Diane Murphy on Content Strategy at Airbnb

[Intro Music]

[Ryan Weber] Welcome to 10-Minute Tech Comm. This is Ryan Weber from the University of Alabama at Huntsville and I’ve been interested in bringing a content strategist on the show for quite a while now and I’ve got a really interesting one for you today. Her name is Dianne Murphy and she is a content strategist at Airbnb, and I’ve invited her on this show to talk a little bit about what her work involves, what content strategy involves, and I think, as you’ll see, she wears a lot of hats and she does a lot of different things at the company. So, if you’re interested in knowing more about what this kind of work involves, I think Diane gives us a really good introduction to what content strategy entails. I hope you enjoy.

[Begin Interview]

[Weber] Thanks so much for joining us today Dianne, I really appreciate you talking with us about your work and to get started, you know you work as a content strategist at Airbnb, can you start by defining what content strategy is?

[Dianne Murphy] Yeah, content strategy is actually a little hard to define because it differs from company to company and industry to industry, but at a high level it’s a design practice. And usually when you think about content strategy you think about the words you see on a site or on an app, and that is part of it but that’s just one part. Content strategy includes all the work you put into informing what those words say. So, it’s working with product managers to understand how a feature product functions, working with engineers to understand any technical constraints, working with designers to help create the end to end user experience, and working with research to test the words before you actually launch them. And once the words are implemented, working with translations to translate them and then maintaining them once they’re out there. So, it’s-it’s a lot more than just the UX writing part.

[Weber] That’s interesting. What does your role involve as a content strategist at Airbnb?

[Murphy] I’m part of the design team on the host side, so I work on parts of the site and the app that people use when they want to list their homes on Airbnb. I’m embedded in a cross functional team that’s made up of designers, there’s product managers, and researchers, and we work to improve existing features, like the flow you use to list your home, and we’re also working to create new tools to make it easier for you to list your homes. I get asked a lot like what I do day to day and there’s just no typical day. Last week I was in the field doing research, so I was going into people’s homes to see what it was like for them to list their house on Airbnb. The next day I was sitting with engineers to make sure all the error messages within a feature we were about to launch were consistent and today I’m working with someone else on another team to make sure-we send a lot of emails at Airbnb, and we’re not going to sit down and make sure that we’re not sending you too many emails. So, auditing all the emails we send.

[Weber] Well we definitely appreciate that. How would you describe the content strategy of Airbnb?

[Murphy] Our content strategy team is about 20 right now, we’re growing, and we consider our team the voice of Airbnb. So even though we work on different teams and different features, we work as a central team to make sure the content you’re seeing on Airbnb is consistent and that it’s helpful, and straightforward, and clear. We also work as a central team to develop standards and style guides that anyone in the company can use, and so that the company understands what content strategy is and how important it is.

[Weber] How would you describe the voice of Airbnb?

[Murphy] Our voice is clear, straightforward, and helpful. We also just added some new voice principles that includes spirited, so we want to be encouraging. We want to encourage you to book a trip but sometimes we have to be more straightforward. Like if you’re having a problem on Airbnb, you don’t really want to hear spirited content, you want to hear more helpful and kind of formal language to help you with your problem.

[Weber] It sounds like you take on a lot of tasks as a content strategist. What do you see as the biggest challenges of your job?

[Murphy] I think the biggest challenge is writing for a global audience and thinking about everyone who’s using Airbnb and everyone who is going to be reading the content you’re writing. It’s the most challenging but the most important part of my job, hosts all around the world see what I’m writing, and I constantly have to make sure that I’m covering every [use case], and that it translates well and not only translates into different languages but translating for hosts who may have different needs. So, hosts who are visually impaired and using a screen reader, how does the content work for them, so I think that’s the most challenging part.

[Weber] And on the flip side, what things are you most proud of? What accomplishments are you most proud of in your work?

[Murphy] I think just being part of this discipline. It’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve always been a content strategist. Even when it was just coming out, the title was brand new, and I’m really passionate about it and it’s so amazing to see that every major tech company now has a content strategy team and product teams recognize that you can’t create good, quality design without content strategy or thinking through the messaging within a design. So, it’s not a personal accomplishment but I’m really proud to have been a part of it.

[Weber] That is exciting to see content strategy become a recognized and central part of tech companies and tech company culture.

[Murphy] Yeah and not only tech companies, agencies have content strategy teams now, universities are offering classes in it, people are studying it, so it’s come really far and it’s just thriving.

[Weber] Great, well keep up the good work Dianne and thank you so much for talking with us today about your work and all the things you do as a content strategist.

[Murphy] Thank you.

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Episode 33