Confab London 2013

By Elaine McVicar

Last month I attended Confab 2013. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s a conference on Content Strategy.

As users we value content – it’s the main reason why we visit websites. Content forms a large part of the user experience too, so we need to understand how the user engages with it, and not just how they interact with buttons on a page.

The challenge is that organisations often struggle to understand how to write, publish and manage their content. Confab is aimed at helping practitioners to help their clients or internal teams create better content for their customers.

Confab has been running in the US for 2 years, but its appeal is now worldwide. This is the first time it’s ventured into London, and it attracted attendees from 28 different countries.

What is content strategy?

A content strategy allows an organisation to plan, write and publish their content effectively. It provides authors and publishers with clear guidelines that ensure content they produce is more effective in achieving business goals.

There are a variety of things that can make up a content strategy:

  1. How should you write content
    Specifying tone of voice, standard formatting, grammar and spelling will allow your authors to create consistent content that is on brand.
  2. Why are you creating content
    Set clear objectives for what you want the content to achieve.
  3. What type of content will you create
    Define the key topics and themes for your content as well as what types of content e.g. articles, video.
  4. Where will you publish content
    Set guidelines for where your content is published - will it be on your website or through social media channels.
  5. When will you publish content
    Set a plan for when content is published and how you will inform your readers about it.
  6. Who is involved
    Define who collects, writes, edits, approves & publishes your content, and specify the workflow of content creation.

My favourite talks at Confab 2013

Kristina Halverson – Opening keynote

It was an inspiring opening keynote from Kristina Halverson – I follow her on Twitter, and have based most of my past content strategy practise on her books and blogs. She described the top ten things that the conference attendees have in common. Well, we’re all wearing clothes (number 3), but there were also some great content strategy basics. Content strategy is a discipline that allows us to bring together all disciplines that are touched by content production – UX designers, visual designers, developers, marketers, publishers, editors and authors. She also spoke about the need for an infrastructure, and to consider, not just what you are creating, but why, who, for whom, when and what next.

Kate Kiefer Lee – Voice and Tone

I loved Kate Kiefer Lee’s presentation. She works at MailChimp and spoke about the importance of voice and tone, along with how they have created and used their content guidelines to manage how they write content internally. There were some nice examples, and it really highlighted the importance about how to speak to your customers differently for different types of content. There is a big difference between writing and communicating.

Margot Bloomstein – Whoa Nellie! Content strategy for slow experiences

Margot focused on developing user engagement through slow experiences. Just because a process is long, doesn’t mean that it will feel long, or feel frustrating – delight your customers in the experience of waiting. At Disney’s Epcot Theme park they’ve made queuing fun. By providing interactive displays while customers are waiting in line they are kept in the moment – engaged, anticipating, discovering and creating memories. You can drive exploration and discovery through content, and change the perception of time by developing your content well. Control your editorial style, content structure and design to engage your customers’ attention.

Melissa Rach – Content & Cash

Melissa Rach talked about the economics of content strategy – how do you sell it, scope it and measure it? Estimating the ROI on content can be tricky. The cost to create and publish is relatively easy to determine, but you have to make assumptions to determine the benefits. Firstly you need to understand the type of benefit – monetary, sensory, temporal, opportunity, psychological, social or convenience, then place a numerical value on it. For example it may increase conversions due to behaviour change. Decide what this benefit is, and use your knowledge to guess the possible positive impact. Valuing the potential gain against the possible risk can give you a very convincing argument for a piece of content work.

Matt Thompson – Art of the quest

Matt Thompson’s presentation was very enjoyable. He introduced how storytelling themes can apply to content creation and engage users long term into content. It’s suggested that there are only 7 basic plot types - Matt Thompson focused on ‘The Quest’. Quests can take us on an emotional journey – we start with the quest object (project goal) and a protagonist (the writer, a third party or maybe the user) and create content that follows the quest story. This is a long-term content strategy, and can be very engaging. It does allow you to create a solid base of fans for your content, but it’s important than the content doesn’t exclude readers who are just passing by.

What next?

There were a few consistent themes that appeared throughout the conference.

  1. Start with the user
    Consider what your readers want to achieve, and shape the content around their requirements… “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” - Theodore Levitt, Harvard marketing professor.
  2. What’s right for mobile is probably right for everyone
    The same rules that apply to creating good content for the web, should apply to creating good content for mobile. Present the user with the right content at the right time, and ensure it’s easy to read and understand, whatever the context.
  3. Long form content can be good
    For online content we tend to assume that short is good, but this isn’t necessarily true. Long content can be more engaging, and improve reader retention and loyalty.

I got a lot out of Confab 2013. It provided a good overview of content strategy, and the subjects, and detail, of the presentations really suited my goals. However, if you were new to content strategy I’m not sure it would have been really easy to grasp the basic concepts, and if you were an experienced content strategist you may have found the topics too basic. Overall, though, it was a great two days – there was a friendly atmosphere and the sense that we all had the opportunity to shape content in the future.

Here are the rest of the presentations

What do you think?