Having a job in comms – particularly in the charity sector – you cannot fail to notice the diversity of backgrounds that those working in the field have come from. Much like our organisational clients, those of us working in communications departments all have our own stories too which we can draw on when trying to create better comms.
Personally, I am often asked how, having studied design in university, I ended up working as a communications officer in the charity sector. I used to start my answer with ‘it’s complicated’ but, over time this view has changed. Having thought about it so many times – after all, I needed to understand this journey in order to convince the people I wanted to work for that it was not just a random career change, but one that made sense and was valuable – I came to the conclusion that although it might be a long story, it is not complicated. It is interesting and proof that it is never too late to transform the way you use your knowledge and creative skills or indeed the value of having different experiences to draw on.
Learning to adapt tone of voice for different sectors
When I moved to the UK over 10 years ago with my design experience, I realised there was more I could do beyond being a designer. By then, I had already been blogging (albeit in a very personal way) for about four years, and as soon as I realised that there was always something going on in the design world in London, I joined the dots and started writing about it for specialist media in my home country. I quickly got a lot of freelancing for magazines and websites and within a year, I was commissioned to cover a few interiors trade shows and had gained enough experience to apply for a full-time job at a trend forecaster website in London.
This was a big move: I was no longer writing for consumers, but for industry professionals (and no longer in my mother tongue, but in English). The B2B publishing world is completely different from consumer magazines and websites. The tone of voice is more authoritative. You don’t give ‘tips’. You lead the way and industry professionals use your knowledge to come up with their own ‘tips’. It’s a different responsibility, and at first, a daunting one, but it taught me to be bold and confident in my writing when positioning myself and my writing as an authoritative resource that corporates could trust.
As I gained confidence in my writing, I also continued to blog in my spare time but covering different subjects from my full-time job: travel, London lifestyle and feminism. This was a time when Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were growing and growing (and algorithms were not an enemy for content creators) so it presented a great outlet for creativity. I quickly got followers that were interested in my eclectic content and personal writing style and it gave me the opportunity to understand what a social media based audience was looking for: content created exclusively for them – image, text, video – rather linked from somewhere else. Content that encouraged interaction, asking questions and sharing personal views, letting followers participate, as if they were creating that content themselves (and they were).
I had my hands full, but I could draw a line to separate all my interests and blur the line between the different types of content I was producing when I thought it would be safe – and interesting for my reader and followers – to do so. Looking back, it is clear I created a few compartments for each one of them. I didn’t know then, but I was already managing communities, something that for me is key if you work as a communicator and is something I have taken with me into the charity sector and into my work with ACEVO.
Of course, my personal interests and priorities changed over time. The design world is behind me now, but I will never see it as an ‘outsider’ in my cv. Writing about design for very specific audiences helped me develop an authoritative voice and spot trends. This built confidence is what convinced me to write two London travel guides – despite the hundreds that already exist – that suited what my community wanted to know about the city and about being an immigrant here. And it was also interesting to notice that people that started to follow me because of my travel and design-related content got interested in what I have to say about feminism. For me, this is proof that our audiences are not static but are open to new ideas, interests and formats.
In the same way that we, as content creators and communicators, should take advantage of the many different channels available to us, we should also listen and adopt ideas given by our communities. Within a few months of starting a Youtube channel for example, I got some comments asking to transform the content into podcasts. I was initially wary, as I wasn’t a podcast consumer myself but I decided to give it a try and today, my podcast audience is much larger and more engaged, and the audio-only content did not ‘kill’ the videos: they happily co-exist and keep growing at their own paces. This taught me that sometimes you just need to listen to your audience and find ways to communicate with them in a way that they want to consume your content.
So what have I learnt from my varied life in comms
My path to charity communications professional may be unusual, but it is has taught me a lot and given me skills I may not otherwise have had. Once I accepted its uniqueness I realised its potential. So If you are struggling to find your path in the ever-evolving communications world or striving to find a way to bring your myriad experiences together, here are my key takeaways:
- Personal use of social media/blog platforms is important: this is how you learn the technical side of these platforms
- Realign your past experience with your new career goals: as storytelling is increasingly becoming a tool for engaging audiences, show that you can be a storyteller by creating your own narrative using what you have learned working in another sector
- Listening leads to creating: we can’t, of course, do everything our reader and audiences ask us to. But we can identify the most popular requests and give them a try
- Blur the lines: don’t be afraid to, every now and then, offer your community a different way to consume your content, or even a different type of content. People’s interests are vast, and you may surprise yourself with the amount of confidence your audience has in your knowledge
Image: Pixabay from Pexels
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