The Next Generation of Content Strategists

Rachel Lovinger   March 6, 2014

Casey, Sarah & Julie: The First Recipients of the Facebook Content Strategy Fellowship. Photo via Casey Capachi

The field of content strategy has been growing continuously for several years now. Many of the newcomers are people who recently discovered that there’s this practice called “content strategy” and they realize that they’ve already been doing this kind of work for a while, they just didn’t know it by that name. Some of the newcomers are people who have been laboring in an adjacent field – editors, marketers, librarians, producers – seeking to deepen their involvement with content by expanding into a new practice.

But what about the freshly-minted digital natives, well-schooled and ready to enter the workforce? Anyone who has tried to hire content strategists or who’s interested in seeing this practice grow has wondered how new fledgling content strategists will be drawn to the field. What are they studying? What are they working on? How will they hear about content strategy? How will we recognize them when we meet them? In short, how will we find them and how will they find us? Last year the content strategy team at Facebook decided to take a more active approach. In February they announced the first Facebook Content Strategy Fellowship, in conjunction with Confab, hosted by Brain Traffic in Minneapolis. The idea was that Facebook would select promising students in a related discipline and give them an all-expenses paid trip to the content strategy conference. They defined “related discipline” pretty loosely, in the hopes of bringing in people who were just discovering content strategy, or perhaps hadn’t even discovered it yet.

Facebook Fellows, First Class

In 2013 the fellowship was awarded to three worthy individuals: Sarah Adler, Casey Capachi, and Julie Patterson. Before the fellowship, only Julie had heard of content strategy. Casey and Sarah had been studying and working in journalism, multimedia, and digital design when they learned of the fellowship, but hadn’t known about CS as a practice. I spoke to all three of them during the conference, and there was a lot that they were excited about. But that was in the midst of all the elegant typography, delicious cakes and open sharing of feelings. I checked in with them recently to see what stuck with them. Here’s what they had to say about the experience, eight months later.

Sarah Adler (@saraheadler)

“Confab came at the perfect time for me. Within the few months after Confab, I graduated from college and started working to expand a food publication I co-founded in undergrad called Spoon University (@spoonuniversity). At Northwestern, we had a staff of 100 students on photography, editorial, marketing and video teams. By the end of 2013, we had over 600 students on staffs on 20 campuses across the country. It was impossible for my partner and I to have as much control over the details as we had had at Northwestern, and we needed a way to articulate and implement a vision in an extraordinarily decentralized content production system.

“The lessons that I learned at Confab about developing a content strategy and articulating that strategy to others ended up being instrumental as Mackenzie [Barth] and I tried to maintain quality content across all of the chapters of our publication. Some of the speakers (especially Tiffani Brown‘s presentation about developing and implementing content strategy at Pinterest) served as the basis for Spoon’s Secret Sauce guide, which is our online orientation program designed to teach student members everything they need to know to start and work at a Spoon University chapter.”

Sarah continues to expand her startup. She estimates they’ll be on 30 campuses by the end of the month.

Julie Patterson (@JulieWithAnE):

“Winning the fellowship and getting to attend Confab was very surreal. Whenever I would tell people about it in the weeks leading up to the conference, I described it as feeling like a ‘tech Cinderella’ – Facebook whisked me from my ordinary life and gave me this incredible opportunity, so I was determined to take advantage of it. Before Confab I was pursuing internship opportunities in user experience design, so the conference was a great opportunity to explore a new side of that dimension that had previously been unknown to me, and to work content strategy into my own understanding of experience design. I wasn’t the only UXer at the conference, but there were many other diverse backgrounds represented, including journalism, higher education, commerce, and of course technology companies and social networks.

“I realized that content strategy meant something slightly different to all of these people, and that’s when I kind of learned to let go of the need for a hard and fast, universal definition of content strategy or UX. It’s about what it means to you, and the community is excellent for sharing best practices, problem-solving, and mentoring. I came away from Confab feeling like I understood more about the content strategy practice, but the most pivotal takeaway for me was learning to accept ambiguity. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, or how you do what you do. What matters is the end result and how effectively it meets the needs of the agency and its users.”

