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?).


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
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

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…