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

Want to become a company blogger?

Here are the quick links to my Blogger’s Style Guide, which I've posted over on my Subs' Standards blog as a series of 10 posts.  This is the ‘how-to’ that I give to my company bloggers when they start writing posts for their employer’s blog. It acts as a support document for those who know their subject well, but know little about blog writing or publishing in general.

Blogger’s Style Guide

  1. How is blogging different?
  2. What readers like / ideas for your posts
  3. How to structure long posts
  4. Short or long?
  5. What does SEO mean for writers?
  6. Links are good!
  7. Five tips on tone
  8. Comments and feedback
  9. Writing a good title
  10. Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!
Of course, what happens after the raw copy comes in is a whole 'nother series about content and blogger wrangling.

I'm also finding that this is overlapping with my Content Strategy work so I'm hoping to add posts on #CSforum10 here on this blog soon for those interested in the Content Strategy Forum in Paris last month.But I'd rather do it in context of my ongoing content strategy audits rather than just report back on the event so need to sort some permissions first.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at]