Since Confab last year, Julie did an internship at Facebook, and is now doing one at Discovery before she joins the Facebook team full time in July.

Casey Capachi (@caseycapachi):

“The Facebook Content Strategy fellowship gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be introduced to the content strategy community. So much of the work I do now on the web for PostTV (The Washington Post’s video department) falls into the realm of content strategy and I am forever thankful that I had the opportunity to attend Confab Minneapolis.

“I actually had Confab flashbacks when we were in a meeting for the redesign of our Super Bowl ads page, which is a viewer favorite every year and we wanted to update it with new ways for people to rate the commercials. We talked about the landing page design, what language to use and we did it all with developers, designers and editorial folks all in the same room. I’m very proud of the experience we were able to provide viewers when they landed on the interactive – not only could they watch the ads but they could rate them on how funny and memorable they were and give them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It was just the kind of collaboration I know Confabbers would have endorsed.” Casey is now a video and web producer at The Washington Post. She reports, shoots and edits video, and leads their social video presence on Instagram, Vine, and YouTube.

Facebook Fellowship, Round 2

Facebook has just announced  another round of the fellowship program. The fellowship will again be awarded for Confab Central. The deadline for applying will be March 21, 2014, with fellows announced in early April. More details are available at contentstrategyfellowship.com. And the veterans have some advice to share for anyone who might be interested. Sarah: “To any students considering applying to the fellowship, I’d tell them to go for it. I had no idea how important the fellowship would be for me professionally. I didn’t even know what content strategy was before I applied”. Julie: “My advice for potential applicants – and I can’t stress this enough – is to just APPLY. If you’re on the fence, get off the fence and just do it. It wasn’t until I learned that I was a finalist and was doing research to prepare for my interview that I realized what content strategy was and how perfect it really was for me, as someone interested in design and usability with an affinity for words and an obsession with grammar and syntax. It was a big revelation for me, and one that really changed the course of my professional life.” Casey: “My advice for fellows would be to have fun reading as much about content strategy as possible. The content strategy community is fantastic about sharing their knowledge online whether through their company websites, personal blogs, social media profiles, or SlideShare. I went through the current and past Confab speakers lists to seek out the people and topics I wanted to learn more about to make the most out of the experience. Confab is unlike any other conference you’ve ever attended: Be prepared to be delighted throughout the day whether it’s following the witty banter on the conference hashtag or tasting the incredible food!” Sarah Cancilla, the Facebook content strategist who founded this program, adds, “It’s becoming clear to us that there’s a vast amount of raw content strategy talent among the college population. It’s an honor for us to be able to welcome some of these students into the content strategy community and then follow them as their careers unfold.” So, if you know someone who you think would make a great content strategist (whether they know about it or not!), give them a nudge in the right direction. We’d love to see them in Minneapolis this coming May.

A Few Lingering Thoughts on An Event Apart

Hawk Thompson   June 21, 2013

 Photo by zeldman

I have a confession to make: I attended An Event Apart more than two months ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it.

Sure, the fact that it was my family’s first trip to Seattle might be part of the reason (it being my six-month-old daughter’s first big trip ever may also factor into the equation). But more than the AirBnB rental in Queen Anne, dinner at the Walrus and the Carpenter or anything else about the trip, the reason #AEASEA is branded on my brain has to do with how the conference confounded my expectations in the best possible way.

Simply put, An Event Apart elevates the conference-going experience. A decade-plus SXSW veteran (love you SX), I’ve survived enough hype-fueled madness to know to plan for the worst and to expect a good amount of stress at the very least. As its name implies, An Event Apart is cut from different cloth. Attendees have the same agenda — three days, twelve speakers, no overlap — so there’s little need to wait in line or jockey for position. Perhaps because of this, each speaker is able to hold the autdience’s attention and every talk feels like part of a conversation.

