More specifically, the Westin was the host for this year’s Confab Intensive, a hands-on, workshop-driven conference that brings together content strategists, writers, and user experience designers for three days. There’s food, there’s conversation, there’s a-learnin’.
Let’s take a look at a few big themes that came out of the sessions I attended, and what they mean for nonprofits and government agencies.
Content Modeling Matters Most
There were a few content modeling workshops, which isn’t a surprise. A good content model can make or break a website and, arguably, your organization. I attended Eileen Webb’s workshop early Monday morning, and we spent three hours building hypothetical content models for donut glazers and speaking engagements. There was a lot of cut-up paper. And sticky notes.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a content model means the types of content in your content management system (CMS), and how each of those types are structured with fields. For instance, if you have a blog at your organization, you’ll likely enter in the following information in that blog post content type, like:
And perhaps a bit more. These fields are how the content is modeled; hence, content model!
You might be thinking, “ok, great.” But the implications of a poorly-constructed or considered content model can have wide-reaching effects. It can frustrate or confuse content authors. It can make life harder by requiring more work than necessary.
But when done well, the possibilities are nearly endless. With a good content model, you could:
- Draft your content in one place, but publish to multiple locations, all with one button
- Build editorial guidelines into the field structures and help text, so that all authors create with consistency
- Maintain structural sustainability of content, so that updates to content types can be made easily and quickly
Invest in your content model. Involve smart user experience designers who work closely with smart developers. This is a task that must be done as a united front.
Conversational Interfaces Are the Future
While there weren’t as many workshops focused on conversational interfaces as, say, content modeling, this topic is new(ish) and exciting, and more and more brands are experimenting with its implementation.
What are conversational interfaces, though? Well, as you might could guess, these are interfaces with which a user interacts, and the copy and structure of said interface strives to mimic a human conversation. We see this in tools like TurboTax, in voice technologies like Siri or Alexa, and in chat bots.
As our technologies evolve and continue to meld somewhat seamlessly into our daily lives, conversational interfaces are the natural evolution toward a more social relationship with technologies. And what this does is, in the ideal scenario, ensure flawless, invisible integration with a user and the product she uses, and maybe feel a tiny little bit warm and fuzzy in the process. And the warmer and fuzzier she feels, the better off the brand associated with those fuzzies.
If you have an opportunity to make an interface more conversational, ask the question: “Would our primary users benefit from feeling more guided or social with this element?” If the answer is yes, consider hiring some writers to get it right.
Content Planning Can Be Visual, Too
As a content strategist, I often spend my days helping my clients figure out what kinds of content they have, and where it lives (and should live). This figuring-out takes many forms, but one form that doesn’t get enough attention is the visual kind. That’s right; content planning can be visual!
In one of the sessions, Scott Kubie and Michael Metts walked attendees through some visual content planning exercises. Some involved getting everyone to sketch a content type layout over and over again, to get out a bunch of ideas at once. Others involved marking up existing pieces of content to “chunk” it – an exercise that can help tremendously with content modelling, by the way.
There are visual ways to plan out content, and they’re actually quite a lot of fun (and useful). Check out the Gamestorming website to find some exercise ideas, and apply them to your content planning!
See You Next Year in Denver!
If you work with content, particularly if you’re new to it, I’d strongly recommend checking out next year’s Confab Intensive, taking place in Denver, Colorado. It’ll be a delight, and maybe we’ll see you there!