Distant Together: 3 Takeaways from Confab 2020
This year, Confab—content strategy’s biggest conference—looked different from what anyone expected. Instead of gathering in Minneapolis, attendees stayed home, livestreamed keynote speeches, and chatted with fellow content strategists at Zoom happy hours.
But one thing remained the same as always: a passion for making content great. And some of the very things that made Confab 2020 different from other years can serve as inspiration for content strategists looking to build superlative content experiences. Read on for three top takeaways from this year’s conference.
When It Comes to Content, Collaboration Is Everything
There’s an image that still persists of the “content person,” alone in a room, writing. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Content strategists depend on collaboration, whether it’s sharing knowledge with fellow content people, building empathy for the user experience, or getting buy-in for content projects across an organization. At Confab 2020, the theme of collaboration surfaced over and over again, across many talks and in many forms.
In her talk “Content transformation on a large scale: Turning the Titanic faster,” Atlassian’s Libby Varcoe spoke about the effort involved in getting stakeholders aligned on content operations and governance for 44 million pages of public-facing government content. Varcoe’s top tips:
- Involve more people
- Find a common language across teams
- Get good at talking about risk
- Be generous with your knowledge
Another important collaborator? Your users! In her talk “Who’s not in the room? Building better products by engaging hard-to-reach users,” Ariba Jahan shared a powerful example from her work on an anti-bullying campaign for the Ad Council. The teens her team interviewed didn’t respond to questions that used the term bullying, but when interviewers asked if they had ever been hurt, they responded by talking about rumors, drama, shaming, and exclusion.
The lesson? Learn the language your audience is using. You don’t need to be working with teens to make this kind of mistake—have you ever tried to rank for a keyword in search results, only to find out that your customers aren’t searching for it?
As a solution, Jahan shared the concept of co-creating with your users. User testing is important, but it also predisposes users to simply react to what you’ve shown them. By working with your users and empowering them to come up with their own ideas and solutions, you can minimize bias and create better content.
Strange Times Call for Clear Language and Empathy
Naturally, the global pandemic cast its shadow over almost every keynote and discussion. Instead of ignoring it, the organizers of Confab bravely chose to face it head-on.
Daily “Content Strategists in Quarantine” sessions gave attendees the opportunity to hear from speakers about the reality of practicing content strategy in 2020, and to discuss coping skills as well as the positive impact that good content can bring in troubled times. The work of content strategists—particularly those in fields like healthcare and government—is now more valuable than ever, as communication goes digital and businesses rely on online channels to build their brand and talk to their customers.
Speakers also talked about ways to avoid burnout during tough times. Colleen T. Reese’s keynote “On optimization and idleness: Why content strategists should do less” resonated deeply with attendees who were struggling with productivity during the pandemic, and content strategists found support and community in the Confab Slack.
One thing is clear: No matter your industry, the current situation has created an incredible hunger for connection and clarity—two things that good content can deliver.
A Virtual Event Is the Ultimate Content Experience
Thanks to COVID-19, event organizers are scrambling to take their events online. Confab is no exception. The organizers pivoted from an in-person conference to a digital event in just six weeks, and their effort was so successful that frankly, it deserves its own blog post!
For now, I’ll just say that it’s no surprise that a team of content strategists was able to pull this off. After all, virtual events are the ultimate content experience, and content strategists have deep experience in all the skills needed to put on a great virtual event:
- Designing optimal user experiences
- Building content models (especially important when the event microsite replaces the conference center as the venue through which attendees experience every part of the event)
- Establishing connections between people
- Creating killer content
The Bottom Line
Stay tuned for another post about specific takeaways from Confab’s digital makeover. Until then, it’s clear that content strategy has much to offer in an increasingly digital world. It’s not easy working through a pandemic or adjusting to a reality where almost all communication must suddenly be remote, but the conversation at Confab 2020 showed that the work of content strategists—making information clear, friendly, and accessible—is more important now than ever.
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