The ethos behind A List Apart helps bring everything together. United by common beliefs, collaborative projects like Editorially, mutual business interests like A Book Apart and, of course, the ubiquitous Zeldman, the speakers exude a camaraderie that’s contagious. This shared enthusiasm keeps everyone feeling convivial and fuels discussions between talks.

A List Apart attracts tremendously talented people who work together to weave cohesive narratives. Take Karen McGrane — a content strategy hero of mine for a number of reasons, her brilliant book Content Strategy for Mobile (read our review here) chief among them. What struck me in the context of the conference was how compatible Karen’s approach to creating mobile-friendly content was with Luke Wroblewski’s mobile-first mandate, Ethan Marcotte’s rationale for responsible responsive design and Jared Spool’s celebration of UX generalists. Taken as a whole, these talks all draw from a deep well of experience to rally the audience to join forces and future-proof the web in anticipation of whatever challenge comes next.

Looking back, it’s clear that everyone involved with An Event Apart is invested in creating truly stellar online experiences for all users that can stand the test of time. While it wasn’t surprising that common themes emerged over the course of the conference, it was delightful to experience this emergence firsthand. I left Seattle with five big takeaways and one strong urge to return in the near future.

 

Your Digital Strategy: The People Are the Problem

Erin Scime   October 25, 2012

The Breakdown: Earlier this month, Erin Scime gave a presentation at the 2012 MIMA summitShe discussed how digital marketers and content people of the web world are up against a big problem. Creating, managing and planning for digital content is complicated. The process is almost always touched by more than one person – revealing the political undercurrent of an organization. In the slides above, she discusses how businesses go through turf wars over ownership and feel growing pains when new site designs or platform migration is underway. Then she offers tactics for navigating the dirty politics and explains how you need to set up and maximize your digital content team to get a higher ROI overall. 

Content, Code and People: Are you ready for responsive design?

Erin Scime   October 19, 2012

When the walls collapse, will your content be ready? (photo by chaines106) 

The Breakdown: Last week, Erin Scime traveled to Minnesota to attend the 2012 MIMA summit, a conference on interactive marketing and technology. The night before, Erin was part of a 3-person panel on responsive design, hosted by the Minneapolis CS meetup. Here’s what they discussed.

What happens when a presentation layer developer and two content strategists are invited to speak to the Minneapolis Content Strategy meetup group? You get a warm group of people, warmed by the light of the fire on a cool October night at Fallon Worldwide’s fabulous office space, and a great conversation about the future of creating and managing content within the framework of responsive design.

The talk, “Responsive Design, Content, People and Process,” was a panel discussion including myself, content strategist Sara Wachter-Boetcher (whose book “Content Everywhere” will be coming out later in 2012) and developer Sean Tubridy.

If you’re not doing responsive design now, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will face it in the near future.  Sean Tubridy offered a humorous metaphor for how responsive code works. Remember the scene in Star Wars when our heroes are trapped in the trash compactor? Well, responsive code is a bit like this – albeit less destructive. It’s a state where your content must flex and fold as the walls of the page width narrow.

Previewing her MIMA Summit presentation, “Getting Flexible: Working Content into Responsive Design,” Sara Wachter-Boetcher talked about how we need to model our content so it can withstand (or respond to) the range of widths that the content will need to fit within.  Using a recipe page as an example in her presentation, Wachter-Boetcher illustrated the importance of breaking down a page to its essential components. In your CMS, you’ll ultimately be creating sub-areas that put structure around the bits of content that make up a page. For the recipe example, Sara talked about treating yield, ingredients and instructions as these separate components.

The great thing about structuring your content like this is that you can then “turn on” or “turn off” elements of a page depending on context and, even better, you create your content once and distribute it to as many devices as you need.

I was the last person on the panel to speak. Using a case study to highlight the people aspects, I focused on how responsive design can impact your team. Previewing my MIMA Summit presentation, “There’s a People Problem Lurking Behind Your Digital Strategy,” and speaking from direct experience constructing Support.ford.com, I talked about how creating responsive & nimble content requires a nimble team.

