Welcome to ConfabI attended Confab 2012, the conference all about content strategy, May 15-17. Posting a complete summary of all of the great stuff I learned at Confab isn't possible in this one post. Instead I'd like to share three of the themes I found extremely relevant and valuable to me.

  • Communicating clearly using visuals
  • Creating adaptive content
  • Planning for governance

Get VIVID with your communication

The opening keynote speaker of the conference was Dan Roam. Dan was one of the most dynamic and memorable speakers I have ever seen and he proved why quite simply. He gave the audience a simple test showing 30 images, for half a second each. When testing our memory of the images, we remembered every single one, clearly proving his point that recognizable images make a much larger impact on how we engage with content than I had realized. Dan’s approach is to use VIVID (Visual, Verbal, Interdependent) images to communicate effectively.

A helpful way to ensure your idea is VIVID is to spend time in the forest. FOREST, an acronym from Dan, helps us remember how to create vivid content.

  • Dan Roam's FOREST drawingForm, it has a shape, it's not cloudy. What is the form of a story? Consider how Tolkien used maps to give form to The Lord of The Rings tales, providing visuals on the fellowship’s journey.
  • Only essentials, B.L.U.F. (Bottom line up front) - an approach to communications the US Navy uses. Deliver the essential information first, and then explain in detail if users request more.
  • Recognizable, seeing a recognizable image increases engagement. You may think "oh, I've seen this before” or “I remember that."
  • Evolving, good ideas get better over time.
  • Spanning differences, why can't we be both black and white? How can we account for both?
  • Targeted content presented to the right audience, at the right time.

Our content can go anywhere

Freeing content from its display constraints was a hot topic in many sessions this week. If you are not aware of the value of adding structure to your content, let me explain.

Beware of the Blob

Ann Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox has said, "Unstructured content is stupid and old-fashioned. It is costly, complex, and does not generate competitive advantage." Cleve Gibbon's presentation on content architecture reminded us of this quote. Cleve said that by providing strong role-based authoring experiences with well thought-out structure we cut out the complexity of displaying that content anywhere. You can architect a single content object in a way that allows your API to output the content for print, web, mobile, and other displays.

Adapting ourselves comes first

Karen McGrane wrapped up Confab with an awesome presentation on adaptive content. Karen clearly explained that moving to structured content will not be a simple switch, like turning on a light. We need to provide a clean experience and an efficient workflow if we want our authors to come along with us for the ride.

What can we do to help authors adapt?

  • Write for the chunk, stop thinking in terms of "pages", and make flexible content
  • Demystify metadata, it helps us prioritize our content and make it findable
  • Provide a better workflow in the CMS; a happy author creates more content
  • Use mobile as the wedge, explaining the need for separation of content and display

Making it easier with strong governance

Like the presentations on structured content multiple sessions covered web governance. I participated in great discussions about governance during breaks or at after parties with higher education folks who attended. It is clear governance is a major challenge everywhere.

Selling governance

Ahava Leibtag zipped through her 8 minute lightning talk sharing with us her take on why putting your website on a diet does not work. She compared the 5 steps in the weight watchers program, a lifestyle change, to web governance success.

  • If you bite it, write it. Document your processes, policies, and procedures or they won't succeed.
  • You can choose not to count it, but it still counts. We must all be responsible for our policies.
  • Schedule it into your life. Have an editorial calendar, set review dates, and update style guides regularly.
  • Find strong support systems. Make documentation easy to find and use.
  • Claim it as a lifestyle. Let everyone else know, this is companywide! You have responsibilities and will be held accountable.

The metaphor works! If you want it to succeed you need to make changes in your organization.

Governance and ROI

Another fantastic key takeaway for me was from Ann Rockley's keynote, Managing Your Content Strategy for Success. Ann pointed out that a lack of strong web governance is often the cause of project failures. You have to start with governance first. Don't let budget or time constraints be the reason for not addressing the issue at hand. Skipping governance planning will result in doing the same project again soon, at additional cost.

Paula Land tweet

Higher-Ed governance success

Normandale Community College shared their approach to creating a governance policy. Establishing a web strategy committee, communicating its mission, and establishing ownership of content has proven to be a successful formula for the college. Lynne Figg, Normandale's Web Architect, also attributed their success to a tri-leadership of the committee and the creation of special project teams when needed.

Other takeaways

Okay, I know I said I'd share only 3 key takeaways. I lied. The conference was that good. Here are a few more:

  • Stop focusing on adding more features to your site. Instead create experiences that delight your users. From @jmspool
  • Our users are human beings who have real feelings; we need to consider their emotions when we create our content. From @katekiefer
  • Curation and aggregation are not the same thing. We need humans to filter through content to select the right mix for our audience needs. From  the panel on curation: @kissane, @mbloomstein, @aaronlammer, & @flipboard_mia

Wrapping up

The conference, hosted by Brain Traffic in Minneapolis, was extremely well run and provided an abundance of valuable information. Every presenter at the event clearly cares deeply about providing delightful experiences and useful content to users, both internal and external audiences alike. If you get an opportunity to attend a workshop or conference where any of the Confab speakers are presenting, take it.  You won't regret it.

If you have any questions or comments I'd love to hear them.

Photo credits: @johntmohr, Dan Roam and Paula Land