No hibernation for the Content Strategy Bear!

[This article has been moved to ]

An impression of Content Strategy Forum 2013
This fall I attended Content Strategy Forum 2013 (#CSForum13) in Helsinki, Finland. With its broad streets and big buildings Helsinki is an impressive city, packed with design, art, fine food, luxurious shopping malls and surrounded by the mysterious sea (which I unfortunately didn’t see up close).
A city of structure, delicacy and surprise, really sympathetic, just like #CSForum13 and its attendees. As an Interaction Designer, being in the content strategy den felt like home and peculiar at the same time; this is not my territory, what if I bump into the content strategy bear, can we get along?!!

Content Strategy Bear

“Need structure” the Content Strategy Bear roared

Wanna dance?

So why attend Content Strategy Forum 2013?
I’m no content strategist, nor a content specialist or web editor. My first job in the online field back in 1995 was Technical Writer, but it didn’t quite meet my expectations. Writing or content alone is certainly very important in meeting user needs, but it is my strong opinion that content is more effective, efficient and pleasurable in the right setting: the user interface in which it’s presented.

Like a dance, it takes two to tango

It became clear to me than, I want to set the stage, design the blueprint and detailed interactions; design valuable UI’s where relevant content is an evident part of. As such my career as interaction designer started.

Where is the meat?

Relevant content is always part of my designs, but in our work at Angi Studio it seems we tend to be the instigator of a troublesome ‘meat’ pattern.
Every now and then we create concepts which users and clients embrace and love, but which end up being poorly executed!
The ‘meat’ for the users, the valuable content, can’t or won’t be produced by clients the way the concept intended to. Like content in a specific tone of voice or user generated-, multi channel- and mobile tailored content. All sorts of challenges emerge: no web editor expertise, no content ownership, no workflow, no flexible CMS, no time, no money, not wanting to take chances, departments work in silo’s …

But what about wanting to convert more, give this excellent service, be the thought leader, have happier clients, create a stronger brand value…. why a redesign when an organization is not ready to take full responsibility in providing the real ‘meat’ or just doesn’t know how to?

Facing the content strategy bear

And so I had to face the content strategy bear: get inspired by the top content experts, the best practices, the practical tips & tricks, the stories and strategies. Getting to the meat of the matter, understand more to create better designs and help our clients in understanding what is needed and how to get there.

The #CSForum13 had excellent speakers, I can fairly say that each and every one of them inspired me. There were two presentations that stood out, they gave me great insights about the meat challenge and how to face it. Here’s how…

How to be more awesome

Content/Communication presentation slides– by Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson)

Kristina Halvorson is great to watch and listen to, a very inspiring presenter.
She has this clear vision to all get together and begin to work out a framework to solve content problems. It is the content strategist’s job to constantly ask ‘Why are we doing this?’ Our work (the content strategist) needs to help people figure out how to be more awesome.
But are we more therapists than consultants or experts?


About content and communication, are we therapists? – Illustration by Ida Jackson (@virrvarr)

There are content components, and there are people components. When we tell clients that their content is terrible, they hear “I am terrible”.

With content marketing, we’re putting unnecessary demand on companies to create stuff they don’t have the resources or skills to create, without understanding why they’re doing it

Halvorson focuses on 5 things, the foundation to get things moving: Principles, Strategy, Process, Roles, and Perception.

I’ll highlight 3 of them:

Use principles
No unnecessary content, no stock images, with using principles it’s brought to life. Principles: an idea or value that motivates us do to things that seem good and right. A great  example of effective design principles are those used for the redesign of :


I really love these principles and off course it starts with  #1 Start with needs*  (* User needs, not government needs!:-).

Define the strategy
Let’s say you’re a bear. You need to eat. Your strategy to eat, is to go to the river and look for food there. Not in the forest or camp. Your tactic is to stand in the river with your mouth open. If you talking away the strategy, you’re just a bear with your mouth open!


