American Studies
American Studies

Carrie Andersen: Content Strategist

Sun, September 15, 2019
Carrie Andersen: Content Strategist
Throughout the 2019-2020 academic year, we've been conducting interviews with UT AMS grads who utilize their American Studies degrees in different ways in the world outside the 40 Acres. Next up in our series is Carrie Andersen, Senior Content Strategist in the Experience Design department at Wayfair.
 
Gaila Sims: When did you graduate from American Studies at UT, and with what degree?
 
Carrie Andersen: I received my Ph.D. in American Studies in 2017, and my M.A. in American Studies in 2012. My dissertation focused on drone warfare in American culture, but my broader research interests spanned media, technology, politics, and security. 
 
Gaila Sims: As Senior Content Strategist in the Experience Design department at Wayfair, what does your day-to-day work look like?
 
Carrie Andersen: The easy answer is that every day is different! But, in general, the tl;dr of my job is that I develop the content for our website that helps customers understand what they're getting into and how to make decisions that work for them. My focus is on our loyalty program, called MyWay, and our financing programs - our credit card, our installment plans, stuff like that. In both of those cases, it's really important to communicate effectively with customers so they know how they could benefit from those programs. And it's even more important to communicate ethically and honestly. 
 
To fulfill those goals, I might spend a few hours conducting competitive research to see how other companies are promoting their own loyalty programs, in order to drive recommendations for how we might change our messaging strategy. I might spend some time in a brainstorm with my colleagues in Experience Design and Product Management about ways to frame our program benefits more transparently. I might collaborate with my design partner on a new webpage for our credit card by moving pieces of the page around and revising the content hierarchy to be more user-friendly. Or I might sit down with our user research team to learn about what problems our users are confronting in an existing experience, in order to drive fixes. It's a very dynamic work environment that always keeps me challenged and on my toes - which I love. 
 
Gaila Sims: How did you become involved with Wayfair? How did you become interested in content strategy?
 
Carrie Andersen: I had met up with some friends from college during my 10th reunion back in Cambridge, and I ended up sitting next to one of my future colleagues in our Uber from dinner back to campus. She mentioned that she was working at Wayfair and loved it. A year later, my husband and I had decided to move to Boston, so I reached out to her to see if she knew of any positions that would make sense for someone with a background in research, writing, and teaching. She forwarded my resume along to my hiring manager, and the rest is history!
 
The overarching field I'm in - user experience - blends everything I loved about academia with the dynamic, collaborative culture of the tech industry. It's a research-centric field that's fundamentally concerned with improving people's lives, and making technology work in a way that aligns with their needs and expectations. We spend time talking to users, testing prototypes with people, and learning from them about new problems to solve. As a large tech company, we can pivot quickly to resolve those points of friction or to communicate in a clearer way with our customers. And we all - content strategists, designers, researchers, product managers, everyone here - work together to improve how our customers create a home that they love.
 
Gaila Sims: What are some of your favorite parts of your job? What are some of the most challenging aspects of the work?
 
Carrie Andersen: So much to love about my job. I work on a huge variety of projects, and have a lot of autonomy in how I approach crafting the communications strategy for our loyalty and financing programs. I'm empowered to advocate for changes to our site to help our customers in different ways, whether setting expectations or showing them products or services that they might be interested in. I also get to work with some fabulous coworkers. I've learned a ton from my fellow content strategists, designers, and other colleagues at Wayfair, and I love working together to solve problems and help our users. Plus our occasional 80s movie nights are a lot of fun! 
 
The most challenging thing about the work is probably finding enough hours in the day to dive into all of the projects that I want to. We all have to do a lot of prioritizing to work just on the projects that drive the most value to our users and to our company, and it can be tough to figure out when to step back.
 
Gaila Sims: Do you have any advice for students in our department who are interested in pursuing careers in digital communications?
 
Carrie Andersen: Find opportunities to get hands-on experience with digital media during graduate school. Creating and managing our Twitter account and our blog back years ago was essential to my learning about what works and what doesn't work in communicating with people online. I also learned that I loved the experience of thinking strategically about online communication: how to tweet in a way that would resonate most with our followers, for instance, or how to craft a new blog series that both showcased the department at its best and entertained our readers. That ultimately led me to research user experience as a field when I decided to pivot out of higher education. 
 
Gaila Sims: How does American Studies inform your work? How does your background in American Studies help you in your work at Wayfair?
 
Carrie Andersen: The ability to think synthetically and critically is a core part of my job. And being part of an innovative, forward-thinking team means that I'm empowered to recommend new analytical approaches and even to draw on my academic background in my day-to-day. For instance, I drew from my historical research background to analyze mid-20th century advertisements for a well-known loyalty program, and used that to develop new recommendations for how we communicate about our loyalty program. Having the freedom to propose new research initiatives is awesome and exciting.
 
I also draw on my teaching background quite regularly. This summer, I created and lead a professional development program for my team in which we complete readings and discuss them on a weekly basis, much like the AMS 370 courses that I taught at UT. Our topics are somewhat different from the technology and security courses I taught at UT - instead of engaging in conversations about drone warfare or the atomic bomb, we talk about ethical communication or personalized online experiences - but the structure and my approach build directly from my experience as an instructor and lecturer. I absolutely love that part of my job, and my company. I certainly didn't expect to be creating syllabi after leaving higher ed, and am thrilled to have the opportunity to do that.
 
Gaila Sims: What projects or people have inspired your career?
 
Carrie Andersen: I continue to be inspired by canonical cultural studies scholars like Dick Hebdige and Stuart Hall. I appreciate their attention to the ways that media can shape individual belief systems in powerful ways, but also the ways that people have agency in interpreting those media. That's something that I try to keep in mind when I'm developing new online experiences: people will interpret content in ways that depart from what any creator intends. I'm also a long term fan of Jill Lepore, for imbuing a nuanced, thoughtful, brilliant sensibility to her historical work. I'd love to be able to think as creatively as she does, and to write as beautifully.
 
Gaila Sims: Do you have any advice for students in our department about how to get the most out of their experience at UT?
 
Carrie Andersen: Say a mindful "yes" to opportunities that come your way to flex your muscles both inside and outside of academia - if your time, energy, and resources allow. Whether that's working on a digital humanities publication, volunteering for a nonprofit, or working part-time for the UT administration, graduating with a variety of skills and perspectives will serve you well regardless of your career. Plus you might discover a new career path that you love.
 
I'd also advise current students to think expansively about what your future looks like. There are many, many paths to a fulfilling career, so I highly recommend being open to any and all possibilities - however unexpected. 
 
To learn more about Carrie Andersen's work, visit carrieandersen.com
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