A case study in content strategy?

CSforum10 workshop
Karen McGrane and Rachel Lovinger present a workshop on content audits at CS Forum 2010 in Paris. © Fiona Cullinan/Flickr

Fascinating as Content Strategy Forum 2010 was two weeks ago, one major thing that came out of it was the need for benchmarked case studies that focus specifically on online content strategy, its effects and its impacts on the development and success of a website.

Serendipity landed Kristina Halvorson (queen of content strategy) next to me at lunchtime on #csforum10 Friday – which, by the way, was a three-course  à la carte lunch with wine. (Bless whoever decided to set the first-ever dedicated content strategy event in Paris in the springtime.)

Content is a hard sell
Halvorson admitted that content strategy can be a hard sell, particularly in an environment that is prioritised for design and development with content requirement boxes full of ‘lorum ipsem’ often only fulfilled with real content at the 11th hour.

There is a lot of advocacy for content strategy going on at the moment to sort out the mess of working this way.

Halvorson herself has spent the last 18 months being very vocal about why something as crucial as content should be considered not only upfront but throughout its lifecycle. She looks for content advocates within organisations to help make the case. And last year, she wrote Content Strategy for the Web, a handbook that outlines a repeatable process to take care of the whole messy content thing.

Finally, the content strategy buzz of 2009 means that clients are starting to request content strategy directly.

Lack of successful case studies
And yet, despite reading the book and saying ‘yes Yes YES’ like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally at the common sense that lies within, the finally page is a massive deflation:

‘At the time of writing, I’m not aware of a single case study available to the public that documents a content strategy successs story.’

It was something she echoed at lunch. Part of this is because projects are often not benchmarked from the outset and then monitored for change arising from content strategy changes. Partly, it’s because content advocates are still trying to get in on the act at an early enough stage.

But expect to see some case studies soon, I think.

Facebook’s content strategy success
It was great, for example, to hear Sarah Cancilla, the solo content strategist at Facebook, talk about some basic content tweaking to make the calls to action clearer on the ‘Get connected’ section. Some simple sub-editing here resulted in an overnight rise of 56% net traffic to those three links and six million more people connecting as a result of the change.

Six million! Now that’s what I call a justification.

Facebook is now also hiring a second content strategist, unsurprisingly.

A multi-tasking discipline
But as a former sub-editor, I’m not surprised. I come from a background of 20 years’ prepping raw copy for an audience, both in print and online, and trying to make it more engaging, clear and understandable for readers.

But content strategy is not just sub-editing and clever writing. And there is still a whole lot of new to take on board…

A content strategist has to get to grips with the disciplines of information architecture, user experience, monitoring and analytics, pinning down key business goals, auditing and analysis, alignment of stakeholders, and so on. All of these inform the choice of content.

It’s a lot to get your arms around, as Halvorson might say.

But forget arms. Since coming back from Paris, I’ve put my legs on backwards and kicked myself up the butt to initiate three content strategy projects for clients. I’m hoping to create a benchmarkable case with one of them in particular.

Fierce Festival as a case study
Fierce Festival
, an internationally renowned arts festival based in the West Midlands since 1997, has become a different beast over the years. It has developed a training arm for artists and consultancy arm for arts organisations. The festival itself is also morphing and this year has two new artistic directors, Harun and Laura.

With their arrival comes a clean slate. Past sites have been archived or taken offline and a blog has been set up as a conversation leading towards a future full-scale festival website, in which all the strands of Fierce will be brought together under one umbrella at last.

I’ve volunteered to help with this from a content perspective. It’s going to be a journey but I’ll be documenting some of the issues involved in trying to unify Fierce’s radical and innovative performance side with its practical training/consultancy side.

Halp!
Of course, I’m learning here too so I’m kind of on my own journey here with content strategy – and the arts, too, since the rest of the week I’m Grant Thornton‘s freelance blogger (they’re a large accountancy firm btw).

