00:01 Gretyl Kinsey: Welcome to the Content Strategy Experts Podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize and distribute content in an efficient way. In episode 22, we talk about content strategy and more with Ed Marsh of the Content Content Podcast.
00:22 GK: Hello and welcome to the Content Strategy Experts Podcast. I’m Gretyl Kinsey and I’m a Technical Consultant with Scriptorium. And today, we have a special guest, Ed Marsh. So Ed, go ahead and introduce yourself.
00:35 Ed Marsh: Hey everyone. Hey Gretyl, how are you today?
00:38 GK: I’m doing great. How about you?
00:39 EM: Great. This is weird being on the other side of the podcast interview, so this is going to be a new experience for me. But for those of you who don’t know, my name is Ed Marsh, I’ve been a Technical Communicator and Content Strategist and E-Learning Developer at Al since about 1994, which is odd to say out loud. About four years ago, I think now, I started the Content Content Podcast. Actually, I started first, let’s say. I started a website called contentcontent.info, because first of all, I was lazy and second of all I wanted to give back to the techcomm community, so that’s an aggregator… It’s an aggregator of websites in content strategy and usability and design and technical communication. So that’s out there, that’s a collection of about 50 different RSS feeds in one place and then, kind of an outgrowth to that, I started podcasting about four years ago.
01:31 EM: And it was something I got into because I wanted to get myself out there a little bit more. I wanted to get my name out there more. Again, I wanted to give back to the community and I had some radio experience back in college. And I knew that I didn’t want to blog all the time. Everyone was doing that and I wanted to do something kinda different and I didn’t want to come home and write all the time. So not many people were doing podcasts at that time, in techcomm or content strategy. Our friend, Tom Johnson, was one of the ones who’s doing it, and he was doing it kinda infrequently. So, I found a niche and I started that, and it’s been an amazing amount of fun and I cannot believe… I’ve had the fortune to talk to some great people, learning from a lot of great people. So, yeah, that’s basically my podcast side and for my day job, ’cause I don’t do enough, I’m a Tech Writer at Goldman Sachs.
02:20 GK: Alright. And I wanted to take a step back, because the first thing I wanted to know was how you did get into podcasting, because it’s kind of like you said, on the other side of it. This is a fun discussion where we have one podcaster to another, so this is pretty cool.[laughter]
02:36 GK: So, were there any kind of influences for you as far as podcasts go, things that you like to listen to that made you want to do your own?
02:43 EM: Yeah, for sure. I listen to a lot of different podcasts for a long time. I commute on the train, so it’s always a great opportunity to listen to podcasts. And I used to listen to This Week in Tech, which is TWiT, which is on the TWiT Network, which is Leo Laporte. He’s a very famous podcaster, has a huge network of podcasts. There was also another one called, Back to Work with Dan Benjamin on the 5by5 Network. I really like those guys, and they also… The thing that they had was they all sounded very professional, and I knew that if I was going do this, I wanted it to sound good. ‘Cause I’ve had some podcasts where I’ve unsubscribed from, simply because they just didn’t sound good and I couldn’t listen to them for any length of time. So, production mattered to me, and I really wanted to have something that represented me and represented my brand and was consumable by the techcomm community. So that’s really where I was going with that. I think those two were the big ones, just really anything that sounded really nice and sounded well produced was what I was kind of going for. Of course, I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, so it cuts into my production time.
03:44 GK: Oh, I understand that completely. I think a lot of us in this field tend to be perfectionists, which is a good thing when it comes to content strategy.[chuckle]
03:53 EM: Sometimes I just gotta release it though.
03:55 GK: You said that you had some background in radio. So, I wanted to ask about that too and sort of what influence that may have had when it comes to podcasting, especially maybe getting that professional quality sound and setup?
04:09 EM: Well, yeah. I did. I was in college for two years down at Elon College, which is now Elon University in North Carolina, not too far from you. And I did two years of radio there, and I really enjoyed it. I had a great time. So I had that little bit of experience and I was also a Journalism Major, so that fell into the interviewing side of the podcast, I think. Really, I think that’s the influence there, was they kind of dovetailed into what is now Internet radio or podcasting.
