Five takeaways from Confab Europe 2014

At the beginning of the month I attended Confab Europe in Barcelona. It was two days full of practical lessons from the great and the good of content strategy. Now that I’ve made sense of my notes here are my top five takeaways from the conference.
Goals - strategy - tactics

1. Without a strategy you’re just a bear in a field with your mouth open

From Content/Communication – Kristina Halvorson

If a bear’s goal is to feed itself, its strategy is to go down to the river and stand in it, its tactic is to open its mouth and catch fish. What happens if you take the strategy out of the equation? The bear is just standing in a field with its mouth open.

Goals identify what we want to achieve and our tactics are how we’re going to do it (or what methods we’re going to use). Our strategy provides us with a direction and helps us make decisions about what to prioritise.

2. Focus on core pages, not your homepage

From The core model: getting to business while making friendsIda Aalen and Audun Rundberg

The core model

Core pages are where users solve their tasks and reach your business objectives. The core model develops your content around these pages with a structure based on paths, not hierarchy.

NetLife Research’s five step workshop process helps you to develop your website beginning with core pages, not your homepage:

  1. Identify core pages – based on your users’ top tasks
  2. Discuss inward paths – how do users find your website?
  3. Discuss core content – based on your users top tasks
  4. Plan forward paths – what do you want users to do next?
  5. Prioritise content blocks – what will go where on the page?

3. Label your content like your post

From How to make your content flow: content strategy for smart contentTheresa Grotendorst and Ute Klingelhöfer

We need to pair responsive design with responsive content. How we do this is by giving our content structure. With this structure we can move away from thinking of content as pages, instead it becomes modular blocks that are reusable in a variety of locations.

As content becomes modular we need to have a system for determining where it gets published. When we put something in the post we label it so that it gets delivered to the right place. If we label our content in a similar way we create the structure allowing its reuse in multiple contexts (or delivered to multiple locations if we continue with the postal analogy).

4. Create a call to action for your content standards

From Speaking with one voice: how to develop a distinctive voiceAndrew Bredenkamp

When Microsoft introduced a change to their content style guide to improve their customer support language they created a call to action: Destroy. All. Robot. Language.

This was a way to get everyone onboard with what they were trying to do – to communicate as humans. The tagline goes with a practical guide showing language being used now and what to replace it with:

  • instead of modify use change
  • instead of terminate use end
  • instead of resolve use fix
  • instead of enable use allow

5. Tiny tasks are the ego of your organisation

From Key principles for creating useful self-service contentGerry McGovern

Top tasks are what our users come to our websites to do and what we should design our websites around. Tiny tasks are what we think our users need to know; they’re highly political.

Liverpool City Council found there was an inverse relationship between how important a task is to their customers and the importance the organisation gave to it. The more important a task was to a customer the less content you could find about it on the website. The less important tasks for customers had more content devoted to them on the website. These tiny tasks are the egos of our organisations and they flood our websites over time. They make it harder for users to find and act on the information they need.

Based on the top tasks identified by their customers the council reduced their website from 4000 to 500 pages. They also removed 90% of content per page. After they made these changes support calls reduced and they received just four complaints. With less content on their site their customers could now complete the tasks they were coming to the website to do. On the flip side, they received lots of complaints from their staff asking where their content had gone!

This is just one thought from Gerry’s excellent keynote, you should really watch the whole thing on YouTube.


What to do if you're unsure of an ideaFor those times when you’re doubting yourself here’s some great advice from Hazel Jennings, ‘Instagram’s first content strategist':

If you’re unsure of something sing it loud and proud.

If you’re wrong about it you can learn and improve.

If you’re right about it others will learn from you.

Mind your language

Last weekend I visited a local heritage site where I picked up a leaflet about its history. When I read it later I found myself getting frustrated at the lack of care that had gone in to its creation; an extra space here, a misspelling there, a complex sentence. I’ve found this happening a lot lately – I can’t disengage my proof reading, copy editing brain.

The people I was with were sympathetic; they’re also language geeks. But one said:

“No one but the people in this room will care. Just read it for the facts.”

Was she right? Probably in this case. The leaflet did its job. The information I wanted was there. The errors were minor and didn’t stop me from understanding what was written.

In a recent blog post Seth Godin asks himself a similar question – does it matter that a shop selling paper and pens doesn’t know the difference between stationary and stationery? He concludes that while it may only stop him (and me) from shopping there if formalities of language are important to us then they are cheap ways to earn trust.

I agree and think that there are times when language errors like this do matter; when they impact on your brand and your reputation. An obvious place this damage to your reputation can occur is when the errors are on your website. Especially if you’re in the business of education.

Thinking digital

I love the serendipity of Twitter. This week two unconnected people I follow posted links to articles containing definitions of what it means to be digital, or have a digital mindset. One from the museum sector and one from a renowned web development consultant. They sparked together with some things I’ve been mulling over for a while to form the idea for this post…

Has what it means to be a digitalist changed in the 5 (and a bit) years since I started writing this blog?

Let’s start with the original definition of a digitalist, the one that gave this blog its name, taken from a blog post by Martin Weller:

“Those who are comfortable using a range of digital media and are open to the changes that digitisation brings to society.”

That’s pretty broad. The key thing for me is being open to the changes that digitisation (or the increasing move towards digital) brings to the way we work, and to society and life in general. This is picked up by Gerry McGovern in his article on the difference between digital and physical:

“When we say ‘digital’ we mean flexible, adaptive and open to continuous change.”

To openness then, we’re adding flexibility and are perhaps moving away from tools (or media) and towards the way a digitalist thinks. It’s not just about what tools you use, but the mindset you have and approaches you take. Which leads me to the other post I read this week. In it, Jasper Visser collates feedback on what it means to have a digital mindset from participants at a workshop he was running for the Danish Museum Association:

“A colleague with a digital mindset shares ideas, uses the right tools for the right challenges, is present on social networks, asks and answers questions, etc. etc. For most participants, a digital mindset had little to do with digital tools and much more with a 21st century way of working: open, collaborative, lean, proactive…”

The Thinker by Dano, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Dano 

This encapsulates my motives behind the social media and digital training programmes I ran while working at the universities of Warwick and Oxford. I wasn’t trying to get my colleagues to begin using a wide variety of digital tools, I was trying to get them to:

  • think in new ways about the way they work
  • evaluate the technologies and tools available
  • be open to changes
  • find solutions to problems
  • collaborate and share

If they found tools to help them do this, then that was a bonus.

I’ve been wondering what the purpose of this blog is. Does it matter that the context has shifted over the years, through the different phases of my career – from libraries, to learning technologies and now websites? While writing this post, it has become clear to me that this is a space for me to share things (mostly digital) that I find interesting, or useful, that I think you will find interesting, or useful, too. Nothing has changed there. That the context is different doesn’t matter much. The digital mindset is relevant in all aspects of our lives.

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