Becky Kane: Every employee is a writer

June 12, 2020

Becky Kane became an editor “totally by accident.” After majoring in political science and using Todoist at her summer internship at a marketing agency, she found an old internship posting on the Todoist blog. Emailing them led to a marketing internship in their small Portugal office (the majority of the company was remote), and after that she took over the company blog, which was just starting the transition from  company announcements and product updates to more general content on productivity and self-improvement. Before her chance internship, she had no idea she could get paid to write like that. “I guess I always had this feeling like, ‘If you’re going to be a writer or a journalist, you’re going to have to be a struggling artist.’”

More than five years later, she's the Lead Editor at Doist. She splits her time between running their productivity and teamwork blog, Ambition & Balance, and leading or supporting other content side projects, including remote guides for their second product, a team communication app called Twist

Did Doist know it wanted the blog to become Ambition & Balance? Or was it the result of content experimentation?

We were an all-remote team. We were using Slack and having a really hard time staying on top of that hose of unstructured information, which would get buried by the time someone in another time zone logged on. So we decided to launch another product that our company felt the need for. We decided to do that without really thinking through how we would add a whole other brand, Twist. Would we have it underneath the Todoist brand? Would we have it be a separate brand? Then if it’s a separate brand, how would we do content for that as well?

[The publication change] was out of necessity. Honestly, we’re a small team. We weren’t going to be able to build and maintain publications for each separate brand. There’s a lot of common themes between the Todoist brand and the Twist brand, as well as our overall company umbrella brand, Doist. Even though we recognized, “Oh, we’re going to be losing a lot of domain juice from the domain,” we think it’s worth it. That setback is worth it in order to build a foundation that’s going to be able to grow with the company in the long-term.

So we had to stop, step back and think, “How are we going to make this cohesive for readers?” Most people are interested in Todoist, so how do we make sure that we’re giving them the content that they’re looking for or that they signed up for, while also expanding to talk more about remote work and teamwork in general? That was the conclusion the content team — at the time just me and my boss, Brenna Loury, the head of marketing — came to. We thought, “This is the only feasible way forward for it to be sustainable and doable.” It definitely didn’t come without its costs, but I do think that it was the right choice overall.

Is there any different content for Twist, or is it all the same blog?

It’s all the same blog. We do have the Twist Remote Work Guides that [Marketing Manager, Social Media and Content] Fadeke Adegbuyi leads. Those live on the domain and are a more focused, organized, and long-term resource about remote work. That includes insights from our team, but also insights from a lot of other remote teams.

Then Ambition & Balance covers the whole spectrum of our content. So we have five categories: teamwork, remote work, productivity, and then Twist and Todoist product-focused content (like new features and tips for using the products).

In trying to get employees to write on the side of their day jobs, how do you encourage and help them? How do you show them why content is important? 

People just have such a respect for good writing at Doist which is, now that I think about it, probably a unique thing. So I think the barrier for us is actually that people hold the content up too much and think, “I can’t. It feels intimidating to do.” We’re trying to make it more accessible. 

I love trolling people’s Twitters and keeping an eye on what they’re sharing there, because that’s much lower pressure. Then I highlight it and say, “That’s an interesting thing and I think you should write an article about it.” Also, if it’s already done well on Twitter, then chances are it’ll do well elsewhere. 

Some of our content comes from internal posts. We have a Doist inspiration channel where we start conversations about whatever it is we’re thinking about. One of our most popular articles started out as a Twist thread by the Head of Back-end Development, Roman Imankulov.

We’re a very flat and transparent company, and anyone can find basically any discussion, hop on the thread and add in their two cents. But he was recognizing that that came at a cost and so he had written an internal thread that was like, “[Feedback overload] is a problem I’m seeing and this is an interesting concept that I came across. Maybe this is a way that we can think about giving better feedback, or being open to feedback, without slowing down the project too much.” I think our CEO Amir said, “This would be a great article,” and mentioned me on it, and I thought so too.  

That was the easiest article because I just took what he had already written and I put it in a Google doc. I edited it a little bit and added an introduction and was able to send it back to Roman and we did a little bit of back and forth. Then I think it went to number one on Hacker News and went semi-viral (viral is a relative concept, I guess). 

As an editor, you have to be on the lookout for what you think will be interesting and then pitch it to people, and then follow up and continue to do so. Something that I am trying to be better about is just setting up expectations and timelines right at the beginning, and making sure that people have all of the resources that they need so they know what to expect along the way.

It also holds people accountable to put a deadline on it. We have a Todoist project for every article, so we can assign due dates there and that’s a source of truth for what they’re going to work on. That helps a little bit, but it’s always a challenge.

Would you say most of the writing is internal, split between the small content team and other Doist teams, and just a little bit is freelance?

Yes, we have moved away from freelance. It’s challenging to maintain quality, because our content, it’s not just getting people to our products, but it’s about having people care about our company and our brand. Some of our content performs well and is written by freelancers. But we want to make sure that most of our content is coming from the team.

When I first started, people would reach out and ask, “Do you do guest posts?” We have a policy now of defaulting to no. Maybe we are passing up on something that would be great, but it’s also saving us a ton of headaches trying to make an article fit. We put so much editing into it and, often, we should have just written it ourselves, or it just doesn't work out that well.

We do have integrations partners, or different companies that we work with. The blog is definitely a place where we can provide value to them and give them more exposure and reach, and we want to be good partners and do that. But [it means] figuring out how to do it in a way where we’re still controlling and maintaining the quality of content. We’re probably moving more toward, “We’ll highlight your product or even include quotes from an expert in your company,” instead of having them write a whole guest article that we're going to spend hours and hours editing.

Do you have any final thoughts about editing or the industry?

Just that companies should value good writing. Everyone should write. Everyone’s a writer. If you’re a remote worker, you are writing all the time. But at any company, you are writing so many emails, so many things. There’s so much information being generated and communicated all the time, and I think that companies really don’t think about the cost of miscommunication and poor communication. It isn’t an aspect of team productivity that people really think about. But I feel very strongly about it, and see it at Doist, and it’s something that we look for when we’re hiring people.

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