18 practical content strategy tips in 8 minutes

If (like me) you have been tuning in to the rise of content strategy, but feel a bit lacking in actual practical know-how, then this collection of soundbites and voxpops – wrung by me from the mouths and Twitter accounts of the world’s leading content strategists – is truly the badger’s nadgers.

At last month’s Content Strategy Applied conference, I hunted down asked the keynote speakers, presenters, panellists and attending experts for one single tip they could give that would help people (like me) apply content strategy to their web work. There was also some follow-up Twitter conversation on the subject, which led to a few bonus tips making the final cut.

The full list of interviewees and contributors, with a quick summary of their one piece of advice, follows beneath the video. Which is here:

I’m extremely grateful to the following for contributing:

1. Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic: Start asking lots of smart questions about your content. This also helps shift the conversation around it.

2. Ken Yau, Baddit: Ask why! Be a pain in the butt. There should be a justification for content existing.

3. Fiona Perks, Bright Stuff Communications: A good content strategist never forgets about the end user.

4. Julie Mahoney, LBi: Always incorporate different channels – social media, mobile devices.

5. Richard Ingram, Ingserv: Use context to shape your content. Don’t just find out who your audience are. Discover the circumstances and emotions behind their interest.

6. Amy Laskin, Ogilvy: Don’t make assumptions about your users; they will surprise you every time.

7. Rob Hinchcliffe, Hour of Play: Find your hook: immerse yourself in your community, listen to what they’re saying, find the common themes, and then build a narrative around those themes.

8. Nikki Tiedtke, eBay Europe: Before anything, first try to find out who your customer is. Not just users but the client. Understand what they need and why. Don’t jump into solutions.

9. Jonathan Kahn, Together London: Content strategy is half collaboration, advocacy, and organizational change – the deliverables and techniques are useless on their own.

10. Steve Wilson-Beales, MSN Entertainment: Find out what your audience is searching for, what topics are trending on social networks, use autosuggest tools… CS is replying to that need and allows you to create an editorial layer.

11. Kath Ludlow, Bright Stuff Communications: Think about content as the stuff that people are going to use, enjoy, keep, share, react to and act upon. Focus on delivering a strategy that delivers this response on a long-term basis. Then you can’t go wrong.

12. Danny McCubbin, Jamie Oliver online: Be transparent in the content you put up on site. Don’t intervene too much in the community – your audience will tell you if you have got it right or wrong. Be authentic.

13. Chad Butz, Bourne: Get to know the business and marketing objectives inside out and relate all you do back to those, from selling in to analytics.

14. Seth Bindernagel. Mozilla: Localisation: ask do you intend your content to meet a global audience?

15. Lucie Hyde, eBay Europe: Don’t think multilingual think multicultural – language is just the start of localisation.

16. Charlie Peverett, iCrossing: Creating page tables? Make your life a whole lot easier – use mail merge http://bit.ly/gQ7LbS

17. Rahel Bailie, Intentional Design: It’s all about the metadata – it governs everything.

18. Jeff MacIntyre, Predicate LLC: Every content strategist is, at minimum, a professional communicator. This entails two requirements of you. One, never sacrifice clarity on the altar of the buzzword, and two, critical thinking is mandatory – develop a considered point of view (and rationale) for the trends and ideas that matter most to you in your work.

If you liked this video, please do share it. You might also find this CS Applied conference post I wrote for Firehead web recruiters useful: Content strategy in 60 tweets.

So what happened at Content Strategy Applied?

At least that’s what I always want to know from people who go to conferences I miss out on. As one of the three ‘staff’ bloggers at Content Strategy Applied, here’s an overview from where I was sitting (at the back, by the power points – can you spot me?).

IMG_1698

To be honest, I’m still processing my thoughts about it. Having one eye on tweeting for the @csapplied2011 Twitter account and the other on my camera for the conference photo pool, it’s been left to my third eye to think about what went on.

Firstly, it took place in a rather nice location, in Richmond in SW London, in both eBay and PayPal’s offices, right on the River Thames with swans floating by, geese flocking upstream, easy transport links for the conference commute, and plenty of pubs and restaurants for the evening meetup.

Conference location is no small thing for me. If I’m going to attend one, it really helps if it is in a nice venue (with plenty of power points) and an interesting location. Like CS Forum 2010 in Paris last year or SXSWi in Austin, this one ticked the box.

But what about the meat of the event: the talks, the workshops, the panels?

The big coup were the two keynote speakers: Rahel Bailie (who has the ‘perfect storm of content strategy skills’) on day one, and Kristina Halvorson (‘the queen of content strategy’) on day two.

