in Digital Media

Confab 2015

Last week, I headed to Minneapolis for the fifth annual Confab—pretty much the premier conference dedicated to content strategy. It was my first trip…and it did not disappoint.

I’ve several posts that are kicking around in various stages of draft that should be showing up somewhere in the coming days. (WonkComms if I can de-nerd them sufficiently; here if not.) In the meantime, here are a few high-level takeaways.

On Content Strategy and Content Strategists

We’re all just nerds looking for answers.

Jonathon Colman

I don’t really know what you do. I think you’re all wranglers. You’ve got these crazy, drug-addicted llamas running around, and you’re trying to get them organized.

Anne Lamott

Content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable, and brand-appropriate content.

Margot Bloomstein

We make the unclear clear.

—Jonathon Colman

The product manager will want to tell the user everything. It’s our job to figure out what the user needs to know.

Margo Stern

Note for WonkCommers: This statement equally applies when you swap in “researcher” for “product manager.”

On Managing Projects

If you don’t have time to plan, you don’t have time to project.

Aaron Parkening

Gantt charts for me, simplified timelines for thee (non-PM stakeholder).

—Aaron Parkening (paraphrased)

Don’t just do what the client says. Create a strategy, get buy in, then act on feedback to the extent that it’s consistent with the strategy.

—Margot Stern

On Just Being Better

You need to make more messes. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

—Anne Lamott

Pay attention and have a pen.

—Anne Lamott

Wicked problems sap our will to dare.

—Jonathon Colman

Try to think of “perfect” as a verb rather than an adverb.

—Margot Bloomstein

On Writing

Two keys to writing are short assignments and shitty first drafts.

—Anne Lamott

I don’t believe in inspiration. Waiting for inspiration to strike is just a way of getting out of doing your work.

—Anne Lamott

On Collaboration

Other people make your work better.

—Margot Stern

My first reaction to getting feedback on my work is, “Well, thank you for your comments. We’re not friends anymore.” But the only reason you love my stuff is because of the quality of my friends who have helped me.

—Anne Lamott

On Managing Content

Imagine if content smelled. What would your website smell like?

Gerry McGovern (paraphrased)

Columbia College reduced 36,000 pages of web content to just 944. The number of inquiries they received over the web subsequently doubled. “Outdated content actively harms your organization.”

—Gerry McGovern

The Venn diagram overlap between what we know and what our users need to know is very small.

—Margot Stern (paraphrased)

We measure inputs, not outcomes. We make people responsible for producing things, but not for achieving the right outcomes.

—Gerry McGovern

On Structured and Semantic Content

I’m not going to say much right now, mainly because I’ve a lot to say on this topic and don’t want to keep you here all day on what’s supposed to be a highlights piece. Stay tuned for much, much more.

Content without the right metadata is a depreciating asset.

Matthew Grocki

Metadata is a love note to the future.

Rachel Lovinger

Auto-generated metadata is about as accurate as a bored intern.

—Rachel Lovinger

Metadata makes our content able to adapt.

Noz Urbina

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  1. I love this one: “Metadata is a love note to the future.” – having been pushing for better adoption of and OpenGraph meta data in our website for some time, I can tell you it’s not an easy sell. In most organizations, improving meta data only becomes an action item when its adoption is absolutely necessary – as with FB’s new sharing API. Often it’s up to the developers to understand and implement this critical piece of content, and more often than not auto-generating that content is the only way that it will ever exist. We expose those fields through wizards in our CMS, but there’s no active effort to keep the data current and populated, so we rely on automated fallbacks to ensure that machines can understand our content on some level. Committing time and resources to create good meta data is like spending money on a good central defender, it’s going to be a hard sell, and it’s not going to be sexy, but it’s absolutely critical to your game plan.

    • Yeah, it’s hard enough to get people to see the point of structuring content at all. The whole idea that you need to carry that structure through from the back- to the front-end just seems like a bridge too far.

      I love the analogy. Spending 90 minutes shutting down the middle of your side of the pitch will never make Sports Center’s top 10. But you’re pretty unlikely to field a winning team if the area in front of your goal is a sieve.

      • You’ve completely lost me with the sports talk. : )

        But my two cents on selling metadata: DON’T. IMHO, the (sales) pitch is not for structuring or metadata, it’s very squarely and exclusively on the benefits that it delivers. Don’t try to get people to get the value of metadata for future-proofing, because metadata/structure are esoteric to them and the future is future-people’s problem not now-people’s problem.

        Metadata is a love note to the future, but it’s also nothing more than a means to an end. Sell the end. Describe, prototype or show end capabilities that the audience you’re speaking to will find valuable. This means finding use cases where they are missing opportunities they’d really like to capture or suffering pains they really hate to suffer and showing them a solution that, lo and behold, involves metadata (which you only mention at the very end). Also you can close off with the side-benefit, that it does 1000 other awesome things for your content.

        We have common goals, it’s a matter of talking to those, not to the mechanisms. Sell the front-end and then say, “That’s going to be an awesome front end, and we can get it, if we just make these adjustments on the back end”.

        The other thing to do is also space it out. You may have a perfectly clear and workable picture of what your metadata strategy should look like, but don’t try to get it all in at once. Chose some exciting low-hanging fruit that help crack the culture of non-participation, then in 12-18 months, start a round of initiatives to extend the usage.