4 Takeaways from Confab Central 2017
To “confab” means to have an informal chat with someone. Confab is also content strategy’s most popular conference—and for good reason. Where else can you hang with hundreds of kindred content spirits and geek out over audits, structured content, and content models? (Nowhere, that’s where.)
Last month I—yes—confabbed with more than 400 kindred geeks for two days. Here are my main takeaways:
1. Find the rainbow connection
Connection was the overarching theme at Confab.
How can we connect to more people with more empathy? How do we ensure what we create is inclusive and accessible for all? You have mere seconds to grab someone’s attention—how do you cut through the web’s white noise to reach the right customers in a meaningful way?
Both Ann Handley and LeVar Burton’s keynotes touched on this idea of connection through storytelling. We’re all storytellers. This goes to the heart of content strategy—what content is. It’s about connecting with people.
And you do that by telling a story. Whether we’re talking about a SaaS product or an insurance policy, we foster that human element by weaving in a narrative to show that we (as a brand) understand and care about our customers.
As LeVar Burton said, “It is through the stories we tell each other that we create the world as a reflection of who we are.”
2. Empathy is vital
There have been a lot of conversations online lately around empathy, or the way we understand and share the feelings of others, particularly in UX design. And it was no different at Confab, but the concept stretched beyond just user experience.
At least half a dozen speakers touched on empathy in their sessions, from Jess Hutton talking about ways to add it to product descriptions through SEO to Eileen Webb describing how to take the empathy we feel for our users and flip it internally to build strong content teams.
Marin Perez from Microsoft presented a 5-minute lightning talk about how to bake empathy into content strategy. For Perez, it’s all about the why. Your customers are more than data points—you need to talk to them to figure out why they do the things they do. Everything you do needs to be connected to real people, not just analytics.
As our own Rikke Jorgensen often quips, analytics will give you the what, but they don’t give you the why. Perez’s advice: Your customer insights are your unfair advantage over the competition. Find your why with first-hand research, and weave that into everything you create. Use your customers’ language to explain the value of your products.
3. Remember your entire audience
As people who, in a sense, control communication, we have a lot of opportunity—but that comes with responsibility, too. We can’t just be guards at the content gates; we have to make sure content is accessible and inclusive. There are 48.9 million people in the United States with a disability. That’s nearly 1 in 5 people, and more than 12 million have difficulty accessing digital content.
When creating content, ask a few questions: Does this header translate in a screen reader? If the text of an alert is red to convey urgency, will color-blind people be able to see it? It’s critical for content strategists to keep these people in mind at all times because they’re our users, too. Include people with disabilities in your personas and user testing. Have conversations with them to determine how you can improve your content.
Amber James offered practical tips on how to incorporate accessibility into a website: Use proper hierarchy and tags (e.g., don’t put an H1 tag under an H3 tag), have drop-down navigation, and make sure links are easily identifiable. Always include alt tags for your images. Audit your content and evaluate the accessibility of your website by using a tool like WAVE.
Bottom line: Create content with the broadest audience in mind. One of my favorite quotes of the conference came from Brittney Dunkins: “If you’re doing anything with the world wide web, you should consider what the world looks like.”
4. It’s OK—even necessary—to say no
It can be easy (especially on the agency side) to say yes to whatever a client—or a stakeholder, or your boss—wants to create. Sometimes you just don’t want to make waves. Maybe you feel it’s not worth the hassle.
But what you don’t publish is as important as what you do publish. To say more, start by saying less. Say no, but say it strategically. To quote Margot Bloomstein: “It’s a powerful thing to say no and have it be a complete sentence.”
What—or who—are you saying no to, exactly?
- Stakeholders or coworkers who want more “stuff” but aren’t sure why or how it adds value
- More channels—not all channels fit all goals
- More content for the sake of content
Sarah Richards, Margot Bloomstein, Erika Bock, and Ann Handley were just a few women who were firmly in the “just say no” camp. Their advice:
- Margot Bloomstein: If we want progress, we need to set boundaries, expectations, and guidelines. (Besides, as content strategists, we love structure.) There are opportunity costs to having a bunch of content just to have it (see Sarah Richards’ point below). What does your brand need to say?
- Sarah Richards: If you’re churning out content for the wrong reasons, then the quality will suffer. Think about it in different terms: What are you NOT doing because of that content? What higher-value projects could you have been spending your time on?
- Erika Bock: Say no strategically. Ask yourself if this change is in the best interest of your users. If not, say no without actually saying no by first acknowledging the issue, then asking questions. What problem is the person trying to solve? Who does this affect? Analyze the answers and then appeal to logic by offering an alternative solution.
- Ann Handley: If a stakeholder comes to you saying, “We need a piece of content for XYZ,” spin it around. Ask what the customer needs. Think about what’s truly useful. Don’t chase the latest fads if they don’t match your brand. Does your product (or your client’s product) really need a QR code campaign? Or a Snapchat account? Or a chatbot? In Ann’s words, don’t be afraid to “serve a triple nopecone” to bad ideas.
The bigger picture
As content creators, we’re the champions of content, which means we’re the champions of users. It’s our job to make sure we’re thinking of all our users at every step of the way. It’s a jungle out there. Content won’t save the world, but it can make the world a better, clearer, easier-to-navigate place.