‘If only I had a content strategy…’
Rahel Bailie keynote at CS Applied 2011
Rahel Bailie rounded up lots of cautionary content tales so that we can learn WHAT NOT TO DO with your content, such as: hiding it behind Flash pages, not optimising it for mobile, writing copy full of corporate narcissism, acting like a ‘diva’ with your online fans, and many more.

‘Do you speak content strategy?’
Kristina @Halvorson asks: Do you speak content strategy?

Meanwhile, Kristina Halvorson talked about how we talk about content and the difficulties in explaining content strategy when it isn’t yet fully defined. She gave us a list of metaphors (aka elevator pitches) to explain what it is that content strategists do.

They included: Wall.E, Pixar’s waste-collecting robot, cleaning up the mess that website owners have created; fixing a Crumbling House by doing a survey and making a budgeted plan to rebuild it properly; and content as a fragile plant needing care within a wider ecosystem of communications.

I’ll add the links to their presentations here if/when they get posted.

Content strategy in practice

But the biggest draw of Content Strategy Applied for me was the practical side of how to apply CS in real-life situations. Having recently completed my first content strategy document, I was full of questions. Here was the first conference to go beyond the theory and share the nitty-gritty of content strategy.

That’s why it was great to hear a number of different case studies, each with their own challenges. After several years of theory and banging the content strategy drum, this has been much needed. I personally found the two agencies’ tips particularly useful for general practical advice on content strategy.

The case studies
Monisha Saldanha and Danny McCubbin of Jamie Oliver Online (and Jamie Oliver lurking in the corner)

  1. eBay (Nikki Tiedtke) – a global company in need of a content localisation strategy and a more efficient way to communicate its seller news to 500,000 business users in the EU.
  2. Mozilla (Seth Bindernagel) – faced the issue of finding a strategy that would scale a global community of open source volunteers and localise global products such as Firefox.
  3. Jamie Oliver – how the online team (pictured) manage content for a ‘personality’ brand while engaging with a community of fans that socialise around the brand, producing masses of their own content.
  4. LBi (agency) – Julie Mahoney gave a long list of practical tips from how to get buy-in from the client and their focus on the competitors’ analysis, to the importance of planning and not rushing in.
  5. Bright Stuff (agency) – listed 10 things that they had learnt from working with brands on their content, including (surprising, I think) that ‘generosity is dangerous’ and over-educating the user may send them elsewhere.

Some of these presentations and other from the conference will be available online at Content Strategy Applied site – they’re coming in by degrees, so check back.

Content surgeries
Arrivals
In addition to the case studies were three strands of workshop covering content strategy 101, measurement and localisation, and these were useful in that they gave the delegates a chance to speak. But what I found really helpful were the lunchtime topic round tables.

This surprise element on the conference agenda involved a wedding guest-style seating plan posted on a whiteboard on the second day of the conference.

It offered a series of content surgeries with different experts sitting at a round table in a lunch booth. This gave us the chance to meet speakers and experts face to face, talk about the topic on the table and ask questions.

I sat down with Clare O’Brien of CDA to talk about Google Analytics, keywords and online pop-up surveys. As Clare says, you can measure everything but what do the numbers actually mean: are readers finding the content useful, enjoyable, interesting? Indeed! I came away with a number of ideas about how other drill down into site stats and the knowledge that, for various reasons, I work in a particularly difficult topic area in terms of users and keywords. Ah well.

In summary

For those who didn’t make Content Strategy Applied, check out my Content strategy in 60 tweets post for Firehead Ltd, which rounds up the best of the conference tweets and tips.

There are several more content strategy conferences coming up later in the year. I really hope they involve more ‘show and tell’ advice about the practical side because it seems that the conversation is just getting started – and that it is perhaps getting more difficult and diverse as we try to pin down content strategy for different work situations and client sites.

Contribute a tip!

At some point in the next week or so, I’ll also be editing together some of the video clips I took, asking the experts for their one practical takeaway from the conference. I’ll post it up here on the blog – so if you’d like to contribute a practical tip (in 140 characters), tweet me at @fionacullinan or leave a comment here and I’ll include it on the post.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank eBay and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry for hosting/sponsoring the event, and for having me along as a conference blogger. And, most of all, for the ‘Staff’ t-shirt. I can see this being veeery useful!

The back of @fionacullinan

Dancing Dads vs Trojan Mice

(Aka a comment on corporate social media strategy.)

I’ve been working my way through some Do Lectures – a sort of British version of TED talks but given on Welsh farm – and just enjoyed Euan Semple’s talk on Why social network mess can benefit your business. Here it is – it’s about a 25-minute talk.

As I blog and web edit for a large corporate more than half of each week, I was interested to hear Euan Semple’s take on the barriers to engagement and also how to help organisations approach social media.

