Electricity, Connection, and Content in the Southland

Southern California is a hard place to create community. So when an organization starts to do it successfully, we should take notice.

Innovate Pasadena Connect Week 2015On Monday, Oct. 19, Innovate Pasadena launches Connect Week 2015, a series of events about design, technology, science, and business. Innovate Pasadena is a nonprofit organization that organizes weekly meetups about these topics, and this is the second year that they have expanded their efforts into a weeklong series. Through these and other events, Innovate Pasadena has been successful at nurturing a community of entrepreneurship and enterprise. And a key to the organization’s success is keeping it local.

In sprawling Los Angeles county, with its legendary traffic and strained public transportation system, geography is our biggest challenge to meeting and exchanging ideas. Sometimes it’s just too hard to journey across town from Pasadena to attend a meetup in Santa Monica. That’s why the Northeast Los Angeles UX Meetup group exists.

Content Strategy Southern California ambitiously aims to reach the content and design community from Santa Barbara to San Diego. But geography is not friendly. We know we have to plan events in Santa Barbara, Irvine, and San Diego, and we are looking at organizing meetups in these locations in the coming year. While many local tech and design hubs exist — Santa Monica, downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena — the content community in the southland is scattered throughout these areas. ESRI, a company that regularly employs content strategists, is located as far east as Redlands. Depending on traffic, getting to Redlands can be a three-hour drive from Venice Beach.

Despite the distances, we continue to try to unite the content and design professionals of southern California. On October 21, we will even hold our own event as part of Innovate Pasadena Connect Week 2015. In Transforming User Experience Design with Content Strategy, three content strategy experts will speak about how careful attention to content helps produce better customer experiences. And these three experts are traveling to Pasadena from mid-city Los Angeles, Glendale, and Eagle Rock.

In a recent piece in the New York Times (“Why Can’t We Stop Talking about New York in the Late 1970s,” Oct. 10, 2015), novelist and memoirist Edmund White writes about the community that cities help create. “Face-to-face encounters are essential to a city’s vitality,” White writes, “even among people who aren’t sure of each other’s names, for the exchange of ideas and to generate a sense of electricity.”

White continues by noting that, in New York in the 1970s, “creative people of all sorts could meet without plans, could give each other tips or discuss burgeoning theories or markets or movements.”

It sounds as if New York in the ’70s might have been similar to the meetup culture we’re trying to create today. We meet to discuss theories, markets, movements, strategies. We meet to get the benefits of connection. White calls it “a sense of electricity” — we can call it community.

What do you think we should call it? Let’s talk about it. When should we meet?

Five Steps for a Performance-Driven Approach to Content

To be honest, there are more than five steps needed for a performance-driven approach to content. A lot more.

Information Development World 2015 LogoAt the beginning of Information Development World in San Jose on Sept. 30, about 20 content professionals spent a day exploring performance-driven content in a workshop conducted by content strategists Paula L. Land and Kevin P. Nichols. During that day, the team touched on the numerous steps involved in developing a content approach that includes setting goals, measuring progress, and optimizing content based on how well it performs.

At the risk of slighting the complexity of the topic, I focus on five highlights. Even if you’re not implementing a complete performance-driven content plan (and almost no one has), these are steps that can probably boost your content efforts.

Start with good content.
Definition of performance-driven contentPerformance-driven content has its roots in data-driven marketing. In both, we measure how content performs to figure out what to do next. As Nichols explained, we focus on “measurements and evaluation of content in order to make decisions on future content priorities.” And of course starting with effective content sets us up for success.

Work with your content team on business requirements.
Business requirements are core inputs that go into developing a performance strategy. To gather these requirements, create or identify a content team – for example, the content strategist, copy writer, and product manager. They can act as a de facto governance team throughout the project. Get additional input from stakeholders, and distill the requirements into a project brief.

The Content Strategy Alliance published a project brief template you can use. This is one of the more than 40 tools included in The Content Strategy Alliance Tools and Templates: A Best Practices Handbook.

Pay attention to the user.
Nichols emphasized that a user journey map is the most important user input when developing a performance strategy. “The user journey defines the end-to-end steps the customer takes when interacting with your brand,” he stated.

Armed with a user journey, we can create a publishing model that focuses on user needs and content types, as opposed to business silos.

Nichols identified eight steps for developing a user journey map.

  1. Select the persona you’re charting the journey for.
  2. Document the user’s tasks.
  3. Chart the steps the user takes to complete a task (this can be done with varying levels of detail, depending on business and user needs.)
  4. Determine which users complete which tasks. This will provide valuable information about user states, and this data can help when developing personalized content.
  5. Identify triggers – the motivation that started the user on her journey.
  6. Map channel (web, mobile, app, packaging content, etc.) to each task.
  7. Define the content needed for each step and identify what is missing.
  8. Test the customer journey with user testing and other validation efforts.

Assess your content.
As Paula Land explained, in a performance-driven content approach, “constantly monitoring and optimizing content is the goal.” To do this, we need to figure out how much content we have (content inventory) and how good it is (content audit). The Content Strategy Alliance Handbook includes a content audit template with a list of factors to consider when evaluating content.

Land stressed that a content audit is not a job for the content strategist alone. The work of auditing should be spread around so that more people in an enterprise can learn the value of content and how improving it is everyone’s business.

Govern your content.
Once an audit is completed, the team can then plan content improvements and figure out how to make them. This is where governance comes in. Making change, especially with content, often requires organizational change.

Benefts of Governing Content
When talking about governance, Paula Land stated, emphasize benefits, not burdens.

If organizations didn’t include any people, that would be easy. “Numbers are easy,” Land said. “People are hard.”

Land outlined some processes and tools that can help an organization prepare for and make changes.

  • Develop a team model to support governance. The more team members, the better. Just make sure to define roles and responsibilities.
  • Train the team.
  • Provide enough documentation so that everyone knows what to do and why.
  • Communicate with the organization regularly.
  • Use governance tools such as editorial calendars, style guides, and dashboards to report tracking data.

Throughout the course of the workshop, Land and Nichols examined numerous other details that go into performance-driven content: hard and soft metrics, omnichannel content delivery, and personalization. They’re all great candidates for future blog posts. But for now, I imagine most content strategists have their hands full with these five issues. How are you putting these steps to work?