To be more specific, on the Ford support site, I worked very closely with a presentation layer developer, CMS developer and UX designer to create templates that would be modular and flexible enough to handle the constraints of responsive design. Our process was stripped of typical waterfall signoff.  We were co-located and we collaborated on the same deliverables.  Ultimately we were able to share working prototypes with real content in them to our client, so they were able to see exactly what the experience would be for desktop, tablet and mobile users. This was an incredible win in increasing transparency and meeting expectations so much sooner.

Another important thing about working as a nimble team was that our roles essentially collapsed into one another. We still had our areas of expertise that we focused on, but were able to cross over into each other’s domains easier in that we had expectations that we were truly a cross-disciplinary team with one UX lead. The brilliant outcome: no feelings were hurt in the process due to confused roles. We truly had one goal we could focus on – and that was getting the best work done as efficiently as possible.

During final Q&A at the meetup, our panel rested on the notion that it’s ok to be cautious about whether or not your next site build should be responsive. Sean Tubridy provided the great insight that you should consider how big your mobile/tablet audience is – rather than jumping to the conclusion that it will be worth the effort.  For example, if 90% of your audience is desktop users, it might not be worth the effort to change around your existing processes to code your pages responsively.

Whether or not you go responsive, structuring your content is one thing you should not hold back on. As Sara said, it will allow you to scale your designs in the future. If there is one painful (and expensive!) aspect of content management, it’s restructuring existing content too late in the game.

Follow any of the panelists on Twitter:

Or read more on creating smart, structured content from our own Rachel Lovinger’s Nimble Report.

Loving the Creators

Rachel Lovinger   September 21, 2012

Andy Baio welcomes the attendees of XOXO Festival (photo by John Biehler)

A week ago I went to a festival/conference in Portland called XOXO. When it was announced, this first-time event was speculatively described up as “an alternative to SXSW” – not as ‘the next SXSW’ mind you, but as another option for those who may feel that SouthBy has become bloated, and has perhaps lost some of its focus.

Attendance was limited to 400 people, and all registrations were handled through a Kickstarter project. Those 400 slots were snapped up in about 50 hours, with another 200+ people pledging a reduced amount for early access to the videos and some swag from the event. (Yes, there will be video! You can still buy early access on the XOXO website.)

In case you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, let me briefly explain how it works, because in many, many ways the XOXO Fest couldn’t have existed without it. Kickstarter is a site where people post details about a project they’d like to do, indicate how much money they need to complete it, and offer rewards for people who back their efforts. Other people, the backers, pledge an amount and select a desired reward for the projects they want to support. If – and only if – the total pledge amount reaches the goal by the stated deadline, everyone’s credit cards are charged and the creator begins their journey towards completing their project.

As Kickstarter has grown and entered broader awareness (and mainstream media) there seems to be some confusion, with a lot of people viewing it primarily as a marketplace for independently made gadgets and video games – a high-tech Etsy, if you will. But it’s more accurate to think of it as supporting an artist or entrepreneur, rather than as buying a product. Amid growing discussions of accountability, the people running the site recently clarified their position in a post called “Kickstarter Is Not a Store.”

So, back to XOXO, which describes itself as “an arts and technology festival celebrating disruptive creativity.” In the opening remarks, Andy Baio (who co-organized the festival, along with Andy McMillan) expressed some regret about using the overused buzzword “disruptive.” He also made it clear that the “hugs and kisses” implication of the conference title was intended. Without irony or snark, the weekend embraced the culture of independent creators in many forms – from high-end food carts outside the venue, to a pop-up arcade of independent video games, a concert by self-made musicians, the incredible speaker lineup, and an attendee list which boasts so many luminaries they could populate the programs of several other conferences. And then there were the parties, a maker market, and so many other interesting artisanal micro-events.

The speakers were a mix of people creating independent art and products – film, music, illustration, web comics, video games, and gadgets – and others who are building the platforms that support these efforts. There’s a good reason that this conference is happening now. In the ‘90s we had a major wave of DIY culture as technology became cheap enough and accessible enough that people could produce music, video, and printed materials at home. Inexpensive means of production gave birth to a deluge of garage bands, independent filmmakers and ‘zine publishers. But they had a limited reach, unless they somehow got a contract with a major company and crossed over into the mainstream.

