Truth from behind a Santa hat

This post is one of the last pieces that form part of Blog Secret Santa 2013. Andrew Jacobs wrote a gift post, but due to either naughtiness or forgetfulness, didn’t receive a gift from their nominated giver. Instead, here’s an elf looking back at what happened. All the posts from the whole project, including one by Andrew, are listed on Santa’s blog roll.

Blog Secret Santa was, as far as I know, the first time anyone let content strategists blog for each other without introducing authors to blog owners. Instead, we let anyone register, randomly drew matches, and sat back to see what would happen.

Nervous? You betcha.

In keeping with the way Secret Santa giving works, we let people remain as anonymous as they liked. Some authors revealed themselves, but many have stayed in the concealing shadows of the Santa hat. In doing so, they’ve produced a lot of posts that I seriously doubt would have seen the light of the internet otherwise.

Let’s begin with one of the more striking examples. I, for one, would normally hesitate before publicly calling Jim Henson “a bastion of hypocrisy”, let alone sharing my lengthy thoughts on his “oppressively penis-focussed Muppet ecosystem”. But, if you gave me the keys to someone else’s blog (Marli Mesibov’s, in this case), perhaps I would.

This, reader, is the sort of thing that we’ve seen after giving content strategists the chance to talk loudly, but anonymously, amongst ourselves. I don’t know what I expected: probably half-drafts that people didn’t want for themselves, generic posts about the basics of content strategy, or stories about annoying clients. But a lot of posts were bold (if not all the Muppet-penis-mentioning type of bold), and many of them were clearly tailored for the person they were given to. Like A stranger berates Pamela Drouin, for example. Few authors would dare publish anything like this on their own blog, for obvious reasons, but when Pamela was handed this she, to her immense credit, posted it word-for-word.

Pam: Shit. Sounds to me like you’re worried about making sure that the internet doesn’t archive anything imperfect with your name on it. What are you holding back from us?

Other writers were happier to leave their publisher un-berated, but instead question the orthodoxies of content strategy. “Empathy” would have a strong claim to being our word of the year, but not for whomever wrote Katie Cohen’s gift:

If you look back at 2013, essays on vulnerability, advice on how to improve empathy, and ways to become more human have filled our feeds. We have all opened up about the challenges, frustrations and realities of working in this field.

But clients look to us as consultants who come in to their organisation and help them out. To be their rock, a solid foundation of experience and knowledge who will guide them through stormy seas. Being tentative, having self-doubt or seeming lost ourselves can erode their confidence in our ability to do our job.

I love that Blog Secret Santa let this blogger call us out before (well, hopefully before) we overdo the touchy-feely vulnerability thing. I also love that they immediately follow this up with a vulnerable admission:

I don’t have the answer to this conundrum.

If you do have the answer, Unknown Blogger, I hope you’ll write it down. And while you’re solving things, perhaps you could help the author of this somewhat larger conundrum, who has a slightly existential question for everyone working in content strategy:

No wonder we are full of angst. We can’t even describe our field—what are we doing telling other people how to do content??

Or the person who let this rip on Margot Bloomstein’s normally appropriate (see what I did there?), hate-free blog:


That gets my vote for the best sub-heading this Christmas. It’s bold, it’s italic, it’s all caps…it’s everything. It’s shouted from the rooftops in a way that only someone with a rock-solid alter ego can shout.

And what else is worth shouting when you have this sort of attention? Content strategists are a close-knit bunch, and we love a good conference. But how often is a conference actually good? It can be hard to ask questions like that when we’re so busy being friends, but it’s a little easier when you’re an un-named, one-off writer for Prose Kiln:

Should the best that I can expect be that one-third of the sessions were meh, one-third were OK, and one-third were really good? (That was how I described what I consider my most valuable conference this year.)

We’re raising topics that are too easy to avoid. I didn’t expect that to happen over Christmas, but with a little bravery and a lot of cloaking, there it is. I really hope the discussions continue now that they’ve been kicked off.

But maybe it’s a little too easy for authors to turn on their publishers, or on content strategy, or content itself. Maybe the bravest ones are those who revelled in the “personal admission” realm, from the “rough, embarrassing content/software project nightmare” that appeared on to this more nuanced self-assessment on Content and Contemplation:

I can’t say that content ideation always comes naturally to me. When I assign blog posts with general categories like today is “social media” and tomorrow is “SEO,” I’m doing a major disservice to the practice of content strategy. How can I inspire others to write something magnificent when I’m giving them nothing to work with?

But why stop at admitting a single flaw? Why not go further and tell Rebekah Cancino’s readers that you’ve decided to list all of your mistakes and bad feelings?

I’ve started keeping a journal of those nerve-wracking, question-filled moments. The time I admitted that I’d been doing content audits all wrong, and didn’t know where to go next. The time I had to rethink everything I’d assumed. Or the time I thought I’d made a major breakthrough, only to discover I’d unearthed a much bigger problem.

Of course, just because you’re giving yourself a hard time doesn’t mean you can’t drag the rest of us into it a little bit. Especially if you’re facelessly guesting on Jonathon Colman’s blog:

Sometimes I catch myself being a little territorial and controlling, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

So this project has released personal admissions of failure, passive-aggressive advice offered one-on-one, cries of exhaustion, whispered thoughts that we’re not as great as we think we are, and Big Questions that the content strategy community is otherwise shying away from. All of these things have surprised me, and I was meant to be running the show!

I’m hugely proud of the authors that put so much time and effort into their gifts. I’m delighted that so many used the anonymity of Blog Secret Santa to say things that they would otherwise have hidden away. And I’m thankful that such a large number of gift posts are online. Andrew, I’m sorry that you were one of the few to miss out. I hope this late stocking-stuffer helps make up for it. Maybe it’ll even convince you and a few of your readers to make 2014 a Year of Blogging Dangerously.

Merry Belated Christmas!

Santa and the Elves.

One response to “Truth from behind a Santa hat

  1. Pingback: Secret Santa’s Secrets – Marli Mesibov: Content Strategist & Writer·

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