Basically, he uses strategic storytelling (see Prof Jay Conger’s short video on this) to come up with a couple of great analogies about Dancing dads and Trojan mice.

To paraphrase rather than transcribe:

Corporations are having social media done to them, employees are being told to take up Twitter, lots of CEOs are being told they have to blog. But this is like watching your dad dance at a disco: you’re proud of them for having a go but really wish they wouldn’t do it. Time for a visual… (Apologies to whoever’s Dad this is.)

More fun from Kyle and Dad

The alternative to that is employing the Trojan Mice principle – do little, inexpensive, unobtrusive things that you don’t need a lot of permission or budget for but once you set running they begin to find a life of their own. Keep it worthwhile and you achieve growth (engagement) by advocacy rather than diktat.

Mice in a Mug

I’ve been sort of employing this tactic after a talk at SXSW Interactive in 2009 put it another way – be like a small SWAT team, do things under the radar then build on their successes as a way to deal with large organisations’ inevitable inertia. The result is that a couple of the ideas I’ve suggested on the corporate blog have got some traction and seen take-up from other areas of the business. Here I am on a Segway.

Swategway

Sort of.

I guess 2011 is about finding more of that overlap to encourage the companies I work for to take up the social media / blogging call for themselves.

As for money and ROI, Euan talks about how IT departments are often Business Prevention Units that ‘have been fleecing corporations for years’, before finishing on the Scotman’s tip for ROI – keep the i small and no one will give a s^*t about the R.

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Uploaded with Skitch!

Original photo by 24 Oranges NL on Flickr

Right, that’s my strategy sorted then.

Magazine thinking, content strategy, inspiring talks and other link goodies

For the whole of December I’ve had a ton of tabs left open to read because they’re too interesting to bookmark. I keep doing this. Why?! Whatever the reason, a new year is demanding that I clear them:

On journalism
Fact-checking, Wikipedia and basic journalistic credibility
Adam Tinworth on why reporters should check their facts, not rely on Wikipedia and, I would add, not rely on sub-editors to do all their fact-checking for them.

Who Cares About The Front Page?
Ditto on Adam’s frustration of journalism being defined as stuff what is done by national newspapers. No no no. My own background is magazine journalism and sub-editing since 1987, then later client publishing and now blogging. All potential career avenues for J-schoolers. Journalism is not dying but national newspaper print may well be. Speaking of magazines…

On magazines and applying their thinking
Magazine Thinking – by Chris Brogan
“If you actually look at a magazine, there’s a formula for each of them. There’s a cover feature, a few larger stories, and a whole lot of bits and tidbits. There are columns (that’s what I do for Entrepreneur Magazine), and of course there are ads and all that. What do you have to think about to make a magazine? Content. Community. Marketplace. The point is this: if you look at this kind of framework for your projects, it becomes clear what kind of magazine you’ve created or not created with your content. It becomes obvious that you do or don’t have a community. Without the first two being fairly solid, there’ll never be a chance at the marketplace. ”

Exploring Editorial Strategy
Your website is not a magazine – but it should be! Presentation plus video from Jeff McIntyre.

On editorial calendars
How to Put Together an Editorial Calendar for Content Marketing
A really good how-to for those in search of publishing production skills.

On KPIs
How should you measure the success of a digital team?
Agencies need to become more critical in reviewing what they offer. There’s a nice list of KPIs to borrow from.

The right metrics for the right business objective
Interesting survey of marketing objectives (led by brand awareness) and the fundamental flaws in their measurement.

On SEO and keywords
Top SEOmoz Posts of 2010
I must brush up on my SEO, link building, etc. If only because good content deserves not to be let down by bad headlines and metadata fails. Many onward links here.

7 highly effective keyword research tactics – Step One: Start Broad
I have to do one of these as a blog I work on gets a rethink.

On personas
CMI on personas
Also have to create some of these for the first time.

On case studies
5 Steps to Craft a Case Study’s Content Strategy
In a nutshell: Define Target Audience; Conduct Discovery Work; Choose Relevant Subject Matter; Identify Objectives; Research Priority Keywords. Useful for some blog content I’m trying to make more interesting to the reader and more relevant to the client.

On content strategy
9 Must-Have Elements for Company Blogs
Thankfully, I’ve just completed a content strategy doc that encompasses just about all of these good points. Reassure yourself that you are on the right track with company blogs with this article.

The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk’
Jeremiah Owyang helps put my career back on track…

All the content strategy presentations from CS Forum 10
Are here.

Content strategy templates to download
From the Google Knol.