Now we’re seeing another wave of DIY culture, brought on by several major developments:

  • social tools that allow creators to build a direct relationship with a widespread audience
  • crowdfunding systems, such as Kickstarter, that allow fans to directly fund projects
  • sites and systems that allow creators to self-distribute digital and non-digital products

Many of the speakers could link the success of their projects to Kickstarter. This gave them project budgets that yielded very high quality work, whether they were a single person working alone, or a small team with a shared vision. Having a direct relationship with their audience is a key factor, too, because it establishes both a trust and a demand that makes people willing to give them money. Their fans are saying, “I know what you’re capable of and I want to be a part of making that happen.”

Other speakers talked about the platforms designed to help independent creators sell their products directly to their audience – the aforementioned Etsy (for fine crafts), VHX (for films), The Atavist (for long-form journalism), CASH Music (for music), 20×200 (for affordable art prints), and Simple (an alternative banking platform). It’s important to note that all of these distribution services result in the creators getting the vast majority of the income from the sale of their creations. This is the promise of the long tail – if a major record label is going to pay you next to nothing to release your album, but you can build your audience yourself and sell your music directly to them, then why wouldn’t you do it?

With all the talk recently of content being cheap in the digital realm, the idea of motivated creators being able to make and distribute their own work, and even earn a living doing it, is a disruption we all should welcome.

 

Want more XOXO? Here are some additional links:

And follow @XOXO on Twitter to see more coverage and announcements about the conference. Keep an eye out for the release of the videos!

For One Night Only: Pop-up Magazine

Lisa Park   May 9, 2012

You had to be there. Ephemeral content takes the stage. (photo by Lisa Park)

The sixth issue of Pop-up Magazine hit the stage at the SF Davies Symphony Hall the week before last, playing to an audience numbering more than 2,700. I was lucky enough to grab a golden ticket for this sold-out, live event that goes unrecorded, showcasing writers, documentary filmmakers, photographers and radio producers — from The New Yorker and Vanity Fair to This American Life and Pixar — in a magazine content format. As soon as tickets went on sale, the online box office promptly crashed due to the avalanche of traffic hitting the site. After dozens of failed attempts to gain access, I finally got through and had my ticket in hand. Success!

Three years ago, Pop-up Magazine got started in the humble 364-seat Brava Theater. It’s since morphed into a grand affair: Folks like me are more than happy to queue up virtually to fork over 20 dollars and change for a chance to be a part of an exclusive club, one that runs for one night only.  The founders have clearly struck a chord with those in attendance seeking to hear, see and experience never-before-aired-or-published stories that are here today, gone tomorrow. Attend one of these literary events (I’ve been to two), and you’ll feel a strong sense of community plus a whole lot of buzz, excitement and goodwill — as if we’re the lucky few going on a great ride.

And a great ride it is, providing plenty of chills and thrills as well as a few lasting memories. Pop-up Magazine covers topics ranging from food and foreign affairs to sports, science and work life. Short pieces kick off the event, with longer features taking up the rear. Most of the stories are good. Some are incredibly well-crafted. Meanwhile, the majority of the contributors — from Pixar director Lee Unkrich to NPR journalist Annie Murphy in this latest issue — skillfully combine oral  storytelling with video and audio to enhance their already robust and engaging narratives.

It’s clear that the key to Pop-up Magazine’s success is a clever repackaging of an age-old art, oral storytelling. The event’s creators/editors have managed to refresh the theme or concept of oral storytelling by renaming it with what’s hot now: a pop-up. And on top of that, they’ve made sure to curate the heck out of the content — with fresh and compelling narratives that speak to their audience.

These winning formulas certainly resonate with content strategists. After all, part of our mission is to find ways to refresh and update legacy content, concepts and themes to make them relevant and engaging for our audience. It’s vital that we understand who our target audience is in order to give them what they want. And if we can give them what they want — in the form of curated content — our business and the bottom line will benefit.

