and impressive? Oh, and easy to understand, quickly.
Content is More Than “Ink on Paper”
Content is, to put it mildly, more than ink on paper. Senior content folks haven’t just been cutting and pasting code comments into a Word template and publishing it; they’ve spent their careers answering all the questions above and many more. They can provide a focus for you, and save you time you really don’t want to spend on something you don’t like anyway.
A content editor or manager will hook him or herself into all the different teams of your company. They’ll talk to engineering, of course, but they also have to get information from tech support, QA, marketing, sales and the executive team.
These folks can be your interface between your engineering team, who all speak Linux, C, Python, Ruby, or whatever you code in, and the big wide world where you want to sell your product, who know nothing of coding or mechanical or industrial design (and don’t want to). They are where the rubber meets the road.
Hire A Content Editor — Just Do It!
Content tells the world what they want to know to buy your brilliant New Thing, so you can keep coding and designing. Content folks can help make sure all content aligns – across technical, product marketing and even PR. We work to keep the corporate message consistent to the outside world.
Do you really want to do all that? Do your engineers? I haven’t met any who do, and I’ve been in tech for 27 years.
If you don’t, you need a senior content expert helping you straighten it out. And right from the beginning, because by the time you have full support, QA, marketing, sales and engineer teams, you’ve already got five different ways of looking at and communicating with the world. And it’s too late.