Last night, when most of Seattle was at a holiday party or stuck in traffic on the way to a party, a group of intrepid souls filled the Portent presentation room to discuss using content strategy to save the world. The event, Content Strategy Forum 2012 Redux: Out of Africa, was part of an ongoing series of content strategy meetups in Seattle. Presenters Jonathon Colman, Paula Land and Misty Weaver brought wisdom from their recent experiences at CS Forum 2012 in Africa.
Building bridges between SEO and content strategy with Jon Colman
As Principle Experience Architect at REI, Jon Colman shared a short version of his presentation from the Cape Town Content Strategy Forum, “How to Build SEO into Content Strategy.” He advocated building a bridge between content strategy and SEO and suggested those two teams can help each other by incorporating stakeholder interviews, looking at metadata instead of <meta> keywords, and using templates that include variables for search and social metadata.
One of my key takeaways was to focus on core values. For example, REI’s core values are “inspire, educate, and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” Their content strategy grows out of the “Educate” portion of that mission statement.
The second takeaway was to write from the audience’s experience out, not the keywords in. Jon said, “Search engines reward you for building brands, not for using keywords.” And then he illustrated the point with this video:
By working from the customer’s needs, the content and SEO come naturally. You can (and should) check out Jon’s extended presentation:
Paula Land and the value of soft skills to change culture
Paula Land, founder of Strategic Content and co-founder of Content Insight, shared information from two CS Forum presentations: “Empathy: Content Strategy’s Hidden Deliverable” by Corey Vilhauer and Jonathan Kahn’s “Embracing Your Role as a Change Agent.”
Empathy: Content strategy’s hidden deliverable
Paula spoke of how content strategists should be using and encouraging soft skills like listening. They should also be as advocating a move from content strategy to people strategy. By asking questions, finding a shared understanding of terms, identifying strategies and playing to them, we can help our clients not only work better as a team but also help them build relationships with their customers.
Embracing your role as a change agent
In sharing the second presentation, Paula built on the idea of working with clients to change the way they do business. In fact, content strategists can actually change the way people look at the world. Here’s how:
- Be vulnerable and allow people to make mistakes
- Fight the culture of shame
- Embrace failure
- Get out of the building
Each of these ideas speaks to creating a culture of openness both within in our team and with our clients where it is easier for everyone to find new and better solutions for communicating with customers.
Misty Weaver hunts for ways to create a good user experience
The final presentation, by Misty Weaver, Lecturer in Content Strategy in Information Architecture at the University of Washington’s Information School, took a look at the Big 5. These used to be the 5 animals the Great White Hunter went to Africa to shoot. These days, they are the five animals you hope to see and photograph on safari. Here are some highlights:
- How are customers like elephants? Customers choose their own paths. We should design around the paths they create and not the ones we think they should use.
- How are customers like predators? Like the leopard, customers can be elusive and have their own patterns of behavior. Know thy audience.
- How are robots like predators? Like the lion, search engines only succeed 30% of the time. Still, they are one of our users so we should design for them as well. Search engines need our help to become more efficient.
- When is a buffalo a buffalo? Our communication is sometimes flawed. When we create content, we must fill gaps in user knowledge and always be credible, consistent, and clear.
- How is good content like a rhinoceros? Good content is rare. Content strategists create an environment where good content can survive.
Still not convinced content strategy will save the world? What I learned last night was that it is still possible to focus on people instead of search engines. Here at Portent, Ian likes to say, “Marketing is about communicating true value and significance to your audience.” One of the key ways to do this is through content strategy. Sure, corporations are interested in profits, but customers aren’t trophies. It’s time to observe the customer in their native habitat and learn to relate to them on their level.
If you, too, want to change the world through content strategy, check out the Content Strategy Meetup page and join us at the next meetup for great discussion and yummy food (thanks to Twitter user @messemi for the pic).