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Q&A with Eileen Webb

Content strategist from Littleton, NH

I'm a content strategist who works firmly on the architecture and systems side of the spectrum (as opposed to the editorial & style side). That means I spend most of my day building organized content models out of piles of chaos, and figuring out the best way to document my choices so that everyone else in the project understands what I'm nattering on about.

How did you get started in content strategy, what is your background?

My background is as a server-side CMS developer, mostly in PHP and Drupal. My husband and I run webmeadow together, and were doing full site development for people: I did back-end, he did front-end. Over time, every project was more and more front-weighted with strategy and discovery phases (because I hated nothing more than building a feature that no one ended up using, or that didn't get the client any closer to their goals).

At some point I read Erin Kissane's Elements of Content Strategy and it was like a lightbulb: this stuff I've been doing has a name! It's a discipline!! It wasn't very long before I stopped doing development altogether and focused entirely on strategy.

Where did you study? Looking back, would you recommend your path to beginners?

I got a BA in Psychology from Whitman College, which has absolutely nothing to do with my work except that Whitman is very encouraging of people who want to learn a little bit about a lot of things. I think it's great to come to content strategy from somewhere else, whether that's design or development or journalism or wherever. The only compelling reason to spend time thinking about strategy is because it prevents future problems, and unless you were party to those types of problems at some point in your past, you have no context to start from and no anecdotal weight for why anyone should bother planning ahead.

What are the books and weblogs helped you to improve your professional skills?

I read all the content strategy books, of course: Content Strategy at Work, Content Strategy for the Web, Content Everywhere, Content Strategy for Mobile. Those are great both for teaching me new things, and for reminding me that yeah, actually, I do sort of know what I'm doing.

The books that help me the most, though, are the ones that are about strategy for other parts of the web development process, books like Scott Jehl's Responsible Responsive Design, Aarron Walter's Designing for Emotion, articles on A List Apart, and so on. Content strategy is only one small part of the entire website puzzle, so the more I understand and can speak intelligently to the challenges of performance, progressive enhancement, ad server terribleness, and so on, the better I am at helping my clients succeed.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you prefer to mix a few activities? 

I work from home, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We live in the mountains on a small farm, so when I need a break I go outside and sit with the chickens (who are always very appreciative of my rants on taxonomy). I figured out a way to wedge my laptop in a relatively secure position while I'm lying in the hammock, so I do that whenever weather permits. I'm in a bunch of Slacks with various groups of colleagues, so it's not like I'm working in a vacuum, but wearing proper grown-up clothes and daily physical contact with other people is something I find draining rather than energizing.

Who are the people in Littleton or outside, colleagues you admire most?

I'm going to cheat and say "the whole content strategy community" because there are too many to name. It's such a varied crowd, with hugely different backgrounds and daily workflows, yet they're relentlessly encouraging and have always been friendly and welcoming to newcomers. This is a group of people who are pathologically unable to discuss an idea without thinking it all the way through, and I love them for it.