Strategy defines clear objectives and tactics to get there

Look carefully at the roles
In other words: manage you project well; communicate, be in control, take the lead, be able to anticipate by carefully looking at who is responsible.

Halvorson uses the RACI model for this:

R – Who is responsible for completing a task?
A – Who is accountable for the work’s success?
C – Who must be consulted before work can be signed-off on?
I – Who must be kept informed along the way?

Also every project, every time
1. At some point, invite All the People
2. Make sure everyone’s aligned on terminology (e.g. audit vs. inventory, wireframe vs. prototype)
3. Identify timing issues, agendas, overlapping responsibilities

Halvorson had lots of recognizable examples accompanying her story. She made me realize that knowledge about organization and team dynamics is more and more important.

Content against cancer

Presentation slides by Ida Aalen (@idaAa)

The enthusiastic Ida Aalen presented the case study of The Norwegian Cancer Society Online. A very convincing case led by facts and using the core model to prioritize content in a responsive website; how content governance is improved by a clear and defined core message; and how content is enhanced by working collaboratively and inter disciplinarily.

The redesign had some great conversion results, like +70% one time donations and +73% Total donations.

There process:

#1 Finding goals, KPI’s and target audiences
#2 Identifying top user tasks
#3 Developing the core message
#4 Bringing goals, user tasks and the core message together
#5 Design
#6 Governance

I’ll point out three of these steps here:

#2 Identifying top user tasks
By doing lots of research: focus groups sessions, surveys, analytics, interviews and top task survey.


Identifying top tasks through a thorough content audit


User objectives versus organizational objectives

#4 Bringing goals, user tasks and the core message together
People from different parts of the organization were paired. Working in pairs they identify ways in, core content, and ways out.


The core model- what has the focus on a key page


Example core model use

#6 Governance
A clear role for the editor and every one else involved. A key factor for the success I think is the way the content responsibilities are organized: the departments do not own the content, they’re sources.


The relation of the web editor and domain experts

Also whether to find out if (new) content should be added to the website or not, 5 questions have to be answered:

1. Who’s the target audience?
2. Does this content cover some need or task for this target audience? Which?
3. Does this content cover a strategic goal for The Cancer Society? Which?
4. Describe how you imagine this content will be found and used by the user
5. Why is the website the right channel for this content

Here is some more material:
A simple template sheet for the Core model Netlife uses to prioritize content
How pair writing is done at Netlife

Content strategy and design

For me #CSForum13 emphasized that it takes two to tango; it was a feast of recognition, we are dealing with the same challenges. More ever #CSForum13 showed me that besides being the content or design expert, we have to be experts in organizational and team dynamics too.
By using collaborative methods and tools, chances are people and organizations are more committed and will change. It’s a more service design way of working, something we could take into account more in our projects.

I’m curious, what collaborative method or tool works best for you to help clients to focus, take direction and making the right choices?

One last thing, I really recommend the video recap about #csforum13 from the organizers @vapamedia and @mrsmuirs, do check it out: CS Forum 2013 – Corner Stones of Online Content
And off course take a look at the awesome presentations, my top 3 besides the ones I mentioned above:

  • Visual Storytelling at General Electric  by Katrina Craigwell (@kcraigwell)
    Unbelievable inspiring and impressive best practices of how GE content pops up everywhere, in very different formats on every imaginable platform
  • Content Strategy for Slow Experiences by Margot Bloomstein (@mbloomstein)
    Great examples about vision and values of companies reflected in the content. Fast is not always better. Users can appreciate slow experiences: they’re engaged, anticipating, creating memories. It leads to higher conversions…
  • Content Strategy Overdrive — Accelerating Editorial at by Scott Markle (@smarkle)
    If you should have the preconception that cars are just a boy thing, think again: The content on with 18 miljon unique visitors per month, is tailored to different user groups, like women who make  60% of car buying decisions. That’s why there are a lot of female hosts in car review videos.

I love to hear from you!
Anouschka Scholten – @anous