Top Five Takeaways From Agile Content Conference

At the end of January, I attended the Agile Content Conference in London. With the overall theme of collaboration, I was excited to pick up some practical tips to improve our work with colleagues in schools and services. Here are my top five takeaways from the day of case studies and workshops.

Embed content professionals within product/service teams

Erica Hoerl talked about her time working as a lone content strategist in the Messenger product team at Facebook. Emphasising the importance of having a voice for content at every stage of the product’s development, rather than drafting someone in for a specific content phase.

I’ve experienced the latter situation a lot. When the content team sits externally to a product or service team, we’re often brought in after the important decisions have been made. Embedding a content professional as a member of the team from the outset helps to get content seen as not just an add-on but a crucial part of any development.

Learn together

Jonathan Kahn introduced the conference with a series of collaboration tips to help find a solution that works for everyone:

  • talk to a range of people, not just those you’ve worked with before
  • align goals before identifying user needs
  • reframe objections as opportunities
  • learn together

They key to this, I think, is learning together; involving all stakeholders in user research and content design. This is supported by something Jo Wolfe asked us – to challenge ourselves to leave our preconceptions behind when starting a project. I think too often we start a project with a solution before really understanding the problem we’re trying to fix.

Pair writing workshop

Proof I was there – taking part in a pair writing activity

Mental models help create empathy

In its simplest definition, a person’s mental model is the way they look at the world. It’s based on beliefs or assumptions about how things should work. Mental models are built up over time through experience. They are unique to an individual and change over time, as we gain more experience of different situations.

We can gain an insight into someone’s mental model through user research. This allows us to understand their motivations and concerns. It helps to create empathy and in turn, allows us to design content that meets their needs.

Use principles to drive content creation

Lauren Pope and Sarah Jones from Brilliant Noise shared a case study from their work with American Express to streamline content creation and reuse through an editorial hub. They aligned the work of multinational content production teams through a clearly defined purpose and set of principles.

The principle that stands out to me is this:

“Only AmEx can do this.”

It’s a bold statement about the importance of producing unique content. Something that I’m painfully aware of in the HE sector is the number of university websites that are just carbon copies of each other. Whenever we create new content for our sites we need to ask “what makes us unique?” and use that to tell a story.

Solve fewer problems better

This nugget of wisdom comes from Alex Watson, a product manager for BBC News. It’s pretty clear what it means, and I’m sure most of us would be likely to dismiss it as a given. And perhaps that’s the problem. We can get so swept along on a treadmill of things we need to get done, that sometimes we lose quality in the work we’re doing. I’m going to make a commitment to myself to do fewer things better. Will you join me?

Image credit: Paul Clarke on Flickr.

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Nicely Said – a Book Review

In the introduction, Erin Kissane calls Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose (by Nicole Fenton and Katie Kiefer Lee) ‘a writing guide that grounds its wealth of practical advice in empathy for readers and their needs’.

If you read our blog regularly you’ll know this focus on the user resonates with us.

It’s the perfect introduction for anyone new to writing for the web. It also offers valuable tips and advice for experienced web editors looking to develop their writing.

Let’s get in to some of the advice for writing for the web with style and purpose.

Do your research

In our training we’ve been hammering home the need to plan your content. In a chapter on ‘getting your bearings’ this book offers some key points you should consider when preparing to write:

  • understand the material
  • define your goals and mission
  • identify your audience and address their needs
  • decide how you want to talk to your audience

Writing guidelines

To achieve a good level of writing the authors recommend you regularly practice this set of guidelines:

  • be clear
  • be concise
  • be honest
  • be considerate
  • write how you speak

We provide a similar list of top 5 tips for writing for the web to our editors. If you get these right you’ve got a good foundation to build on to develop your writing style.

Writing style

Something I found incredibly useful about this book was the clear definition of voice and tone – and the difference between them.

Voice is your personality; it influences how people perceive you and doesn’t change much.

Your tone changes depending on the situation; it’s directed by the audience you’re writing for.

Voice + tone = writing style.

The power of words

I want to round of this review with a quote from the book. In a single sentence it conveys a clear message about the power of your words and the importance of good writing:

“Your words can guide readers, bolster their decisions, and encourage them to take action.”

Read more

I’d encourage you to read this book to get more detail on the topics I’ve introduced, and so much more. I’ve definitely picked up some valuable advice that will improve my writing.

You can find out more about the book and its authors on the Nicely Said website. There’s also a good list of free resources, including articles and essays, for you to read around the subject.

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