The proof is in the Pop-up Magazine pudding.

Content Strategy: Why Now?

Rachel Lovinger   February 19, 2012

The Breakdown: I recently went to Helsinki to give a keynote speech at the first ever Finnish content strategy event, Sisältöstrategiaseminaari 2012 (in English: “Content Strategy Seminar 2012″). The event was a co-production of Vapa Media and the University of Helsinki. For my talk, I thought it would be good to share some history about how the Content Strategy discipline broke onto the digital scene, how practicioners get into this field, why it’s so important right now, and some interesting trends to watch.

The organizers of the seminar have also published a trend report, Hiljainen signaali, which is currently available only in Finnish but should be available in English soon.

Content Strategy Forum 2011, London

Michael Barnwell   September 28, 2011

Keeping an eye on content across the pond.  (image via Maurice)

Content Strategy has gone global. Forget what you’ve heard about CS being an insular, monkish profession. In this second-annual forum, content strategy moved from Paris to London, and, as we found out at the conference, will be landing in Cape Town, South Africa for its next stop. Three cheers to the three organizers of the conference for advancing the practice and maintaining the momentum.

CS forums tend to be states of the state, a reflective look at the condition of the discipline and, as is customary, a reading of the entrails for an incarnation of the future. This forum was no different. There were attendees and speakers from 20 countries and 5 continents (although most of the speakers came from the USA and the UK), addressing a range of topics (although not as wide as could have been hoped for). Rather than give an encapsulation of the talks here, I will direct people to Martin Belam’s nice summary of the conference.

Recurrent and familiar themes about the nature, problems, and purpose of content strategy surfaced at the conference, which prompts me to do some list-making. But not to making a list of the themes. I think these themes are increasingly becoming well worn, and maybe it’s time to instead set them aside and agree that there are a set of commonly accepted mandates for content strategy. We don’t need more convincing about them, we need more beautiful examples of them in practice.

So here’s what I might call a social contract of sorts for content strategists, a set of things we can all pretty much agree on. I don’t imagine there will be much controversy. These are some of the principles that I heard underpinning many if not all of the talks.

Let’s agree that

  • Content should be flexible, nimble, portable, reusable, untethered (choose your version of “free”).
  • Content should be separated from presentation
  • Content should be created once and published everywhere (“COPE”)
  • Metadata is sublime, hot, necessary
  • CMS are our friends
  • Content Strategists are, in fact, respected and appreciated
  • Labels matter—we get around and by with words, especially nice sounding, intuitive and informative words
  • Content Strategy is interdisciplinary with porous boundaries
  • Content Strategy is not emerging; it has emerged

With 39 speakers there were bound to be some memorable quotes. These should keep the CS fires burning for some time:

  • The web is built around people. (Is it any wonder that social media arose?)
  • Never ignore the CMS.
  • The web is becoming apps.
  • Metadata is the new art direction.
  • Mobile enforces an austerity of purpose.

For all the worldly camaraderie that the gathering conferred upon us all, there was also a noticeable world-weariness. Why all the heavy hearts and anguish? At times, I felt as if I were in an episode of the TV series “Game of Thrones,” a sage of warring Middle Earth tribes.  Sure, some friction exists among disciplines and clients can be wary and retrograde, but it’s a rhetorical extravagance to say that the disciplines are at cross-purposes, or even hostile toward each other, or that clients are still, in 2011, utterly clueless. I’ve seen little evidence in recent memory in interdisciplinary working conditions and client relations to warrant a posture of irritation and deflation about being underdogs and about others not understanding or appreciating us.  Let’s declare the war significantly subsided (or even over) and forge ahead.

Speaking about what lies ahead, I also registered at the forum a heaviness about what we will be asked to face in the years to come. More than a few times, I heard sentiments to the effect that …  “We’re in a stage, a transition. The future is messy, weird. Who knows what devices will exist. It’s hard to predict. It’s getting even harder to predict.” My thinking is, “Isn’t it always hard to predict?” If it were easy to predict, it would be an inevitability that would require no prediction. I say we just move forward and trust our instincts to respond insightfully. Leave some room for invention on our side of the technological divide.

