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A-ha: Content strategists never stop learning

by Meghan Casey on March 24th, 2011

We’re not afraid to admit that none of us at Brain Traffic have all the content strategy answers. With every project, we uncover something new or have a big-ass revelation. So, we thought we’d share some of our recent a-ha moments.

Respect my authoritah

A haiku and commentary by Meghan Casey, Content Strategist

Authoritah needs
To be respected by all
Who care for content

Okay, so maybe this needs some explanation. When I think about the authority aspect of website governance, I typically ask:

•    Who should have central day-to-day authority to make web content decisions? For example, if a content request comes in for an urgent change that just doesn’t fit with the content strategy, who is empowered to say no?
•    Who should be involved in long-term strategic decision making related to web content? For example, which stakeholders should be invited to regular content governance meetings to review the content strategy and plan for content work?

Both of these things are important, of course. But it occurred to me in a meeting with a client the other day that people involved with content creation throughout an organization often have to give authority to colleagues in their own departments.

Let’s say that a product group is responsible for hundreds of pages of content and has appointed one person to do a final review of all product content before it goes live. It’s imperative that everyone in the product group trust that person’s decision-making authority so second-guessing doesn’t lead to bottlenecks in the content process.

Inside search

A lesson in findability by Kristina Halvorson, Founder and CEO

One of my recent a-ha moments was when it really hit me how much of a focus internal site search needs to be when working through content strategies for large, content-rich websites. It'll take a long time to actually implement changes, but if people are going to fix their sites, then users need to be able to find stuff on those sites via intuitive search. AND it's critical to have a solid content strategy that informs structure, workflow, and governance to keep the metadata attributes and taxonomy schemas up to date as things change with the organization and its offerings.

If you want to find out more, get your hands on Lou Rosenfeld’s book on site search analytics when it comes out.

Whistle while you work

A Brain Traffic noob’s tale by Tenessa Gemelke

The work of content strategy is less like a job and more like school. Study. Do your homework. Read all of the assignments. Discuss with peers. Learn from experts. Think hard. Use your whole brain.

Some schoolwork is intellectually stimulating, but some of it is tedious or daunting. It’s always helpful to take the long view and look toward the feeling of achievement you’ll have when you complete each course.

Taking this approach can change the way you think about clients and deliverables. This isn’t just a series of tasks and deadlines. Mastery and understanding of the content are the real reasons we nerds show up each day.

Psychology isn’t just for diagnosing your friends and family

A discovery in three parts by Melissa Rach, VP of Content Strategy

MY DISCOVERY: I have been doing research on what makes content interesting from a psychology standpoint.  A professor named Paul Silva (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) has done some research on it. It’s kind of complicated, but one of his theories is that something needs to be easily comprehensible to capture somebody’s interest, but increasingly complex (in substance, not writing style) to keep somebody’s interest. The theory definitely applies to content organization and linking strategies, but it has implications in a lot of other areas, too.

WHY IT IS COOL: As content strategists, obviously it’s part of our jobs to ensure content is interesting to users. But, much of the work we do is based on instinct and experience. I like finding research that we can use to understand our practice better and vet our ideas.

WHERE YOU CAN LEARN MORE: Exploring the Psychology of Interest.

Share your a-ha moments

We’d love to find out what you’ve learned on-the-job.

  • http://twitter.com/tcarlson34 Ted Carlson

    Melissa – Does Paul Silva reference video games in his work? It’s the first thing I thought of when you talked about easy initial comprehension followed by increasing levels of depth/complexity. Anyone who has played Pac-Man can appreciate the basic idea. The ease of level one draws your interest and sets the hook (Hey, I accomplished something! What’s next?), and you keep coming back because the game gets tougher and tougher.

  • http://twitter.com/content2000 Sandra

    My recent ah-ha moment came during a webinar on psychology and technical communications – where I learned we inherently try to fit items into related groups – and that visual presentation of our content is critical to ensuring fast/relevant groups to improve scannability of our content and links.

  • Melissa Rach

    I have not read anything about video games in his work, but it seems like a good example of the concept. Thanks! M.

  • Kathleenkimballbaker

    From the experience of managing a Web site for businesses about infectious diseases during an influenza pandemic:

    –Keep it simple.

    –Keep it short (but make it super easy to find more info for those who have time to go looking or have been asked to find it).

    –Consistent information may trump changing information; it’s important to weigh the two and make a careful decision.

    A post-H1N1 needs assessment under way has given me a surprising a-ha: For users in crisis mode, they’d much prefer consistency of guidance — even if it’s less than perfect — than trying to make sense of frequent updates that introduce subtle changes.

    That just goes against every fiber of my journalistic being, but taking the long view, as Tenessa notes, it makes sense. For one thing, the guidance is just as likely to change back to what it was one iteration before as it is to hold over a long period of time. But if you opt to update guidance, make darn sure it’s EASY to understand what’s changed!

    Hey! Thanks for the opportunity to put words to these new insights.

    What a cool mission your organization has!

  • Tenessa Gemelke

    I love the journalist’s perspective, Kathleen. In our efforts to master every detail of our own content, we often have to pause to realign with the user’s needs. I say to myself, “Hey! Stop for a minute and try to think like a person.”

    Thanks for the comment—and for fighting pandemic flu, of course!

  • Tenessa Gemelke

    I love the journalist’s perspective, Kathleen. In our efforts to master every detail of our own content, we often have to pause to realign with the user’s needs. I say to myself, “Hey! Stop for a minute and try to think like a person.”

    Thanks for the comment—and for fighting pandemic flu, of course!

  • http://lessworkmoreflow.blogspot.com B. Noz Urbina

    Mine was about this ‘gamification’ business that’s going on these days. I have been a proponent of recognising contributors – publically, so their peers can see – and how important that was to motiving a communit to engage with content.

    Then someone went ‘Oh, like video games. With points and badges and expertise levels and stuff’. Umm – yeah. I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s EXACTLY like that.

    That and realising that I think content strategy as a discipline is the catalyst we need for *finally* uniting the various communications groups in the enterprise. Content has suffered a divide for far too long between presales/postales content and content that is for supporting vs. influencing the user. We need to close the loops!

    Noz – http://lessworkmoreflow.blogspot.com / @nozurbina

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