Confab 2012: Observations by a First-Timer

This week I attended my first Content Strategy conference. I spent an energizing 3 days at ConFab 2012 in Minneapolis, networking my buns off and standing out in a sea of editor-type looking women sporting pixie cuts and plastic cat-eye glasses (I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.)

Here’s what I saw, what I learned, and what inspired me.

confab-2012-welcome

First Thing’s First: Updated definitions

Content is “why people go to your site”.1

It’s the stuff people want to see, read, learn or experience from your website. This includes the text, images and video and even maps, metadata and music.

Content Strategy = the plan for creating and managing content that is: (1) Useful (2) Usable (3) Purposeful and (4) Profitable.2  

This is a combined audience-driven and organization-driven approach. It’s figuring out what users WANT from a website, and how the website’s CONTENT serves those wants.

This results in better user experiences, customer experiences and a more efficient way of managing content. Real world examples were given of companies saving hundreds of thousands of dollars from revamping their content strategy.

A Friendly, Inviting Bunch

Despite my non-pixie haircut, I found most people were extremely friendly and interested in learning about one another’s backgrounds and current relationship with content. I felt welcome and able to strike up conversations easily with those around me at the snack stations during breaks, my table during my Content Strategy 101 Workshop (a la @meghscase and @leecthomas), and even on the streets of downtown Minneapolis as it was easy to spot ConFab attendees with their Brain Traffic swag totes.

Me at ConFab without a pixie haircut

Surrounded by pixie cuts

Other Observations from a ConFab First-Timer:

1.   Content Strategy is a melting-pot. I sat next to a VP of Business Development from a top search engine. I met creative directors and people from Interactive teams. Copywriters, magazine editors, PR professionals, web designers, SEO geeks and librarians. Everyone has a unique appreciation for content, it’s creation and implementation. As an SEO person, I felt well-equipped to contribute my two cents to many conversations on good-versus-bad-content.

2.    I only met a handful of “real ones”! Most attendees I spoke to were not officially labeled “Content Strategist” within their organizations. When I met a woman with it written out on her business card, I literally exclaimed to her “You’re a REAL one!!!”. It’s tempting to think we’re all content strategists at heart, but some people really are able to fully dedicate their work to the craft, while the rest of do it quietly at our desks or during overtime.

3.   It’s “not too late to be early” in the content game. Unless you work for a Content Strategy agency, odds are your company or organization still needs a good amount of education on what good content is, isn’t and why it’s crucial to the business’ success. The field has been around for about 20 years, but it’s still marginalized by management and decision makers in the C-suite. I met conference attendees from all walks of life, in a variety of professions, positions and experience levels, who all recognized this reality.

4.   This creates a very strong sense of community. Anyone whodoes realize the value of good content is unified in an effort against those who don’t. We’re like a band of misunderstood teenagers rallying together against the machine of low-quality, low-priority content. There’s nothing like a common enemy to act as a glue that forges strong bonds.

5.   Curation: the “buzzword” that won’t stop buzzing. Someone in my Content Strategy 101 Workshop asked about “curation” and it felt like a sort of Pandora’s box that was too big to dive into. The topic is so popular and so easily misinterpreted that, since it wasn’t on the 101 workshop’s agenda, our presenters perhaps wisely left it alone. A session dedicated to curation was on the schedule for later in the conference, which I did not attend but will look out for notes/takeaways from those who did. Our presenters did reference the Brain Traffic blog as a good resource, and I found this post from 2010 lauding curation as a “new buzzword”. Yet two years later it’s causing a sort of stir within the community perhaps as a backlash result of the traction it’s gained amongst the broader field of digital marketing.

6.   The concept of a “page” is changing. Getting a little technical here, but this point stood out. It was mentioned in the workshop I attended, and in the Twitter feeds of a few attendees of other sessions. It especially hit home with me, coming from an SEO perspective. With Javascript, dynamic content and a bunch of other fancy footwork, web pages are becoming sort of “traditionalized” in favor of sleeker formats.

Final Impressions

Now I’m back home. Feeling more informed and a lot more connected to this exciting and *still new community. Looking forward to staying in touch with the people I met, and getting involved with New York content strategists/orgs!

