Meet Clay Delk, a rare breed of content strategist. Clay currently works at Facebook, but began his career as a copywriter. Quickly, he realized he was doing a lot more than just writing.
In fact, Clay specializes in User Interface (UI) Content Strategy and ensures that interactions and small bits of content in an interface fit in with the overall brand voice and tone, and help people accomplish their tasks. Just hearing about his approach to content was enlightening to me—I’ve thought about interaction content before, but Clay explains so well why it’s so important. He also said this, which is so true,
“There’s so much breadth to what content strategists do. People don’t realize all of the ways content can help a product or interface work. When you understand that content is such a HUGE part of the user experience, you realize how important content strategists are to the mix.”
OIAM: Tell us a little about your background.
CD: “I was an English and Communications major in college, and then I went to graduate school for English. After grad school, I decided to move to Austin, and luckily, one of my program’s distinguished alums was looking for a copywriter. So I started writing.”
OIAM: “And your evolution as a content strategist…”
CD: “I don’t really remember when I heard the words content strategy, but I know I found it on Twitter. I followed Kristina Halvorson, and read her book and realized that the things she wrote about were the same things I was doing. So, it occurred to me that maybe content strategist is a much better description for this than copywriter. I followed Margot Bloomstein and Karen McGrane and co-founded the Austin Content Strategy Meetup so I could meet all of these people when they rolled into town for South by Southwest.
I know many people don’t think they can start a group or become active in their local professional groups, but this is a really welcoming community. For me, it was a great way to meet all the people I looked up to, but also to talk with other people in Austin about content strategy on a regular basis. I learned so much from running that group, and it’s really the reason I am where I am now.”
OIAM: So how did you get into writing UI copy and working on UI content strategy?
CD: “I went to work for an ecommerce software company called Volusion. I was hired to work on brand strategy and marketing, but after I got there, I realized quickly there was no copywriter or content strategist working in the product, so I started working on that too. I’m glad they didn’t realize I would be doing that, because I had zero interface or interaction design experience (chuckles), but I was excited about working on it. I think there’s a pent up demand for that in our industry—if you’re doing content and content strategy for UI, that’s still a pretty rare skillset, since a lot of us come from marketing and writing.”
OIAM: What are some of the differences between UI and Marketing copy?
CD: “They should be very closely aligned. We tend to think about content strategy and marketing for websites at a much larger scale, where you’re creating a messaging strategy across an entire organization.
When you’re looking at UI copy, you only see it in very small places—buttons, links, microinteractions. But those small pieces of content are still a part of a broader strategy. We work to make sure our interface content reflects our voice and personality, so it feels like a consistent, holistic experience everywhere you go on Facebook. The implementation and tactics may be different, but we’re all coming at it from the same direction.
Honestly, I don’t know how much longer that difference will exist, though. I think so much of it is blurring because more and more of our marketing is starting to look like an interface.”
OIAM: How do you get a job at Facebook?
CD: “You know it really came from that Content Strategy Meetup I started in Austin. We held a happy hour during South by Southwest and invited all the content strategists to attend. I’d met some of the Facebook content strategists over the years through that.
Last year, another content strategist on the team came to our happy hour and she encouraged me to apply. I think my experience building that community, combined with my work in business interfaces really made it a perfect fit.
It was a fairly long process because I had to finish things up in Austin and move my family out to California, but it was totally worth it. Ultimately I started at Facebook in September 2013.”
OIAM: Tell us about a project at Facebook, and what you have learned.
CD: “Right now, I’m working on the ads team. We’re trying to improve how people can reach the right audience with the right message, because that’s good for both the advertiser and the customer. It’s all about making ads more relevant.
So we looked at the way people define their audiences, and we realized we were making a classic information architecture mistake—we were thinking about it from the database side. We were organizing and naming things based on how they were built, not how people would think about them from the outside. It’s just like setting up your website based on your org chart—it just doesn’t work for the people outside of the organization.
We worked on ignoring what happens inside the database and thought about things advertisers would want to see. Going through a giant list of interests and reorganizing them so they make more sense to the average reader isn’t the sexiest sounding project, but it helps to create a better tool overall.”
OIAM: How important is voice and tone to microinteractions?
CD: “Voice and tone is one of the most important parts of what we do. It runs across everything you see at Facebook. We talk about voice and tone a lot on our team, and we’re constantly working on it. From the start, Facebook has tried to put the focus on the voices of the people who use the product while still encouraging and supporting them from the background.
Now, we may have a more active tone in some places than in others. For example, the content strategists who work on our social reporting flows will use a different tone to help people report unsettling content than we use in the ads interfaces to speak to people running their businesses. We’re talking to people in different contexts, and we always want our tone to match that context. But it’s always the same voice.
There’s so much breadth to what content strategists do. People don’t realize all of the ways content can help a product or interface work. When you understand that content is such a HUGE part of the user experience, you realize how important content strategists are to the mix.”
I am interested in what you think—do you think that as content strategists we need to pay more attention to interface content and interaction? What are some of the things we can do to facilitate that in the organizations we work in or consult with? Answer in the comments below. And thank you, Clay, for another amazing Confessions of a Content Strategist.