04:38 GK: That’s interesting. Because I actually majored in Journalism as well. I was at UNC Chapel Hill here in North Carolina, and I did a lot of multimedia and video production. So, that’s where I got my interviewing skills, and it’s been really helpful, I think, for podcasting too and really interesting how kind of… I’ve talked to a lot of people in this industry, who say they stumble into the world of content by accident. And I know that’s certainly true for me, but I’ve absolutely loved all of it. And I wanted to use that as a way to get into, how you first kind of got into this whole world of content? And did you sort of stumble into it by accident as well, or was it more intentional?
05:20 EM: That’s one of the awesome things about my podcast is interviewing people and finding out how their stories or how they… ‘Cause no one has the same story. And a lot of people, like you said, have come from different careers and fell into it. And I also fell into it. I was looking for journalism jobs and an opportunity came up, or I think I was interviewing for a temp job for something completely different. And the recruiter who was down there, it was in Central Jersey, was like, “Hey, it looks like you might be good for this technical writing position.” I’m like, “I have no idea what the hell technical writing is, but it looks like it pays well, so yes, that sounds good.” So I started as what they called a Technical Writing Assistant. It was a new position.
06:00 EM: And I kinda grew into the techcomm thing. I really fell… I didn’t like XyWrite back then for those of you who have ever worked with XyWrite, I was not very happy with that. But as the technology evolved I really enjoyed it. I was the kind of person who liked to push buttons when I was a kid, and see what everything did, and see what happened. So I think that kinda is… Was the impetus too for me being good at this. And I also had the technical side of it, I think. I learned HTML really early, and CSS really early. I was working in Flash. So, I think it was just… I was in, I guess, the right place at the right time, and it’s been a great opportunity, and here I am 23, 24 years later, and I’m really enjoying what I’m doing now, so it’s awesome.
06:42 GK: That is awesome. And then where did you get an interest, specifically, in content strategy during the course of that time?
06:50 EM: I think it just all dovetails into it. We do all online content, so everything is organized, and we’re the people doing the organization. So, I think it all just came to me at the same time, information architecture, which I really enjoy as well. It’s just thinking about how people are going to use this and all the different ways that you can use it and make efficiencies in your processes and figure out… Like for example, with the podcast, “Okay, I’ve got it… ” When I post a podcast it automatically goes to Twitter, it goes to LinkedIn, it goes to Facebook, it goes to a couple of different other places too. So you’ve gotta think about that, is how… Where your content is going, and how people are going to access it? And I think that’s what people need to think about is, how are they going to access it, and how much they want to access at one time? Like I said, it kinda all dovetailed into, “Well, I do this, and I do this, and I do this, and it’s all part of the experience.”
07:49 GK: And how would you say that content strategy helps you when it comes to promoting your podcast, getting it out there, and growing it?
07:57 EM: Well, that’s… [chuckle] It’s an interesting thought, because if you go and you go to Alexa, and I hope I don’t trigger anyone’s lady in a tube, but if you say, “Lady in a tube, play Content Content Podcast.” It’s like, “I can’t find that. Here’s the Content Strategy one, or Content Marketing Institute Podcast,” whatever. So that was one of the side effects that you think about content strategy, it’s like, “Well, how is this going to get used in the future perhaps?” When I started the brand per se, because it was one of the few URLs I could find, it was like, I never thought I was going to do a podcast. It was just this thing I wanted to play around with. And now, you’ve got to think about, “Okay, it’s not just a website.” It’s going to be maybe a snippet in Google or somewhere on SoundCloud or on different places, and how people are going to interact with it has changed so much with the voice activation and phones, and watches and tablets, and everything that you really have to do that thought of the whole picture instead of just, “We need to create a manual, or we need to put out a PDF, or we need to update a single page,” kinda thing. So that’s the big picture thing that I think people need to think about too.
09:11 GK: And, I know that you’ve had all kinds of different guests from the content industry on your podcast, so I wanted to get an idea of what kinds of words of wisdom that you may have gleaned from some of them, and sort of the best tidbits that you might have gotten?
09:25 EM: Well, one of the best ones I think, and I wrote it… Here it is. What was interesting was one of the last ones I did with Liz Fraley, who is a friend of mine, and one of the things she wrote, she wrote a followup blog post to it. And she’s like, “It’s funny how much you realize you don’t know when you really get the chance.” I thought about that, I’m like… As you get older, I guess, and you say, “You know what you don’t know,” kinda thing. So I think that was part of it and just learning… For me, I think it was just learning about people and how we’re all going through the same stuff. And no matter what the industry… I’ve had content marketers, I’ve had content strategists, the techcomm, different kinds of people and we’re all doing the same thing and fighting the same fight, I think.
