When I tell people about my job as a content strategist working on Facebook’s business tools, I usually need to explain my role across two dimensions. First, what is content strategy? Second, what are Facebook’s business tools?
I like to start with the second question. Facebook’s business tools let people create and manage ads, deliver them to people in specific places with specific interests, and measure the results.
Then I explain that content strategy is a design practice. Content strategists design through language. We communicate within and about our products so that people understand our offerings and intentions, and get meaningful value from what we make. While we write for the interface and craft language that shapes experiences, we write within the context of a designed system that has to hold together to deliver its full potential. We work alongside product design and UX research to expand the power of existing tools, introduce new ones, and make Facebook feel like a unified experience.
Speaking clearly to everyone who counts on our tools
To serve all 5 million of our advertisers well, we need to understand them. The people we’re building for work in different types of business (retail, travel, media), in different roles (shop owner, agency media trafficker, data analyst), in different parts of the world. Depending on the product, our user interface content may need to explain what the tools do, who they’re for, how they can help and how to use them, while simultaneously addressing several of these audiences — each of which has a very different grasp of marketing concepts.
Countless livelihoods around the world depend on how well our user interface helps people understand what they can accomplish. Kaya Skin Clinic, which offers beauty treatments customized to Indian skin types, attributes 20% of its sales to Facebook. Little Passports, which offers monthly educational boxes to teach children about the world, used Facebook ad products to triple its customer base in just six months. For businesses like these, clear, effective tools aren’t just reassuring. They’re critical. And over time, saving even a few seconds creating an advertising campaign or analyzing results can free up precious hours to spend on other parts of the business.
Because we design content in the context of a system, the impact of our work extends beyond individual product experiences. To help maintain consistency and support understanding across our products, content strategy maintains a database of more than 1000 Facebook-specific terms and their definitions. We use this system to make sure words mean the same thing in different places in the interface, and in different languages. As a result, content strategy’s impact accumulates across all of a person’s experience with Facebook. It’s easy to forget that people who use a business tool like Ads Manager, for example, also use consumer-facing products like News Feed and Profile, not to mention our other business tools. Using different voices across these surfaces could be distracting and unsettling, rather than inspiring confidence.
Content strategy in action
Even after I’ve explained what I do and why it matters, I often sense that people don’t really get it. Content strategy can be a slippery discipline, precisely because it touches on so many other practices and has so many applications. So I usually call on a few examples to give a person something to hold on to.
Product names are one example of a type of content that can accumulate for better or worse across a system. Internally, we understand the differences between a slideshow and a carousel in an ad and the relationship between a custom audience and a custom conversion, because we’re building these experiences. But every time we add a name rather than just describing how something works, we tax people’s comprehension. That’s why content strategists often advocate for teaching people how something works rather than over-naming features. Over time, through research and feedback, we’ve proven that avoiding over-naming minimizes complexity as our system grows. To avoid over-naming, we’ve developed a name architecture that helps us name new features more efficiently and ensures that meaning accumulates intentionally, not accidentally.
Content strategy also helps to shape things like tooltips that introduce new products, labels that orient people across a set of actions, and descriptive content to tell people how a thing works and why it matters. In our user research during the development of our Creative Hub ad mockup tool, for example, visual designers at agencies told us they wanted to jump immediately into creating mocks. This became a guiding principle for our content decisions, and led to a prominent, persistent button to “Create Mockup” that takes people directly into the tool from anywhere on the Creative Hub microsite. It’s a simple, intuitive call to action that makes the product much easier to navigate.
A very different example comes from a feature for publishers in Facebook’s Audience Network, a tool for advertising on apps and mobile websites outside of Facebook. The feature, called frequency capping, includes a rule builder that enables users to limit how often a specific person sees a specific ad. The original design for this interaction used natural language to create the rule, so it read “Don’t show autoplay ads to the same person more than: [ ] times every [days].” This works perfectly well in English but didn’t localize well in the Asia-Pacific region — where nearly half of the people using the tool live. Our content strategist developed an alternative to the natural language rule builder. This was longer in English, but localizes well in all languages. Then we tested whether this solution helped people understand the content and complete the flow. (It did.)
To add the most value for people who count on our tools in their work, we must do more than just guide them through their experiences. We also must point out ways that our interfaces might let them achieve their goals more successfully — helping them learn and grow. This can involve explaining changes to a tool’s design, identifying new opportunities, or offering specific suggestions for improvement.
Every word counts
As our products grow more powerful, the challenges of guiding people through their use grow more complex. In the last year, for example, we’ve designed new ways to manage communications, given people greater control over the ads they see, and started to explore digital assistants (where the conversation is the experience). These products map new territory, extending what’s possible for people and businesses.
After two and a half years on the business design content strategy team, I more fully appreciate the complexity of the challenge we’re undertaking in our mission to create meaningful connections between people and business. As our products become more valuable — and the words we choose to explain these products become more consequential to the people who rely on our tools — content strategy plays an ever more critical role in our customers’ success.
Content strategy might not always translate into magnetic cocktail party conversation. But when content strategists communicate about Facebook to the people who rely on us, we unify their experiences, help them accumulate long-term comprehension, and help make sure our business tools deliver the value and meaning we’ve promised. And our customers’ success is a much more interesting topic of conversation.
Thank you Alicia, Dave, Margaret, John, Stacey, Erica, Emily and others who reviewed drafts and gave great feedback. And Melissa for hand-modeling, among many other things.