Users or audiences. Content or copy. What’s your word choice?

Something weird happened when I decided to drop ‘tech’ from my career identity a few months ago. I developed an aversion to the word ‘user’. I didn’t suddenly hate the word, but I noticed I was swapping out ‘user’ for ‘customer’ or ‘audience’ whenever I spoke.

Anna from Frozen wondering why I am talking about job titles.
Oh no. I’m talking about job titles. (image from Giphy)

It got me thinking (oh noes) about the job title mashups I’ve used to let people know what I do. I’ve gone by user-focused content writer, UX writer, content developer, and content designer (which I used before knowing it was a real thing). Not copywriter though. I struggle to call myself that.

I mentioned earlier that content and copy serve different purposes. So, to me, there’s always been a good reason to use a job title to highlight which one I do (more often). I’ve seen arguments against having different titles, and I agree, it can be a pain to explain them. But titles are a tool I’ve been using to signpost my niche (another infamous word if you’re self-employed).

I’m not a sales copywriter. That’s not my niche, segment or swimming lane (so many buzz words). Six or so years ago, I could argue that I was close to becoming one. I was my team’s nagging voice pushing for more content marketing and better tone of voice. I had presentations, stats, charts, ideas and plans. My persistence and enthusiasm were super annoying in hindsight (sorry guys).

But then I realised I liked being a helpful problem solver more than I believed in selling stuff. And the only reason I was selling was because I believed in my team and the company’s brand.

It’s hard for me to sell something I don’t believe in. You can see why that might be a problem for someone advertising themselves as a copywriter.

Content though, that’s a nice neutral word. It’s not synonymous with sales or marketing.  It can mean almost anything – from words to pictures, to music and video. Content is everywhere. From online stores selling products to advice websites that don’t ask for anything in return. YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter, Slideshare, this blog. We’re all offering something to someone.

Which brings me back to ‘user’.

It’s not a neutral word. It has an implied context. A user uses something. Or, negatively, a user exploits something or someone. Type ‘user’ into Google, and almost all of the top stories have something to do with technology. Given the focus on empathy in UX design, user is a strangely detached word to represent a person. Think human, but not too much.

Audience, on the other hand, isn’t tied to any specific field or industry. Even when it’s used as an industry term, your tech-averse granny will know what it means.

I love this definition in particular:

Audience – the people who give attention to something.

Give attention.

I like that. People aren’t simply buying or using a product, they’re giving it their attention. Meaning in that moment, they’re ignoring the 50-bazillion other things they’re interested in. That’s a powerful reminder baked into the word. Copywriters have been using it for years, so it’s another way to align copy and content writers (more thoughts on that topic later).

So what do you think? Do you think we’ll ever see the rise of audience experience writers? Or is user set to stay? Are you a copywriter or a content something-or-other?

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