10:08 EM: So words of wisdom, I don’t know. I guess, take a chance, because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I did this podcast. And it’s been great, and I’m having so much fun. And it’s actually led to another podcast gig that I’m doing with the LavaCon Conference. So, take a chance, I guess. Get yourself out there, I guess, is really the best thing. And talk to people and network, because it’s… If you can get yourself out there and talk to people, it’s a hell of a lot of fun talking to them.
10:37 GK: And I really am glad you mentioned LavaCon, because that was also something I wanted to talk about, because we actually recently were both at LavaCon in Portland toward the end of 2017. And I know that there were a lot of great discussions there. That conference had a theme of, “Spanning Silos, Building Bridges,” which is something that I’ve seen more of a need for when it comes to content strategy. There’s this connecting and making these bridges across from one silo to another. ‘Cause I know that the issue of silos has always been a problem in content as long as I’ve been in the industry, which was since 2011. And it was kind of interesting how it’s evolved, different solutions that people put forward to solve that kind of problem of content existing in different silos, either by department, or by tool, or whatever. So I kind of wanted to ask what your take on that is?
11:34 EM: Great question because I’m working on this just right now at Goldman. At Goldman, content isn’t their forte, but like you’re saying, all these silos, all these teams have their stuff in a network drive, or in a SharePoint, or they’re distributing it via email every day. And that’s really not the best way to do that, and not the best way to share information. So really what we’re doing now is we’re talking with all the different teams in our space and saying, “Hey, instead of having that trapped in the SharePoint and have that Word doc up there that’s not been updated for 15 years, lets put it in our knowledge… ” what we call the Knowledge Bank, “and put it altogether and then it’s governed,” which people really like in regulated environments. If you talk about governance, they really, really like that. We have it backed up in our source control system. And we have it, so that way we can audit it and say, “Hey, this topic hasn’t been reviewed in X amount of time. Why don’t we send out an email, or why don’t we talk to the people who use this and see if it needs a review.”
12:35 EM: Then on top of that, you have analytics. You could say, “Hey, these are the things that people are hitting, and these are the things people are searching for, this is the stuff that’s not performing.” And why isn’t it performing? Because two big things that I’ve found with these silos and getting everyone together is especially with senior management is talking about data and numbers ’cause that’s what they understand and also the concept of governance.
12:57 EM: So, if you start talking about those two pieces, and if you’re looking into governance, Lisa Welchman does a great workshop and she has a book out that I haven’t read, but she’s a fantastic person on governance to talk about, or talk to or listen to on Twitter. So, I think those are the big things is the governance side of it and actually the content aggregation of it too, ’cause you could put it all together and leverage that content and you may never know what teams may find it. We found teams that we had no idea would be using our stuff is using our stuff as a reference. So, sometimes it happens organically and you don’t even realize it.
13:31 GK: That is true. I know there are some cases where we worked with clients, where maybe there will be two departments that say, I know that our two teams both need to share the same set of content and then once they start doing that another department will jump in and go, “Oh, I didn’t realise it, but I should be involved in this kind of thing too.” And so, that’s sort of one way that I’ve seen the idea of centralization grow organically. When it comes to doing more of a kind of bridging approach I’ve seen it happen in cases where centralization is something that they want, but it’s not necessarily practical. For example, if you’ve got a marketing team that really, really needs to share content with the techcomm department, but they just cannot, for example, go into something like DITA, because they need way too much design control, that’s where this idea of kind of, let’s see if we can build a connector between our systems or push them to a portal or some kind of solution like that has sort of helped solve this silo problem. But it’s interesting how it continues to be an issue in content, I think. I’ve seen it be an issue and get resolved in all kinds of different ways throughout my career and I’m sure you have too.
14:44 EM: Well, yeah. I mean, the thing is, you can’t stop people from creating content, but you can do the best job you can to organize it and edit it, and make it consistent and make is accessible. And I think that’s where we can play a role and add value as technical communicators and content strategists is, “Okay. Let’s try to do something consistent at least or let’s get this all in one place so that way the people who are the professionals in content are handling it correctly.”