Finally, here’s my hope for the next forum.

We need more inspiration, fewer tactics. We learn tactics on the job in unique contexts. Tactics aren’t readily reusable and aren’t necessarily advisable for application from one project to the next. Let’s include tactics—they have their place at a conference—but spend more time on getting worked up about where content can go. (Who isn’t inspired by thinking of metadata as the new art direction?) Isn’t it time to throw off the heavy lading of both the underappreciated magi and content savior and get inspired? In a casual conversation with a small group of fellow attendees on the streets of London following the second day of the conference, one conference-goer made a brilliant proposal for the next forum’s keynote speaker in Cape Town. “Hey, let’s get Keith Richards.”

Confab 2011: Four Truths for Content Strategy

Tosca Fasso   June 2, 2011

From May 9 through May 11, worldwide leaders and luminaries in the content strategy field converged in Minneapolis for Confab 2011—the first content strategy conference in the U.S.

Now that we’ve absorbed the wisdom—and the sugar calories from the much-talked-about cake—we ask: what emerges from Confab 2011 as the challenges we were wrestling with, goals we were aspiring to, and themes that were beginning to emerge as truths? Here are our top four:

1) Content is a Business Asset

Kristina Halvorson of Brain Traffic, the organization that produced Confab, uttered this phrase verbatim in her rousing opening keynote, and it was also the title of Monday’s afternoon keynote by Valeria Maltoni of Conversation Agent. Ms. Maltoni stated that a business of any size can use content to attract, interact with, and influence customers.  Or, more directly, that a website is a “direct-to-consumer warehouse.”

But perhaps the most colorful expression of this idea was Erika Hall’s insistence that we can’t think of content as “pink goo.” Content, she emphasized, is part of a system and requires a continual process—quite a contrast to the too-common approach of wedging content into boxes one time and hoping it behaves itself until the next site redesign.

2) Content Strategy is Change Management

Karen McGrane, Razorfish alum and Managing Partner at Bond Art + Science had the courage and insight to articulate the reality we’ve all been wrestling with: our jobs really do require us to ask others to do their jobs differently. That doesn’t exactly set us up to be the most popular people at the table, so we need to articulate to our clients and coworkers why doing their jobs differently ultimately makes their jobs easier (admittedly after some painful adjustments).

Perhaps a subtler expression of this idea came from Ms. Halvorson, who showed an infographic with content strategy snugly embedded smack in the middle of a rather scary chart. The message of the chart? On a team of information architects, interaction designers, visual designers, copywriters, and programmers, only the content strategist has a direct relationship with every other role. In other words, the buck stops at the content strategist.

3) The Web Needs Human Filters

“No one is surfing the web anymore. The waves are too damn big.” Steve Rosenbaum of magnify.net  and author of Curation Nation , surely intended some humor when he said this in his session, but he balanced it with the serious understanding that online content has become overwhelming. We’re constantly checking email, losing sleep to keep up with the digital deluge. As a result, users have expressed their desire for fewer, more relevant choices—choices a human (likely a content strategist) needs to make.

Randall Snare and Elizabeth McGuane, creators of the content strategy blog, “Mapped,” discussed “context,” the idea that in order for content to be truly useful, humans (i.e., content strategists) need to not just analyze and test, but categorize and position. To properly do this, they implored us to ask such questions as: where are readers consuming our content, what are they looking at, and where are they looking for it? 

Snare and McGuane also asked us to think about content as the story behind the data, and data as what gives perspective to the story. In other words, content professionals have at their disposal multiple types of data (including analytics, user testing, metadata) but data is just one factor. Snare and McGuane warned content strategists that while data informs the process, it should not be confused with the process itself.

4) Everyone is a Publisher

A major theme in Steve Rosenbaum’s session, this idea was pivotal to the Tuesday keynote by Ann Handley. Ms. Handley advised that people and brands should embrace the reality that everyone is a publisher and start thinking about the web as a way to connect.

