Ginny Redish is the author of Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works. She is a pioneer in how to communicate on the web. Ginny has helped companies like IBM communicate with customers and teaches people why content is conversation.
Check out the full conversation with her and Kristina Halvorson on the Content Talks podcast. And find a short excerpt below.
If you think about it, in a typical website, your site just doesn’t exist until somebody comes to it. And somebody comes to it because they have a need, they have a question.
Basically they want to start a conversation with your website. And if you’re website does not converse well back to them, they are going to go somewhere else because you’re not satisfying the need that they came with.
I really came up with the idea of content as conversation in the web arena. But thinking about it, it’s actually what I’ve done for my entire career.
It is to push people to think of whatever they write as a conversation.
A computer manual, for example, is also a conversation. And if you think through the conversation, that is talking to the other person in your head, you’ll write much better. Whatever you’re writing, don’t think about it as me, me, me. I have all this to say to people.
Because then you’re just shouting into a void and not working with the other person who is involved with this.
I think most people started their websites on the metaphor of a filing cabinet. Whether they made that explicit or not.
What they were really doing was putting up all of their documents and sort of saying, “Here are our filing cabinets. We’ll open the doors and let you rummage around them yourselves.”
And I think that is a very poor metaphor for a website. Because people don’t come to the website for documents.
They come for information. They come to get answers to their questions. They come to have these conversations.
And therefore what I think the web really should be and has been, the web is a telephone. The web is all about self-service.
So in a sense, the web is replacing customer service calls.
Content as conversation actually starts before you think about what you’re going to write or say. It’s just that concept that there is another human being in this with you.
It isn’t only about what I have to say, it’s about hearing the other person in your head as you’re writing.
Imagine the person you’re in this conversation with. And imagine their lives. It’s not only who they are.
It’s the idea that someone is going to be coming at 11 o’clock at night, when they’re tired and the bank is closed, and there is no way to ask a question. And they really need to accomplish this transaction. They’re tired. The kids have been put to bed.
Imagine this person and they’re emotional attitude. And so when you’re writing, you really are communicating with people.
Most people think of it as I have this content to say. And don’t realize that in the workplace, everything from an email to a webpage is actually serving some purpose.
Whether it’s getting people to buy something or stop doing something, or getting your proposal funded.
That’s such a different situation then the way we were all writing in school.
It’s just getting people to realize what they write is supposed to achieve something.
You must write: when someone reads this, they will do “x”.
And when you read this, you will share it.