In my recent travels, I had a conversation with a stranger that I’ve had countless times before:
Other person: “What do you do?”
Me: “I work on web content.”
Other person: “For as much time as I spend online, I should really know more about how to make websites.”
Me: “Why? Do you think you should know more about building a car? Or a house? You spend a lot of time in those.”
Other person: “No, I guess not.”
My point is this: There is a whole field of practice around building digital products – from websites to apps to enterprise software. We are experts in what we do. In this field (very broadly speaking), it’s only the hard-core programmers that seem to get the respect they deserve. I'm pretty sure no one ever says to them: “I should learn how to program and build my own software.” Yet designers, content strategists, user researchers, writers, and front-end developers are regularly discounted because people think they can create a website or app themselves – or hire their nephew who spends a lot of time on his computer.
Back in the late 1990s, Microsoft created FrontPage – a software program that let anyone create a website. And even then, I recognized that just because you can build a website doesn’t mean you should. Twenty years and billions of websites later, we’ve still got more awful ones than good ones. A big reason for this is that too many organizations do not hire digital professionals to manage their digital products, including the website.
If you are an organization that is still making the website part of someone’s job – and that someone does not have a background in creating, building, and maintaining websites – you’re missing a big opportunity. There are things a web professional brings to your organization that traditional communicators, marketers, and IT specialists do not.
1 - Knowledge
Whether self taught or formally educated on information design, digital professionals have spent time learning and understanding what goes into making a good website or app. There is a wide range of skills that go into creating a good product: research, design, content, programming, and more. We are specialists in one of those areas even while we know what needs to happen in the other areas. Like medicine, digital work is made up of specialities. A radiologist understands how the gastrointestinal system works but wouldn’t perform a colectomy to remove a patient’s colon. Likewise, a content strategist understands basic principles of web design, but wouldn’t create the visual design a website.
Our knowledge, when applied, leads to all kinds of success. In 2014, Forbes was telling us that design thinking should be at the core of business strategy. (Yes, non-profits have a business strategy, even if they don’t call it that.) Use our knowledge to help your organization grow! I promise, it won’t hurt, and it might even be fun.
2 - Attitude
I don’t mean attitude as in what you get from your teenager. I mean an approach to work. One reason those us of who work in the digital arena like it is that we love to learn. There is always something new happening. And it isn’t in the classroom. It’s at conferences, on social networks and forums, at the water cooler, in the work we do every single day. We are open to new things. We are even happy to be proven wrong with data and research.
What we cannot tolerate are opinions about what should or should not be on the website, being told what to build, or resistance to testing and research (or any number of other bad problems). We are fine with experimenting and measuring results, with forming hypotheses and testing to see if we were right. There is a science to what we do, as well as art.
3 - Professionalism
We are professionals – see above. Sure, some of us stumbled into the digital world from somewhere else, but that is also a strength. We bring an additional level of professional experience from some other field that gives us broader insights into our work today. Like scientists and engineers, we are committed to the scientific process and building things that make everyday life easier for more people.
Our experience, skills, and knowledge deserve respect and need to be valued like any other professional discipline. That can be acknowledged by realistic job descriptions and expectations for people you hire, as well as by the salaries or rates you pay those who perform this work. The adage “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur” is no less true for digital work than any other work. When you invest in digital the way you do in other areas where you’ve accepted that you need to bring in professionals, like accounting and law, you’ll get much more out of it. And you won’t have to pay again to fix what the amateur didn’t do.
The time is now
If you’re ready to build an internal team that is focused on user experience, collaboration, and constant evolution, it might be time to hire a consultant to lay out a roadmap for you. There isn’t time to figure things out haphazardly like there was 20 years ago. You need a website that supports your business objectives and meets your audience’s needs now. Put the right web professional in charge and you’ll be able to do that.
Put Tanzen’s experience to work for you! Schedule a consultation call to talk about how to start building the right team to manage your digital ecosystem.