15:08 GK: So while we were at LavaCon, there were all kinds of presentations I saw that related to the idea you brought up earlier about changing technology and how we have to evolve our content strategy along those lines. So I wanted to know if there’s anything interesting that you saw or that you learned at LavaCon that you kind of have brought back, either to your podcasting work or to your day job?
15:32 EM: Well, I learned a little bit more about XSL from the Oxygen folks, which I needed, so that was good. There was so much and you’re processing and it was just… I can’t think of anything in specific, everything was so inspiring. I will say that the morning workshop, with Ashita Grover on management really… It was a nine o’clock in the morning session I think on a Sunday, and I got thrown into the middle of it and I was like, “Whoa, this was not what I was anticipating.” But, I ended up doing a pretty good job and it was about management, and I have a new hire who I’m managing now, so it was perfect for me at that time to have a three-hour workshop with Ashita and learn from her about management and realize, “Okay, if I can… I can kind of do this.” It gave me some confidence to say, “Okay, I can go back and do this,” as a new manager with a new hire, who’s just a few years out of college.
16:29 EM: So it was really… For me that was the nice one. And of course, it’s the networking and I think you hear that more and more now about conferences is that, the sessions are great and of course Jack has… Jack of LavaCon has a great conference, he has a great lineup of people. So I think that it’s the networking on the side that is as important as the sessions in there.
16:53 EM: It’s in the keynotes. I think really that’s where you get to talk to people and you get to know people and that’s what the social events are for I think too. Because it let’s you relax a little bit, you’re not so tense, and you’re not putting your guard up. So if you can get to a conference and especially if you go to LavaCon, ’cause oh, my God, the food’s amazing, make sure that you take the time and not just go back to your hotel room between sessions or after the day is over, because that’s when you miss the good stuff and that’s when you make those friendships. And I’ve met so many people in person at conferences that I knew for Twitter only for years. So for me, it’s the networking part of it that’s pretty huge for conferences.
17:31 GK: Yeah, I agree, that to me the most valuable part of going to any conferences, is that face time that you have. I think that’s where I learn just as much if not more than I do in the sessions. And it’s also where I kind of really get to see if some of the trends or patterns in the industry that people are predicting are actually true, because the people who come to the conference come by and talk to us either at our booth when we’re exhibiting or just in the hallway afterward. When we hear about what kinds of challenges that they’re facing, what kinds of problems they’re having with their content from someone who’s really out there in the world dealing with it, that’s where we kind of get the better sense of what’s going on in the world of content. And then we can look at that and say, “What sort of strategies are people going to need just based on what kinds of things we’re seeing in the industry?”
18:24 EM: Right. The kind of thing is… And I went to Content Marketing World two years ago and it was a lot of the same questions and a lot of the same problems, “Having trouble proving our value,” or “Having a problem getting budget,” or this or that or the other. So yeah, I think part of the conference at LavaCon this year was finding your tribe. And really, that’s what this is, it’s finding your tribe and finding your… And being with your people. For me, I work in a really large company and there are very few tech writers, so I don’t have that outlet or I don’t have that resource internally, so you go outside and find your community. And you can find them as simply as looking up on Twitter or LinkedIn, and then meeting them live at the conference is… It makes it easier to meet people if you already kind of know them online.
19:08 GK: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that idea of finding your tribe is some of the best and most important advice, particularly for anyone who’s coming into this industry new and you’re trying to say… Especially, ’cause, yeah, sort of how we talked about earlier, a lot of people do come into the content industry by accident or sort of they don’t… A lot of us don’t know that it exists really until you get your foot in the door some other way. And then once you realize that this industry is here, then it’s kind of this question of, “Well, how do I find my tribe, because I just sort of stepped into it completely by accident and now here I am and what should I do?” But I think that what you said, networking, getting to know people, and sort of figuring out how this entire content industry works, is kind of the first step toward doing that and finding your tribe.
19:58 EM: Yeah. And I actually wrote a blog post about this after Summit, ’cause that’s what I really felt like, “Oh this is my tribe.” I’d been to other conferences, but I’d never been to STC Summit before. And it was like, “Oh, these are my people.” And I wrote a blog, posted it onto my website at edmarsh.com, so you can go take a look at it there. And it got pretty good hits, but it was that, it was like, “Oh, okay, these are the people that I am supposed to be hanging out with and these are the people who are my friends now. And this is where I feel included and I feel welcome, and it’s a great supportive community and a very diverse community,” which is what I like about it too.
