Content strategy: a view from Confab London

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By Deirdre Hodson

Content strategy

A few weeks back I joined 290 people at the content strategy conference in London. The conference was organised (brilliantly!) by Together London with Kristina Halvorson and her colleagues from Confab Events from the US. It was the first major content strategy in Europe with over 28 countries sending delegates. And it seems like (here’s hoping) it’s going to be an annual event.

Here just a few ideas I came away with:

We are all struggling with content

In her opening talk Kristina talked about why organisations are finding content so difficult. Many of us do not have the right infrastructure in place to deal with the huge and complex demands that web publishing places on us. We need to lose the “launch it and leave it mentality” and stop using our sites as “land-fill”. This is complex as it means changing culture and changing the behaviour of many people.

Voice and tone count

Kate Kiefer Lee from Mailchimp gave a compelling presentation on the importance of voice and tone guides for organisations – especially for those of us with decentralised publishing which was the case for many of us in the room.

If you have limited time and resources don’t worry about a style guide as there are many good ones out there but invest in creating a Voice and Tone guide  – Mailchimps’s guide is accessible to everyone. This will help writers know how your organisation should sound. Maybe there should be different tones for different content, eg for legal, contact, educational etc.. but the overall voice stays the same. She recommended reading content out loud to “stop you sounding like a robot”. The way we write affects the way people feel. When considering what content is appropriate for a given experience, we should think about what users might be feeling when they arrive — and how we want them to feel upon interacting with our content or completing a task.

Gov.uk are a real example to follow

Yes they are the rock stars of government web and it was great to meet some of the team having read so many of their blog posts over the past couple of years. Sarah Richards gave a great presentation on the project as a whole and spoke about what their team (now 200 strong) have been doing to save over £50 million  in taxpayers’ money. She said their starting point was to ask what users needed and not what government thought they needed. They looked at every page of their content and for each one asked “What is this for”. They prioritise what is needed by 80% of their users and they place this up front and central on each page.

Mobile – dangers of a new digital divide

Karen McGrane, author of Content Strategy for Mobile, warned that we need to be very careful that mobile does not become another silo. For many users their first and only access to the internet will be though a smartphone or tablet. Mobile web is disruptive and will redefine what web means. We cannot give mobile users a sub-optimal experience and favour desk-tops users. True accessibility means our sites can work well for mobile users too. Good content can and should transcend device. Mobile growth can give us a good excuse to write more concisely and clearly. There is no such thing as writing for mobile – there is just good writing.  As another speaker put it, “The desktop is no longer the prime source of truth… we have to start breaking our content down from these massive pages into smaller flexible units.”

We need content armies

Responsibility for content needs to be taken seriously and be worked into job descriptions  so there is accountability for creating and managing content. Sally Bagshaw in her talk said that the rise of Content Management Systems had meant the loss of editorial control for a lot of organisations. We heard some good examples of successful projects like pharmaceutical company Merck who with a team of 20 staff and support from professional agencies managed to consolidate 70+ CMSs into just one global platform, and more than halved the number of channels through which the company was distributing content.

It was a great two days and we had plenty of time for chatting and swapping stories. It was great to be with so many people who care deeply about quality web and quality publishing.. All of us face similar problems so it’s good to be reminded that we are not alone. Would be great to have a similar conference in Brussels for all of us working on content here…

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