Content, content, content… There’s a “hidden C” in what we talk about when we talk about content strategy, and it’s community.
Kristina Halvorson kicked off CS Forum with a discussion of our community, and its continued growth in places like South Africa. Today I’m live blogging (in quotes and summaries) from CS Forum in Stellenbosch, outside Cape Town South Africa. Yesterday focused on workshops (and renting bikes to pedal to a brandy distillery and winery before a lovely braai), and today a couple hundred more content strategists came together for more learning and conversation.
Persistent problems, meet your enemy.
“The thing that is wrong is going to be be wrong for a long time. You’ve picked a good industry,” noted Kristina. Bad content, too much content, disorganization, arduous CMS implementations, and unsustainable workflow are all common problems; content strategy is the best way to address them. But we cannot succeed in any content strategy process without a community of support: other team members have to buy into the benefits and we need to share results, successes, and challenges to explore and improve what works.
“The dirty secret of the web industry is we’re still trying to figure out Web 1.0,” she added. All the pain points of content that still plague our clients and teams are evidence of that, and that’s an issue shared by designers, developers, project managers, and content creators equally. And we need to focus on those perennial problems. “It doesn’t do much good to talk about content strategy with clients,” added Rachel Lovinger. “Talk about the problems it solves.”
Accessible content = better content
Rachel Lovinger and Bruce Lawson shared a well-paired set of presentations on structured content and HTML5. Both offered insight on improving access to relevant content through processes and philosophy—not necessarily technology.
“If your website is vanity publishing without concern for your users, HTML5 won’t fix it,” explained Bruce. He continued to talk about the value of good content, noting that “good” content is clear and easy to find. Citing a usability study, he underscored that access to content matters to everyone, regardless of ability or disability—and clarity is a main component in accessibility.
Before we get into all that SEO stuff. 🙂
One of the lightning talks also hit on the challenges and opportunities of structured content. Rebekah Cancino used the model of mid-century suburbia: in communities like Levittown, construction was nimble, modular, and structured for reuse and efficient assembly. And it was painfully repetitive, boring, and bland—the risk we run with a narrow focus on structured content that doesn’t embrace opportunities for more vibrant experiences and rich content types.
Flipping Maslow’s hierarchy
After lightning talks, Luke Wroblewski dug into the role and value of content in the read/write web. Jumping from Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the web as a participatory experience, he challenged the idea of exclusivity in content creation.
“We think the stuff at the top is unreachable,” he said, gesturing to the accepted model of participation inequality in which approximately 100% of web users consume content, 10% curate content, and an elite 1% create. “But if no one’s writing, no one’s consuming.” This isn’t Maslow’s hierarchy, in which we have to fulfill basic needs of finding food, water, and shelter before we can start dreaming of self-actualization. This is an era in which 1 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day—and often, we post our own images before seeing what friends already shared. “Read/write” has become write, Instagram, comment, video… then read.
And that change has a material impact on internal workflows, structure, hiring, and organization. Luke closed with a quote from Steve Jobs that summarizes that business impact: “The best people are the ones that understand content.” And that can be an expensive, jarring, daunting proposition.
“Make implicit guidance explicit,” Jonathan instructed, describing how well REI integrates content marketing in its culture, drafting from a mission statement that guides the organization to “educate, inspire, and outfit” its audience. Visual and shareable product guides (which I had the opportunity to detail in Content Strategy at Work thanks to REI’s open thought leadership) are a wonderful forum for natural SEO, and the product of collaborative thinking between search engine optimization specialists and content strategists.
Tomorrow: empathy! ROI of content strategy! Voice and tone! Governance! Testing! And more!