Why WebContent2010 gets my conference budget
A designer with an eye of cutting down client copy-and-paste atrocities. “I have enough difficulty getting clients to pay for copywriting, so convincing them to pay for content strategy is a whole ‘nother hurdle. But it must be done at the beginning. It is always the first question you ask a new client anyway: Why do you want a website? The answer to that question lays down the foundation of your content strategy.”

Content Strategy and the Dying Art of Execution
Junta Joe on why perfectly good content strategies die on the vine.

Interesting talks
The Do Lectures
Like TED talks, except with a British bent and based on a farm in Wales. 🙂

The Impact Of Strategic Storytelling
A 4min video by Professor Jay Conger.

And finally… to catch a thief!
Software that helps you recover your stolen Mac
Tech revenge is sweet for $49.

Do you want to read what I’m reading? Then read on…

These links are relevant to my interest but have been sitting in tabs for the last two weeks. I will read them, I >will<. But after I’ve dumped them here. They make quite an interesting view of what has been taking up my time in the last little while. Links as diary entry?

I’m thinking of buying an Android phone…

  • HTC Desire review by TechRadar – five stars, looks good, please tell me if this review is all to cock in the comments though as buying is imminent via Top Desire deals. Or should I iPhone it like the rest of the world?

Festivals

  • CoCoMad is this weekend (July 3, 2010) in Cotteridge Park, South Brum. I have heard it is good. Here is the line-up.
  • I missed it (on purpose) but I’m glad it’s being televised. Here’s a rant about TV coverage, though: After the flags, the mud-slinging.

The garden

  • The garden has been battered into submission to my will. This rose was planted by my Mum and is the prettiest thing in it: Woburn Abbey floribunda. I heartily recommend this little try-hard. Lots of colours and it flowers repeatedly. All for a tenner. Thinking of getting another one.

Content strategy

UX / IA

Travel and photography

Copyright and fair use

What do the super-rich want to read about?

Memes

  • Know your meme: Jejemon:  “In the Philippines, Jejemon is an internet slang used to describe someone who typEs LyK tHIs.”

Blogging (and hyperlocals)

(and from a convo with Talk About Local’s Will Perrin in the pub…)

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.)

I am attending these keywords in 2010: SES, SXSWi and CSForum

Somehow I’ve lined up a conference a month for the next three months. Here are their taglines, blurbs and what I’m aiming to do at each one:

Search Engine Strategies 2010
London, UK, 15-19 February

Tagline: The Original Search Engine Marketing Event.

Blurb: Three days of sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, linking building, duplicate content, video optimisation, usability and more!

Me: Blogging (right here) points of interests – particularly interested in conversion rate optimisation stuff for websites and emails (esp after being RAC ezine’s online editor last year), information architecture, business tweeting and happy hour cocktails. So I’ll try to throw up (!) some posts on these from the event.

SXSW Interactive
Austin, Texas, 12-16 March

Tagline: Tomorrow Happens Here.

Blurb: Five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders and an unbeatable line up of special programs showcasing the best new websites, video games and startup ideas the community has to offer. Join us March 2010 for the panels, the parties, the 13th Annual Web Awards, the ScreenBurn at SXSW Arcade, the Film and Interactive Trade Show and Exhibition, Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator at SXSW and, of course, the inspirational experience that only SXSW can deliver.

Me: There for the margaritas, parties and crazy games naturally, but also to meet interesting contacts, learn best practice on content-related stuff and bring the skills back home. Also looking at finding some connections doing interesting stuff in the hotel/conference/travel line of work maybe. And generally promoting the digital side of the West Midlands region, which is part funding me to go on their digital mission. Should also be blogging a bit from the event as per last year. And hoping to hook up with the Tuttle 2 Texas crew somewhere around New Orleans for the last leg of their trip – more about what that’s about on the Tuttle2Texas Posterous. Oh and finally hoping to work out what distributed storytelling is all about from last year’s Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator MC and tech journo prof, Brad King.

Content Strategy Forum 2010
Paris, France, 15-16 April

Tagline: Vive la communication!

Blurb: Where business analysis meets user experience and content development – two exciting days of workshops, presentations and discussions led by leading experts and practitioners from the emerging field of Content Strategy. Whether you are already a content strategist, or looking to break into the field, this exceptional event will put you in touch with inspiring people and new ideas.

Me: Content strategy is what I’m most interested in right now and this is the only major conference featuring all the big names that doesn’t involve flying to the US. Looking to pick up skills in this area as I’ve just started working with the wonderful WTF! Fierce Festival to help get their content strategy ducks in a row in 2010. Also hope to finally meet Kristina Halvorson, content strategy queen. And will also be bringing an artist along to document Paris in an experiment of travel journalism for Tourist Vs Traveller – more of that in a future post.

That’s me sorted for the year, I think. Unless anyone knows of any interesting travel journalist conferences…