While it’s fairly easy to blindly embrace this concept and just put yourself out there, the real challenge is to ensure that your content is, as Ms. Handley so beautifully stated, “the soul of who you are.”

In other words, the idea that everyone is a publisher is not just an opportunity—it’s a responsibility as well. Ms. Handley’s book, Content Rules, contains 10 super-smart steps for being a responsible publisher. Although she titled them, “10 ways to make your content rule,” Ms. Handley’s advice could also be labeled, “10 ways to make sure that your content is the soul of who you are.”

As content strategists, isn’t it really our job to ensure that our clients’ online identities reflect their souls—just as interior designers or architects would do for their clients’ living spaces?

Confab 2011 provided not just articulation of this responsibility, but inspiration for doing this critical work. It also connected content strategists with a common vision—and perhaps most importantly, with each other.

ICC Wrap-up: What’s next?

Rachel Lovinger   February 22, 2011

At the end of the Intelligent Content Conference, in a discussion led by conference organizers, Ann Rockley, Joe Gollner, and Scott Abel, people shared insights and questions about where this discipline will be going next and what they’d like to see discussed at the conference in the future. Hopefully some of these topics will surface in future presentations.

Solution Analysis

Right after the conference, I wrote a post about some of the content trends that had been most discussed: single-source publishing, content on mobile devices, enhanced publishing, user-aware and location-aware context, and end-to-end content strategy. But some attendees were left wondering how to evaluate when a solution would be appropriate for their clients or projects. So we’d like to see more discussion of techniques for doing upfront analysis (including ROI measurement tools) and more case studies (including metrics for measuring effectiveness).

Alignment of Inputs and Outputs

While tech writers tend to focus on the creation of content, many of the current content strategies (social integration, mobile delivery, semantic relationships) are dependent on the way the content is distributed. While DITA is a standard used to help author structured content, there are other structures that are designed to help content flow smoothly into other platforms and play nicely with other technologies. This is a specific aspect of end-to-end content strategy that not enough people are talking about yet – how do we get the input formats to align with the output formats to support the content through its entire lifecycle.

Just as we’re not going to get very far by overemphasizing one stage of the lifecycle over others, we’re going to be in a much better position to do all the things we want to do with our content if we can map these tools, technologies, and standards together in a meaningful approach with smooth transitions from one stage to the next.

Marriage of disciplines

This is something I had been talking about since the beginning of the conference, and it was the subject of my post at the end of day 1 (“An Appeal for Content Agnosticism”). Too many disciplines are having similar conversations in isolation. People practicing technical communication, web content strategy, instructional design, marketing, user experience, content analytics, social media strategy, search strategy, etc. have a lot to learn from each other. Conferences like this – and other content-focused conferences coming up this year – should help create the bridges that are needed.

So, once again, I suggest that everyone attend a conference or a meetup that’s slightly adjacent to your comfort zone. When ideas start flowing and breaking down the silos, who knows what exciting things might happen. What sort of developments would you like to see in the content disciplines?

See also:

 

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Events

  • SXSW Interactive

    March 7 – 11, Austin, TX
    Several of our contributors will be speaking this year. If you’re going, say hi to Rachel, Robert, & Hawk.

  • Confab Minneapolis

    May 7-9, Minneapolis, MN
    The original Confab Event. Rachel will be there doing her Content Modelling workshop with Cleve Gibbon. Get details and we’ll see you there!

  • Intelligent Content Conference Life Sciences & Healthcare

    May 8-9, San Francisco, CA
    Call for Presenters, now open:

    intelligentcontentconference.com

  • Confab for Nonprofits

    Jun 16, Chicago, IL
    Another new Confab Event! Early Bird pricing until March 7:  http://confabevents.com/events/for-nonprofits

  • Content Strategy Forum

    July 1-3, Frankfurt, Germany
    International Content Strategy workshops & conference: csforum2014.com Call for speakers now open!

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