The ebb and flow of content producing (part deux)

So what skill sets do you need to be a Content Producer? I view it as a jack-of-all-trades type of job and in no particular order here is my list…

Key Item One: Writing

On one hand you need to be able to write when asked about any subject, but this doesn’t mean you need to be Hemingway. As long as you can write the bulk of the content, other people in your department will be required to proof your work so you don’t need perfect grammar and spelling – though it helps and less people will laugh at your at work. Anyone who actually expects a Content Producer or any type of writer to proof their own work is doing it wrong and asking for slip ups as anyone, I don’t care how good you are, will make mistakes. You can have an editor who is also a writer and a writer who is also a good editor, but you can’t have them proof their own work.

Key Item Two: Research

This ties into the first part of writing, being able to write about any subject as you’re tasked with it. This really requires that you be able to do research, as you may not always be familiar with what you’re being asked to write about. If you’re asked to write about something and aren’t pulling up Google, Wikipedia or a binder of printouts from under your desk before writing about something you’re either already an expert on the subject or you’re faking it and going to get caught.

Key Item Three: Technology

While much of content producing is all about the writing you work closely enough with Graphic Designers, Web Developers and Social Media that you need to be familiar with their work and not just know that HTML is used in websites. You need to know what backend the company you are working on is using as this will help you to know what functions you can ask them to include. For example, I know that our development team is building our site using Drupal, and there was an issue where we were concerned about using 3rd party site feeds with profanity. Fortunately I found a free online resource that filters syndicated RSS feeds and the developers are building it into the site as a plug-in.

In the end my knowledge of CMS (Content Management Systems) such as Drupal and WordPress plays a decent role in my day to day tasks, even though I’m not necessarily coding anything myself in PHP or MySQL – I’m familiar with their functionality enough to know what I can ask for and expect it done quickly versus what would have to be built from scratch.

While it may not be essential, as you’ll more than likely have a web guy you can go to, having a working knowledge of HTML, PHP, ASP, and MySQL will help a lot. You don’t need the knowledge to build a database or a store from scratch, but it’ll help if you know how to edit meta tags on your own, add in widgets where they belong and all the little things that let your web people feel comfortable with you touching the site and not worried you’re going to break something.

It’s also important to know what Social Media platforms are out there and what will work best for your company. Just because Facebook is really popular doesn’t mean that your company may want to focus on a fan page on there. You need to be familiar with a lot of them and stay on top of trends to be able to justify to your teams about why one may be more worthwhile than another.

Key Item Four: Staying Current

To tag along with the last part my technology comments you need to stay current with technology and trends. This means checking in with sites like Slashdot and Mashable, among others, on a regular, almost daily, basis to stay up to date with current technology features.

Key Item Five: Design

While you’ll more than likely have a graphic designer to help you out, it’s a lot easier if you can be involved in the mockups for site UI and other site imagery as it’ll make it a lot easier when communicating with other artists if you can think like them as well as getting the exact look and feel you want incorporated to your site.

Key Item Six: Networking

While a lot of what I do requires me to be in front of a computer, or on my BlackBerry, there are times when I need to do an article on an event and this requires that I actually attend the event and talk to enough people that I can get some useful quotes or additional information. While you don’t need to be a social butterfly, you’ll want to at least be able to approach the people you need to and ask them what you want to know, or what your readers want to know.

In addition to this you need to be able to get yourself introduced to people who you need to talk to. For example, I’m currently working on a featured piece on Women Owned Businesses for our new site. While I only new one person who fit the description, she was kind enough to introduce me to four of her girlfriends who also own businesses and guess what, they each know someone else they can introduce me too as well.

Key Item Seven: Discipline

You need to be the type of person who is project orientated and will get your tasks completed ahead of time. Why ahead of time? Because someone up the later will always prioritize some article or project, ahead of your other tasks, that you won’t know about or be familiar with, without ever mentioning it to you ahead of time, and expect you to drop everything to get it completed now.

While being able to work from home and set your own hours is great, you do need to actually make sure you’re getting stuff done. People rarely tolerate mishaps when they don’t see you in the office often.

It’s worth mentioning that if you can’t get your tasks done from home, it may help to go into the office and work from there as I know a few people who just lose focus if they’re not glued to their seats.

Key Item Eight: Creativity

You have to be able to take vague concepts and develop them into a final product. For example, most of the time when someone asks me to do a specific article or column for their site I’m asked simply “Hey Mike, we need something to go here. We don’t have any ideas, so come up with something.” This means I need to look at the site I’m going to write for as well as the section this new article will go in and see what topics would fit. I then need to come up with a few ideas, research them, write about them and submit them back for review and if they choose one I’ll need to make sure I have some artwork ready to go, or at least to give them an idea of what they should do.

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