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Put people at the center of content strategy - The Common Theme of Confab 2013

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Eight days after Confab 2013, and I have finally come down from my conference high. The conference was insightful to say the least - it is by far the best industry conference I have ever attended. This past week, I have sifted through notes, read recommended articles and reports, replayed in my mind all the thought-provoking presenter one-liners, and had many a conversation about the value of things like content “chunking” versus “blobbing”...the usual things you do when you come back from a conference feeling equipped with the knowledge you need to change the world.

I had a moment, as I sat down to write this post, where I asked myself “why does any of this matter?” There seemed to be something missing in all my thoughts and ideas after Confab. It all seemed very...tactical. I felt like I was missing a larger theme that timed all of these topics together.

It came to me as I read an interview with Paul Adams of Facebook in Fast Company. “People!” The theme that tied all of the Confab sessions together was the focusing on the needs of people consuming content.

Michael Brenner of SAP defined content strategy best:

“Content strategy is about delivering the content your audience needs, in all places they go.”

Content strategy is about meeting the needs of people. We often get lost in conversations about content, asking questions like:

  1. What CMS should we use?

  2. How do we create a great editorial calendar?

  3. What keywords will get us ranked highest in search?

None of that matters. Not unless you are making a connection with what is at the other end of your content. People.

Each presentation I attended at Confab made that point within the wealth of knowledge shared that, at the center of all the planning, and wireframing, and building, is the need of a person. All the strategizing, and designing, and production, is all done with the intention of building a relationship with a person by helping to meet their needs. Where I think Paul Adams’ views on social design come into play, as many of us know about content strategy, is that investing in content is a long-term strategy that will take many, light-touch interactions with people over time before a relationship is really established.

Let’s get a little bit more practical with this concept. Here are some tips I pulled from different sessions I attended at Confab that will help you develop a content strategy centered around building relationships with people:

Content Modelling by Rachel Lovinger

Content modelling is essentially the process by which we as define content types, their attributes (fields, assets, metadata), and the relationships between types of content. It is foundational to any content strategy.

People are now engaging with brands across multiple platforms, on many different devices, often times all at once. As an example, a person attending an your event is reading information about your organization on their mobile phone, while they are following people’s tweets about the event on their laptop or tablet. One interaction, three touch points.

To address the needs of our users wanting content across various platforms and channels, we need to model content for portability.

Some recommendations that came out of this session all content strategists should keep in mind:

Think of your content separate from presentation. The root of this concept is in the content chunking versus blobbing debate. Most content management systems are designed with a Title field and a Body field where the content editor designs their content. That is dangerous because editors shouldn’t have to, and often are not good at, content design. By focusing on content structure over presentation, we can more granularly model our content with all the fields that need to be presented, allowing content editors to focus on entering content that needs to be served without having to do formating.

Content should be adaptive, not responsive. A related concept is adaptive content. The general idea is that content can, and probably should, look differently depending on how and where it is served. That ultimately is a design issue, not a content issue. When modelling content, we need to think of content types as having granular attributes (i.e. if a press release has an intro and a body, then have separate fields for each). Editors should focus on creating content, and designers focus on how it is presented on various platforms. As content strategist, we need to ensure our content is structured in a way that allows an editor to easily publish a piece of content in it’s entirety, and designers can then present content chunks, or collections of content attributes, in different ways on different platforms.  

Content models should be CMS agnostic. Technology should not inform your editorial strategy, your editorial strategy should define what content management system you use. Develop content models that map to the content needs of your audience and editors, then select the technology solution that will best support those.

Content Strategy for a Customer Journey by Kevin NIchols

Customer/user engagement happens across multiple channels and multiple platforms. Customers expect that they will have the same experience with a brand no matter where they interact with you - your website, via a mobile app, etc. Designing a consistent experience for a consumer regardless of channel or platform , referred to as omni-channel retailing, is driven by content and can be adopted by all industries.

The key to this strategy is personalization. Understanding who your user is, their needs, and where and how they meet those needs is critical to determining what content to serve along the user journey. If you know that Ann is a mother in Chicago that likes to cook casserole for her children, you can serve her a coupon on her mobile phone when she visits the recipe section of your mobile app or website.

There are many different ways to personalize your content strategy. You can build a recommendation engine into your website that serves a user content based on their defined interests. You can inform how you segment content on social media, email marketing, or direct mail based on your understanding of user personas. The approach you take should be specific to your organization, but remember the key is to focus on meeting the user need at every touchpoint in your user journey.

Well This IS Interesting by Melissa Rach

People need interests to live. We are “information foragers” - we seek information the same way we seek food. The more we learn, the more information we seek.

Content is about feeding people’s natural desire for information that is interesting to them. Our goal is to find the intersection between a person’s interest and our desire for them to take some type of action.

While interests are many things to us as humans, they are most importantly social. We build relationships through shared interests. The same thing goes for people building relationships with people as with people building relationships with brands. To establishing a relationship with a person, we need to produce content that aligns with both of our interests.

Our interests are enticed by emotion. Whether content is goal-, entertainment-, or action-oriented, we choose to engage with a brand based on how a piece of content makes us feel. Write copy that will evoke a desired emotion in your reader - joy, anger, intrigue. If you can evoke an emotional reaction from the reader, the greater the likelihood they will remember and be interested in your content in the future.

Some things to keep in mind when writing copy or designing content:

  • Make sure you know the topic you are talking about and can provide helpful information

  • Focus on meeting the needs of the content consumer - it is all about them

  • Produce content that fills the gaps between what the user needs and what you have to offer them

  • Encourage people to have a conversation with you

The Poetry of SEO by Mike King

Search engine optimization for years was a very prescriptive process circa 2000-2008. You optimized pages with metadata - meta titles, meta descriptions, and meta keywords - that helped search engines better understand what content was on a page. You made sure your pages were marked up in a way that allowed search engines to understand the structure of your page. Then  you worked on building cross links between your website and more reputable website. Voila! High ranking website.

Since the proliferation of social media, the game has changed. Major search engines now take into account social interaction with content and content consumed by your social graph in determining what to display to you in search results. People are spending more time on social media websites and discovering more content in their newsfeed than ever before. While keywords are still critical to search placement, the new driver of content discovery is social media.

Keyword optimization within content and meta titles is still important, but not as important as writing copy for people. You should write content with an eye towards getting people to share it with their friends.  Meta descriptions that appear in search results should connect with a reader, just like a tweet or an ad.

Social media can also be one of your best research tools because it shows you what people actually think and say about topics and brands. Use Facebook ad data and Google Adwords keyword tool to get demographic information about people who are searching for and talking about specific topics and use that data when building personas and your keyword strategy.

Did you attend Confab? What were some of the insights you gleamed from various sessions?