20:34 GK: So what all… What all have you learned, what lessons have you learned from your podcasting experience that you would pass on to other podcasters?
20:44 EM: Have fun. Get yourself some good equipment, have fun. Because if what you are doing is an interview show, you want your guest to have a good time and you want the people that are listening too to come back and have a good time as well. When I started podcasting, everything was like scripted and you can tell. Like you listen to it and you could tell that my questions… And I did a lot of preparation and I still do a lot of prep, but now it’s… I get a couple of bullet points, I Google the people and I get to know them a little better and then I let it flow and those are so much better. It’s like less pressure on me to make sure that I get all my questions in and don’t sound like I’m reading it off a piece of paper.
21:20 EM: The nice thing about podcasting is it’s cheap to get into. I started with a cheap mic and free software called Audacity, which I still recommend my guests download to listen, so that way they can record their end of the audio. I learned that it’s taken me further than I thought it was going to. I thought it was going to be this podcast, but it led to an opportunity with LavaCon and I believe that it was kind of the influence for the Scriptorium Podcast, so that was pretty cool. And really it’s taught me that people are pretty cool. So that’s I guess the important thing, especially in our industry, people are fun, they like to have a good time, they know their stuff and it’s just been a really, really cool experience being able to do this and to give back to the community.
22:05 GK: So do you have any other kinds of advice, not just with regard to podcasting, but when it comes to the content industry that you would give to someone who’s entering into it for the first time? Or perhaps to the person that you’ve mentioned that you’re managing now, someone in that position?
22:23 EM: Well, it’s interesting, because if you’re ever on Reddit, there’s a great subreddit called Technical Writing. And every day, practically every day, there’s people out there, “Hey, I’m an X, how do I become a tech writer?” Or, “Is tech writing for me?” And that kinda stuff. Read, there’s a lot of good books out there, that’s how I started with everything. The polar bear book, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Content Strategy by Rahel Bailie and Noz Urbina. And get yourself out there. I think a lot of us are head down and we think our job is just to write all day, and it’s really not. A lot of it is customer service. How quickly can you respond to questions or how quickly can you update stuff or… We’re not just tech… We’re not just writers anymore. You can’t just be a person in a cube with a copy of Word or a copy of FrameMaker and make a living, you’ve gotta get and look at the bigger picture.
23:15 EM: Take a look at the data on anything that you have and get yourself… Promote yourself, because unfortunately no one’s going to do it for you. So make sure that you have that senior management thought in place, okay. Who are people that are paying your paycheck? What are they going to see? Are they going to see that you’re writing 50,000 words a day or can they really care about that? Or they care about how many hits your site’s getting? And if the support tickets are going down. So look at the governance side of things, look at the governance and the data side, ’cause I think that’s really where people can show their value. And get out there and network. I didn’t network as soon as I should have and I really should’ve done that sooner in our industry. So I think getting to conferences, even if it’s a small one or a local one or even a local Write the Docs Meetup, just get out there and talk to people. You’ll find it refreshing and you’ll get some good ideas that you can bring back to your job, and even whatever you’re doing on the side. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make mistakes and learn from them, and then, you never know.
24:16 GK: Fantastic advice, I think not just for this industry, but for everyone. So thank you so much, Ed Marsh, for joining us on the podcast, and where can we find more of your stuff?
24:27 EM: That was a real pleasure. I don’t know if I made any sense, but it was nice not having to watch and control everything of the recording, so that was kinda nice, so thank you, Gretyl. You can find me at edmarsh.com. You can find the podcast at edmarsh.com/podcast. You can subscribe with pretty much everything at this point. You can also go to contentcontent.info, was a site I mentioned earlier which is a news aggregator for our fields, and I’m always on Twitter @EdMarsh. I’m probably on Twitter a little bit too much. And of course, on LinkedIn. You can find me there, you can find me at edmarsh.com, and you can find me @EdMarsh on Twitter.
25:03 GK: Alright. Thank you so much.
25:06 EM: Thanks, Gretyl. Have a good one.
25:07 GK: Alright. Bye.
25:08 EM: Cheers.
25:10 GK: Thank you for listening to the Content Strategy Experts Podcast. For more information, visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.