Confab 2012: A New Path for Content Strategy

Michael Barnwell   July 18, 2012

Are we there yet? (photo by Tom Wachtel)

The Breakout: 2012 marked the second year of Confab: The Content Strategy Conference. In our ongoing coverage, we’ll share reactions from Razorfish content strategists who made the trip to Confab in May. In this post, Michael Barnwell considers the state of the discipline, and the talks that focused on content strategy’s lofty future.

As a content strategist, how do you see yourself — custodian or curator? A little of both maybe? The evolving concept of content strategy seems to point to a progression from cleaning up the mess of content compounded from months or years of mismanagement to bringing content into a predictable, accessible order to organizing content for a particular, inspiring purpose. While the custodial and taxonomic nature of the discipline is always going to play a key part, the promise of something more elevating is starting to redefine the role. At least this was evident in many of the talks at Confab 2012.

It might be a bit of wishful hearing, but I think anyone at the conference could pick up on the interplay of housekeeping and imagining that is beginning to define what falls to the content strategist to do. It’s true that the emphasis is still on the side of the hard work of rationalizing complex sets of content and making them understandable and accessible for cross-channel audiences. But at the conference there was also a welcome developing story urging content strategists to expand the range of their work and take a more active role in creating new ways of consuming, sharing, and dreaming up ways that content can be transformative. It’s a progression from, “I found what I was looking for” to “Look what I found!”

Starting with Dan Roam’s kick-off, where he spoke about the power of drawings to convey ideas and inspire new thinking, the message was as clear as a stick figure with a smile: the spreadsheet is not your only, or even your best, tool. Kevin Cheng seconded this strategy with a simple call to content strategists to be inventive. How? Begin by uncapping a Sharpie and putting felt tip to paper. And Jared Spool made a strong case for the value of the broad view, for content people to take a part in imagining game-changing experiences rather than just co-conspiring in the messy pile up of independent features.

Could this mean a different future path for content strategy? I hope so. If “metadata is the new art direction,” as others have poignantly and playfully pronounced, what else lies ahead for the content strategists who so artfully structure the content? The content strategist need not be satisfied being the “bringer of order” — lofty as that might be. How about instead imagining what a new order of content could bring?

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One Response

  1. Ilona Hiila says:

    Very interesting text! This is basically the evolution we’ve had at our Finnish content strategy company Vapa Media. Now that we’ve been writing the first Finnish book (published in September) about content strategy, we’ve been taking the focus radically towards this “role of creating new ways of consuming, sharing, and dreaming up ways that content can be transformative”. We truly believe this is the next step of our field.

    Were hoping to have at least some parts of the book translated to English as it would be great to see if our thoughts will get similar responses. At least we’ll have to write some kind of summary about it :)

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