Here I am feeling “involved” with my gameface on:

Workshops

Workshop presenters Meghan Casey and Lee Thomas:

Lee and Meghan in CS 101 Workshop

Excited for ConFab 2013!

Closing Remarks

References:

1. & 2.  Content Strategy 101 Workshop by Brain Traffic’s Meghan Casey and Lee Thomas

Damn It Feels Good to Be a Content Strategist in NY

According to Indeed.com, a job posting site, content strategists in NY earn 25% higher salaries than worldwide. That’s good news for the home team!

View Larger Salary Graph

Content Strategy is still such a new concept to most CEO’s, so it’s an exciting field to be in at the moment as more and more jobs pop up. And it’s not surprising that NY is where the most competitive salaries are being offered. This is probably where companies are located that are most willing and able to invest in the cutting-edge, highly valuable yet relatively new “service”.

Hiring someone whose role is to survey and improve your website’s content is not considered a priority by many companies, especially those outside the digital media and web world. So those precious few that realize the value of excellent content and its impact on a business, are likely to invest in the matter.

Companies in the higher educational sector are the least likely to invest in Content Strategy, for a few good reasons outlined in this terrific post by blogger .edu Guru:

…when a problem is so big and you can’t even pinpoint where to start, many will choose to do nothing. Since many university sites lack any comprehensive business or marketing strategy when it comes to the creation and maintenance of content, literally every piece of information gets put out there, and it’s put out there by hoards of individuals that are ultimately not qualified to edit web sites.

It’s a pretty understandable scenario.

Now all I have to do is land one of these buggers.

Content Detecting Patterns

Spotting patterns is fun. Addictive. And as it turns out, professionally useful.

Especially if you’re a content strategist.

Patterns 1

Street Art, Tel Aviv

Literature & Interpretation

In a literary sense, patterns and themes are woven into texts. This is the type of stuff that non-lit fans claim is “looking too deeply into it”. I feel like you can’t look deep enough, when it comes to analyzing a well-written work of literature as long as you’re in a classroom with a great teacher, or are surrounded by people who know at least as much as you do about the author/topic and are open-minded.

patterns-2

In college, my whole world changed with one literature class – “Comp Lit 333: Psychoanalysis and Literature”. We examined the appearance of certain themes and symbols with psychoanalytic applications, in a wide range of classic and modern literature. Specifically symbols related to narcissism and Ovid’s myth. Ever since this class I cannot help but look twice everytime a mirror or a fountain appear in a love story, or a protagonist refers to his lover’s eyes as pools.

patterns-3

Content Curation & Content Strategy

In the world of content strategy, the ability to notice patterns is huge. A topic that keeps popping up, or a behavior that emerges and suddenly becomes so popular you don’t even notice it anymore. Recognizing these phenomena and calling attention to them is something a content curator like Brain Pickings does. You collect a bunch of something worth sharing, and organize them together under an interesting headline. Other people thank you, for said collection and neat packaging.

patterns-4

I love it.

Here’s an article in The Content Strategist with a slightly more professional explanation of the topic: http://bit.ly/t8It0z.

I think my college literature rofessors would be proud that I’m beyond content detecting patterns.

Content Strategy is Like the Tao

Content Strategy is like the Tao. You cannot speak of it, for then it will cease to exist.

@GerryMcGovern, a web expert with 18 years of experience, wrote ablog post today in which he declares “content” something that is best when not mentioned to senior management. CEO’s don’t place content at the top of their bottom line. Or the bottom of it. Or wherever is the best place for a concept in relation to a company’s “bottom line”. So when pitching content strategy to your CEO, McGovern posits, it needs to be presented in words that make sense to the CEO, and senior management. Things like improving the user experience, lowering the churn rate, enhancing sales flow, etc. are much more relevant and attractive concepts to someone managing a brand.

My take on McGovern is that he actually does believe in content, and content strategy. But that content strategy must grow a sort of thicker skin, or something, in order to thrive. It is sort of upsetting to read this, but I think McGovern sort of realizes this, and is rationalizing it by acknowledging it, and suggesting a strategy-to-strengthen-the-strategy.

Reminds me of an old SNL skit with Will Ferrel as George Bush, and the word “strategerie”.

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