Content Strategy Behind the Scenes with Rox Tomco
To showcase the personalities behind content strategy, I chose individuals from all over the world and asked them about what insights and life experience they can offer the rest of us. Today’s virtual guest is Roxanne Tomco, a senior UX writer and product content strategist currently based in San Jose, CA.
- What was your first job?
My first job ever was being a secretary for my dad’s business — it wasn’t very stressful … involved me answering phones and writing messages or typing documents usually poolside in the summer in high school. Funny enough, it did still involve writing to some degree!
But my first ever job relevant to this field was being the Features Editor for the Entertainment section of my student newspaper at school, the Daily Kent Stater.
It was unpaid, but to me, it counts as professional experience that led to my 3 internships with newspapers and magazines, followed by work as a Communications Consultant for Wells Fargo where I ghost-wrote magazines, speeches, emails and other content for an EVP of that large American bank.
- How did you begin to work in Content Strategy?
I don’t consider myself purely a content strategist, and I think it’s a bit of an antiquated term that applies to when the Web was first evolving in the 1990s and 2000s, and people were managing large swaths of content on sites for government, higher education, companies, and the like. I’m personally more of a product content strategist and focus mainly on the UX writing of a product, how the content works along the entire spectrum of the user journey (from pre-product to post-product). I think of content strategists as web content managers, which I’m not. I design the content that the user experiences throughout their journey, so that can be anything from an email to a setup flow to a user survey. Just depends on what experience we’re trying to create.
I started this journey when I was at GoPro. I worked for the first time with a UX designer. I had no idea what that meant, UX designer. And she asked me, “Hey, can you help me with a few strings on these wireframes?” I had no idea what that meant either! But eventually, I did do some copy for those wireframes, which became the new eCommerce site for GoPro. After that, I tried to get contracts with product writing experience so I could add it to my portfolio and work my way into a full-time job in this field.
- What was the highlight of your career so far?
I would have to say two things in particular. First, working at Google Hardware with some of the most talented product and industrial designers ever. Being nestled in the Google Daydream VR team was amazing — I met some people that I still consider friends, even though we aren’t able to see each other as much these days. The second highlight was working on the Design team at Zume. Same reason, really — the people were amazing, and we had a unique design team that incorporated all designers from brand and advertising to industrial and product. We were united in our mission of solving problems for the business, and that felt good.
- What do you think is the biggest misconception about Content Strategy?
See above haha.
I think it’s a misconception to keep calling it content strategy. There are better phrases that fit what the niche or need are digitally within products
so to me, the terms content designer and UX writer are much more appropriate. Even calling ourselves product content strategists feels like a better correction to that older title.
- What’s the situation of Content Strategy in your country?
In the U.S., I see two major categories. The older content strategy category still exists, mainly in the Midwest and East Coast, and those folks manage Web content for bigger, more complex sites.
On the West Coast in the Bay Area and Seattle, for example, we have more UX writers, content designers, and product-specific content strategists. We focus on creating the content that shapes the user experience with a product before, during, and after it.
- What’s your favorite buzzword?
None. Haha. I don’t like buzzwords. They take away from the true discipline of quality writing work. In fact, I’m about to write a Medium article about my least favorite buzzwords and overused terms in UX writing. I’ll link you to it as soon as it’s done. 😉
- Do you have any role model in your field and/or is there anyone on social media you find professionally inspiring to follow?
Hmmm, I have a lot of people I consider role models or mentors. Jen Schaefer, who is the Head of Content Design at Netflix, is one. Also Ben Barone-Nugent who works with her is another. I also read a ton of Jared Spool articles. My UXW friend and I nicknamed him the Spoolmeister, because he is such an oracle. He is always right about everything in this field, and spots trends before most people have even recognized them. I also think Kristina Halvorson and Sara Wachter-Boettcher are rad.
- What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
I can think of two right off the top of my head.
One wasn’t really advice, it was results of a UX research study done at Google that concluded,
“People don’t read. They skim.”
It blew my mind, and I absorbed that lesson quickly. It helped me not to be overly precious about my copy, knowing that people were glancing at words to reach an objective, and that it wasn’t personal, just a different way of understanding what people do when they use apps and stuff.
The other piece was great advice from my former Director of Design. He said,
“Don’t argue. Build bridges.”
We were trying to convince some stakeholders of the value of design, and what he wanted us to do more was just partner, not go down a semantic rabbithole with the person in another discipline. Show them you’re on their side and understand and empathize with their pain points, he said, which is basically the design thinking power of empathy in practice.