Lisa Welchman and Eric Reiss at Content Strategy Forum 2011

 by Martin Belam, 5 September 2011

Download this, and all of my notes from the Content Strategy Forum as one printable PDF or in epub format for iBooks

I’ve been doing my best to blog today’s Content Strategy Forum sessions as they come along, covering Gerry McGovern, Melissa Rach and Margot Bloomstein in one post, and Karen McGrane’s brilliant talk in another. Here are my notes from the remaining two talks of the morning session.

Lisa Welchman - “On All the Different ‘Web Governances’ in the Universe”

Why is it so hard to manage content was Lisa Welchman’s opening question. One reason, she said, was that all of the things in our multi-channel world, like email, fax, phone, web and mobile, are at a different stage in their cycle of adoption and product maturity. Which means the people running them are also at different stages of their career.

Another problem is that not everybody sees their thing as “content”. A records manager, for example, sees everything as records, whilst someone else sees a knowledge asset, or a techie person might say it is all just data.

“We all know that web servers are something you put content on. You never take it off” she said, and you could sense the whole audience agree.

Her solution for businesses is to avoid the pitfalls of a hierarchy structure, but instead set up a solid base for web governance.

Welchman said “We are all beholden to the people governing the Internet and the World Wide Web for us having a living”, and, she argues, if you have proper digital governance, it is like having your own internal W3C. It helps you avoid the arguments and judgements based on taste, when you can refer to a set of standards that have been agreed by the relevant experts in each area.

If governance is confused above you, she warned, it is hard to make standards, especially if you have no authority to enforce them. Lisa is launching the Web Governance Journal this autumn, which should help people with these processes.

As an aside, Lisa said one of the most frustrating things was going into a business to find that everything is going to hell in a hand-basket, there are 17 backdoor CMSs, nobody has control of access to the production servers, but apparently the most pressing issue is that the CEO wants his picture on the homepage. Personally, I’ve always found “the homepage” to be a useful distraction which keeps key stakeholders obsessed and allows you to get on with evidence based decision-making in the areas of the site that the users actually visit more... ;-)

Lisa Welchman finished with an important point: “Don’t be a barrier”. Web and digital people can sometimes be possessive control freaks, she said, claiming “We invented this thing”. If you are trying to change an organisation, she cautioned, remember that you are also in it, not some kind of overlord.

Eric Reiss - “Content strategists: the men and women of a new renaissance”

“I out-rank you all because I sent my first email in 1981” - Eric Reiss at the Content Strategy Forum 2011

I’m a big fan of Eric Reiss, and I did a panel session with him at the IA Summit in Denver this year about building UX communities. Today Eric promised to bring the “shock” into a programme that promised to “shock and amaze”.

Eric explained to the content strategy crowd that “I come from another discipline and I can see how we’ve repeatedly shot ourselves in the foot”. His main argument was that the problems content strategy was trying to address were age-old, and some of the solutions were age-old too. He showed an example inspired by Jared Spool, of the web store that sells more hiking boots because their pictures include a glimpse of the sole, which is how you would make the decision in the real world. He also put up on screen a flyer from a shoe shop in the 1900s using exactly the same winning formula.

Eric wondered that even as we agree that there is a discipline called “content strategy”, is there really a person who is a “content strategist”? He argued that you can’t do a decent job of content strategy without a high-level understanding of IA, and vice-versa. He identified some key mistakes the IA community had made, and so advised “content strategists”:

  • Accept that there other disciplines that also do what you do
  • Use energy doing work not defending turf
  • If you are the smartest person in the room - don’t let the others know

He finished by saying that content strategy is not new, so don’t waste time over-thinking it and defining it, just get out there and do it and change the world. And he said that as someone who had pointed out that he had been using “content strategist” on his business card three times longer than the Wikipedia page for the discipline had existed.


I’m not going to be able to blog the afternoon sessions today due to other commitments, so you can expect my next blog post about the #csforum11 to be some notes from my own talk. Entitled “Taking content strategy to people who already think they have one” I’ll be talking about how the Guardian has built an API and adapted to digital publishing, and also giving a bit of advice on how I think you can best sell the concept of “content strategy” to people whose initial reaction may be “erm, yeah, we do content already, thanks...”

UPDATED: Erm...actually my next blog post about the conference was: “Making sense of the (new) new content landscape” - Erin Kissane at Content Strategy Forum 2011

This is one of a series of blog posts written at the Content Strategy Forum 2011 in London:
Download all the blog posts in one PDF or in epub format for iBooks
“How the Guardian’s custom CMS & API helped take content strategy to a traditional publisher” - Martin Belam
Gerry McGovern, Melissa Rach and Margot Bloomstein at Content Strategy Forum 2011
“CMS - the software UX forgot” - Karen McGrane
Lisa Welchman and Eric Reiss at Content Strategy Forum 2011
“Making sense of the (new) new content landscape” - Erin Kissane
“Agile and content strategy” - Lisa Moore
“Measurement, not fairy tales” - Catherine Toole
“Topic maps, disambiguation, and multi-disciplinary teams” - Elizabeth McGuane
You might also be interested in these notes on these talks from the August London Content Strategy meet-up:
Lisa Welchman, Sophie Dennis and Tyler Tate

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