London Content Strategy Meetup Lightning Talks night

 by Martin Belam, 31 May 2012

In a Herculean effort, I actually managed to attend two UX-ish events on Tuesday night in London. Having had a squint around Inition and their impressive array of 3D technologies, I ducked into the second half of the London Content Strategy Meetup Lightning Talks night. Here are my notes from the four talks that I saw...

“Escape the Content Bubble” - Kate Kenyon

Kate Kenyon made the point that she’d never ever spoken to anyone in a business who disagreed with the plans laid out for a good content strategy - but equally she’d never met anyone other than a content strategist who thought it should be the number one priority. In order to sell the idea into a business, she said, you need a strategy for your strategy, and a plan for your plan. She shared a few lessons she had picked up from other departments.

From the sales team she’d learned to make sure to find the one person with the final say on the purse strings. It isn’t that talking to anyone else is a waste of time, just that if you can convince this one person, then you are home and dry. Find that person, and find out what makes them tick.

From the marketing team, she has learned that communication is vitally important. You might mock their over-enthusiastic intranet blogs, wikis and internal email newsletters, but hey, everybody knows what they are up to.

From the tech team she’s come to realise that even though words are great and one of the main tools for a content strategist, sometimes diagrams just convey something that little bit better.

And from the finance team she’s learnt that a graph with big numbers on it trumps a diagram.

To help you on your way Kate recommended reading “The 10-Day MBA” and “Understanding Finance: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges”.

You’ll really know that your strategy to sell content strategy has worked when other people in the business start chipping in to help shape it, she said, so resist the temptation to slap them down and embrace them as “content-strategists-in-waiting”.

“Will our grand-children think for themselves?” - Gabriella Alexander

Gabriella Alexander told the audience that we were unique. We were the last generation whose brains developed before there was digital. Our children will grow up with brains that are wired differently, and we are the last people who will be able to separate the digital from the non-digital.

Gabriella was concerned about the intrusiveness of digital into out lives, and urged us to take back control of our digital environment. The profusion of content meant that there were 174 newspapers for us all to read every day, and that comparing and sharing takes up the space we used to use for comprehending and understanding.

She praised the EU cookie legislation as a good thing for privacy, and worried that relying on companies like Google to streamline the information we received would leave us with a simpler outlook on the world.

She suggested that making the best of digital would enable us to make work more amusing, and play more instructive.

“Using Native Apps, HTML5 and Structured Content for Love and Money” - Jon Marks

Jon Marks was on a mission to sell the audience the virtue of HTML5 and tablets. First off, he said, tablets are huge. Not in size, but in the speed of take up, reminding us that the iPad is only slightly over two years old. The media industry finally sees a viable alternative to print. And so, he said, do people outside the media industry too.

Apple’s Newsstand had marked a profound shift. As Jon put it, previously you had to open an app, click update, watch a progress bar trickle along, and then miss your train because your focus had been on the screen. Now you switch on your tablet on the commute and all of your favourite things have updated in the background for you.

The change for content strategists, Jon said, was they needed to add two new columns into the spreadsheets they love creating. “Is this a lean back experience?” and “Can I sell this?”

Judging the latter was hard, he said, but if you use HTML5 you can build for tablets without having to have expensive iOS developers.

Jon was clearly an enthusiastic adopter of the tablet form, arguing that image driven content was better on a tablet, and that the audience “engage with ads like mad” on them. A personal anecdote does not data make, but I’m pretty certain that 100% of the ad engagement on the iPad in my house has been due to the grubby misplaced fingers of my two year old trying to click on the shiny thing, rather than genuine engagement. And I doubt that I’m alone.

Where Jon did convince me on the advertising side was that tablets provide a fantastic opportunity to deliver dynamic real-time and location aware advertising. He was really entertaining in his five minutes, and I particularly enjoyed his mini-rant about PowerPoint in the middle.

“Tuning into analogue thinking” - Charlie Errington

Charlie Errington was urging us to “embrace chaos in our thinking” and was singing the praises of “analogue thinking”. He compared the delicacy of the continuous curve of the waveform with the blunt on/off binary graph of the digital world.

“I write content,” he said, “and there is no formula for writing content, it is more like a recipe.”

Charlie said that when he write he does listen to the metrics, but “I’m going for the flavour”. He thinks people respond to analogue better because “we are analogue creatures.”

“You wouldn’t want to drive a push button car” he said, because the feedback mechanism of the analogue turning of the wheel physically shifting components in the car is a valuable one.

He worries that “Like” is very useful to Facebook, but it doesn’t convey any of that “flavour” or act as a real feedback mechanism. Echoing Gabriella’s concern about sharing dominating evaluation, he asked if the crowds at a gig recording the event on their phones were really experiencing it.

He finished by reminding us that the very first computers were analogue, and that some of the next wave of technologies - things like artificial neural networks - are analogue too. Maybe, he suggested, digital is a blip.


The next London Content Strategy Meetup is on 5 July, entitled “Talking Business: Strategic User Experience and Digital Excellence”. It features Leisa Reichelt and Diana Railton. Tickets are available here.

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