I hope the project will be interesting to watch, document or engage with. I should be blogging about it both here and possibly on Fierce’s blog as their journey develops.

Not having been in Birmingham at the same time as Fierce festival, I’m also fresh to it, but would love to hear from fans of Fierce if you want to give me a nudge about something.

(Afterthought: how much will people be looking for Fierce festival stuff on smartphones, do you think? Great slideshare from #csforum10 on optimising content for mobile by Erin Scime. Would hate to see web/blog stuff shovelled onto the small screen.)

NYE at Birmingham Coach Station

NYE2009_Birmingham_Bus_stationApologies for the cross-posting but my new travel blog Tourist Vs Traveller is now up and running, and has some nice, shiny new content on it so I’m shouting about it a bit.

It being that time of year, I’ve just posted up my 10 New Year’s travel resolutions for 2010 on there and also ticked one of them off by writing up a picture post on the recently opened Birmingham Coach Station, where I spent a rather entertaining New Year’s Eve.

PS Can you spot me in the Christmas bauble?

I’m launching a new travel blog

It’s been two years since I started my first travel blog, What To Wear Where, in an effort to answer the niche packing question: ‘What do you wear in trendy Reykjavik in below-freezing December?’ While I still think the idea of packing help for any destination/event still has legs, and the blog still brings in a fairly steady stream of traffic, without a community to fuel the ideas, What To Wear Where sort of got stuck in the doldrums.

So I’m going back to basics. I’ve set up a new blog as a playground for my travel journalism. It’s called Tourist Vs Traveller (not for any deep and meaningful reason but because it was free) and you’ll find it at http://touristvstraveller.wordpress.com/.

Playing with travel journalism…
Playing with travel journalism…

Crowdsourced and client-led content
The first experiment is that I hope the content will be led by others – and my opening post is asking for your input. I’m soliciting views about what kind of content to publish because I don’t want the content solely to be defined by me as a journalist. It could be anything, I am open to suggestions. What I do want to do, though, is use it as a place to experiment with lots of lovely Web tools. With a background in digital client publishing, I’m also interested in travel companies who want me to create online content for their offering – not marketing fluff, but the real stories behind the PR, the kind of content that DOES help people decide to buy your product – or not! Y’know, useful stuff.

The problem with travel writing
So what travel writing is out there right now? On the Web, we have trip blogs, review sites and an avalanche of whinging UGC that is rapidly becoming meaningless as a way to make buying decisions. There are also some nice up and coming blogs from travel journalists and bloggers – I’ll be adding them to the blog roll as time goes by. In print, we have standard travel narratives and a limited number of news items published by newspapers and magazines and written by a rather exclusive club of commissioned travel journalists (or staff writers on a freebie). And on TV, we have an increasing amount of celebrities and comedians being sent off around the globe in the name of entertainment.

What is harder to find is a middle-ground between Jo Bloggs naming and shaming their hotel and the angled/subjective narrative of the commissioned travel writer/presenter.

Finding fresh ways to tell the story
Where I do find decent content, I’ll be linking to it though. I suspect that, for now and for a while, it will be possible to aggregate good examples of experimental travel journalism.

But I think there is also room for journalistic content that goes behind the scenes of a travel product, that tells stories that the newspaper doesn’t have room for, or that revisits classic stories from new angles using audio, video, slideshows, aggregated content and social media. It would be great to break out from the form – after all, traditional travel writing is itself rather stuck in the doldrums, in style and structure, in privileged points of view, and because collapsing print budgets mean fewer outlets and options for travel journalists

And I think that the travel industry could potentially pay for this content now that their outlets for print editorial are shrinking – to explain, here’s my earlier posting on a potential new business model for travel journalists.

So that’s it for now. Please visit the blog and post your comments. I’ve got the first couple of posts up – all about the nonsense of tourism slogans inspired by two days spent at the World Travel Market (WTM) in November.

And especially for Brummies, there’s a winning marketing slogan from St Johns Hotel, Solihull at the end of Around the world in 44 tourism slogans.