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Our ShareDesk community is brimming with interesting people who are dialed into the ways that work is constantly evolving. This is the foundation for one of our favorite blog series: The Future of Work.
This week, we share our conversation with Cat Johnson, a Northern California content strategist and journalist. We spoke with Cat about the difference between physical and digital connections, the secrets behind building a sustainable coworking content strategy, and more.
With a background in ‘Music and Arts’ writing, Cat Johnson now enjoys a writing career largely centered on topics such as coworking, collaboration, and the sharing economy. She’s a regular contributor to Shareable.net and works with coworking space operators to help them develop a content strategy. How did she fall into the world of coworking? It began with her falling in love with a coworking community of her own: NextSpace in Santa Cruz, California.
“The thing that I absolutely adore about [NextSpace Santa Cruz] is that the community completely drives it. It’s such a strong thing. You hear that coworking is like walking into Cheers, and it’s definitely like that. Like yesterday I walked in after being out sick last week and the day I came back and walked in it was like, ‘Hey you are back, you are alive!’ It is just such an amazing feeling to walk into a place like this.”
Cat goes on to recount a specific example right off the top of her head where recently, she sat down with a burgeoning freelance writer to give her some tips and advice from Cat’s own experience, only to later sit down with a man who runs an agency out of NextSpace who spent an hour sharing his expertise with Cat. To Cat, it’s all about shedding ego and giving without expectation.
“The ethos is so strong to share skills and knowledge within the space. If you sit down with someone, people will gladly give you 30 minutes or an hour of their time just to talk to you, give you insights, share their experience with a certain thing and there seems to be a really strong kind of pay it forward mentality. It’s just like ‘I am helping you out, this is enough.’”
One of the unofficial mottos of coworking that’s bandied about is the idea of collaboration over competition. At its best, coworking is about recognizing the value in giving without expectation, in realizing that we’ve got more to gain from sharing our knowledge with others than from keeping to ourselves.
When Cat considers how her own work is evolving, she’s recently began thinking more about how she can create content marketing/strategy education to ensure she helps as many people as possible, considering her limited bandwidth as an individual person.
With that realization, she’s moving away from simply generating individual pieces of content and more into the world of education: e-books, group-coaching sessions, and other opportunities to leverage her expertise to elevate the coworking community on a larger scale. Teaching others how to build their own original content and an overall content strategy, instead of simply outsourcing this area of their business to Cat, is the direction she’d like to take her own work. Because at the end of the day, growth and education go hand in hand.
“What I am finding on day to day level though is I am constantly talking to people, meeting people, and they are still saying ‘What is coworking? What are you talking about?’ So even though the [coworking movement] is growing like crazy, at a sidewalk level there is still a lot of work do be done.”
As a freelance content strategist who herself works out of a coworking space, Cat is very tapped into the struggles coworking space operators face in trying to create and maintain a content strategy for their business. Based on her research and experience with clients, Cat recently wrote and published her first e-book, Coworking Out Loud. In researching for the book and through her work with all kinds of coworking space operators, Cat understands the mindset of a coworking space operator better than the average freelancer. And she’s seeing a trend–they’re overwhelmed and confused by the world of content marketing.
“With Coworking Out Loud, my goal is to give coworking space operators an introduction to content marketing and how powerful that can be to get their word out about their space, to differentiate their space in crowded markets, to attract members, and whatever else it is that you are trying to do in your space.”
When I asked Cat if she sees common patterns emerging as to why coworking space operators feel overwhelmed by the idea of creating content, her answer was simple: time and prioritization.
“Far and away the biggest challenge for coworking space operators and teams around content is time, you know, especially if the person who runs the space is also responsible for doing content, it is really easy for content to get bumped to the bottom of the list.”
In our modern age, we wear being busy like a badge of honor. No one is immune, especially the passionate coworking space operator trying to keep their workaholic tendencies in check. It’s easy to see content as a daunting task, one which feels too intimidating to start and all too easy to keep pushing onto the back-burner until it falls on the floor.
Cat encourages you to break one big daunting task into smaller chunks you can check off. Instead of trying to carve out three hours in your schedule (because let’s face it, who’s got a spare three hours laying around?) you can find a handful of 20 minute chunks to make progress. Tackle an outline, then fill it in, then draft up the first three points. Before you know it, that giant piece of content is written.
While the majority of the work that Cat does lives in the digital realm, make no mistake about it–she’s very passionate about the power of making and maintaining physical connections, too. This coming weekend, thousands of coworking enthusiasts (Cat included) will be descending upon NYC for the Global Coworking Unconference Conference, or GCUC for short.
“The GCUC conference is coming up and every year, I connect with a bunch of people digitally and then we get to see each other there in person. [At the conference], you make that connection even stronger and the thing that I think is important about the in person connections of coworking…is with our digital presence, we kind of control how people see us. There is a bit of containment about that. And when you are in-person…you see people not just in their best moments but maybe in a challenging moment and you give someone a quick hi-five and a smile. Those are the kinds of things that move our connections with each other forward.”
While many digital relationships remain at a surface level, Cat does believe it’s possible to use digital connections to form authentic relationships with others. She thinks there’s a real beauty of consistency and the authentic, deep relationships that can grow through regular social interactions between individuals. When you have the ability to reach out regularly, to show you’re taking a real interest in what they’re up to, that matters. That’s a connection which holds up to conversations outside of the digital realm.
In fact, my own relationship with Cat is a perfect example. To this day, we’ve never met in person. We connected first through twitter, when I had just begun as ShareDesk’s Community & Content Manager. I was looking for people to learn from, people who were tapped into the coworking community, and I kept seeing Cat’s name pop up. So I reached out. And she responded. And we enjoyed a lively back and forth, dancing fluidly across platforms, from liking each others tweets to sending an email to offer some feedback on a recent newsletter the other had posted. It’s a real, authentic relationship which has evolved organically through consistent, two-sided support. And that’s a truly beautiful thing.
To hear more from Cat (and build your own digital connections), check out her website and follow her on Twitter. If you’re planning on attending GCUC in New York this coming weekend, keep your eyes out for Cat!