Think Info

Exploring the information space

Monthly Archives: September 2013

We are the Architects (Euro IA 2013)

Any talk about information that kicks off with references to chaos theory is bound to be good. Lisa Welchman‘s opening keynote at EuroIA was just such a talk, and it didn’t stop with the chaos.

Summary:

We live in a society that has been permeated by digital communications. As key participants in this relatively new, but rapidly evolving, ecosystem, Information Architects need to be stepping up and leading. We are not passengers: we are the drivers who will shape the future. But it is not an easy world to navigate; not only do we lack a map – we are breaking the first trails – but the system is far from linear.

Much of the environment we are operating in is a legacy from the industrial age: big organisations with top-down hierarchies. These are not conducive to designing and implementing meaningful digital presences. The people tasked with crafting these things often sit at the lowest point of the organisation, minions responsible for avoiding failures, but without the authority to make decisions (and, obviously, never credited properly when things go right). But this organisation model is not where the industrial revolution started; when the individual artisan was replaced with larger enterprises, the first organisational charts were designed with lines of reporting and responsibility, empowering the individuals at the tips to make decisions because they were the experts, while the trunk managed overall strategic direction. The inversion of the model came about as a result of megalomania, and those running organisations based on this model clearly fear change – their power is at risk. Read more of this post

Usable Usability (EuroIA 2013)

Kicking off EuroIA in Edinburgh, I attended Eric Reiss‘ workshop – really, as he admitted, a master class – on Usable Usability. The theme echoed his book of the same name, released last year.

Summary

Eric didn’t hold back with his class; it was heavy with information, ideas and practical approaches to improve usability; not by focusing on any specific, but largely by poking fun at the endless stream of counter-examples.

In all, usability is about people interacting with things. While it is easy to claim that usability stops at the point of “does it make the action achievable?” (whatever it is that is supposed to be done with it), the reality is that there is far more to something being considered usable. It is about the ease with which it can be used. Read more of this post

CS Forum 2013 Closing panel

CS Forum 2013’s closing panel was a strange affair. Moderated by Cleve Gibbon, it saw six of the event’s speakers sharing the stage in various degrees of repose – though not quite all at the same time. The panellists were: Kristina Halvorson (KH), Katrina Craigwell (KC), Daniel Eizans (DE), Jarkko Kurvinen (JK), Jeff Eaton (JE) and Margot Bloomstein (MB).

Summary:

The starting subject was a simple one: how does one go about selling content strategy in to clients? As can be expected, the answers quickly drifted off track, but there was entertainment to be had therein.

Fundamentally, the answers provided were basic business: demonstrate return on investment, be honest and trustworthy; then people will want to do business with you. Don’t try blinding clients with science: they really don’t care how you are going to achieve the strategy; they want the results. Also, show some restraint – you may need to be on every new social trend, but most of your clients probably don’t. Let’s face it, if you are resorting to the channel as the message, you probably have a content problem. (The same goes for gimmick content.) Read more of this post

Content Strategy for Slow Experiences

After a manic couple of days, it’s only fair that the closing note – pre panel – of CS Forum should be Margot Bloomstein discussing the need to slow down a little – to consider that not all things need to happen at a breakneck pace.

Summary:

There is an industry trend towards efficiency; usually read as getting them in and out the door as quickly as possible. But is this really the best thing to be doing? There are many aspects of our lives where we want to move more slowly – where we want to stop and smell the roses. If we want to do that, doesn’t it make sense that others might not be in such a rush either?

Alongside the idea that speed might not be all-important, there are other scenarios where we need to consider slowing things down a little. If there is some external factor that limits speed – that imposes a wait – what can we do to make it a more engaging, interesting and enriching pause? Read more of this post

Content Strategy for B2B

While most people were off at Hawk Thompson’s talk on native advertising (which everyone seemed to agree was fabulous), I opted instead for the one subject session from which I was not aiming to learn in order to apply to client scenarios, but for the development of my own business – using content strategy in a business to business situation: how to sell my own endeavours.

Summary:

In their talk, Kati Keronen (KK) and Katri Tanni (KT) tackled content paradigms from the perspective of communications between companies. While this is a different situation to the sales and marketing that many companies deal with when selling directly to end-consumers, there are parallels. And many of the learnings that seem more intuitive when considering the effectively peer-to-peer world of B2B can actually yield great benefits when applied to B2C.

There is a huge disparity between (honest) sales and marketing. The marketing world live for their slogans, their hyperboles; but an honest sale is about a conversation, and identifying if what you have to offer fills a real need. Understanding this distinction between pushing and serving explains why in a B2B conversation, the buyer wants to talk to a person – someone who can adapt to their needs and answer their specific questions. A site can’t do that. Read more of this post

The Content Strategy of Thought Leadership (CS Forum 2013)

It’s not surprising that Stacey Gordon mentioned that the first rule of Thought Leadership is “Don’t mention Thought Leadership.” In her CS Forum talk, she went on to explain how it is the result of an attitude and behaviour, not a manipulatable marketing tool. It just happens to have great results when it is a natural result of expertise.

Summary:

Fundamentally, thought leadership is the consequence of being an expert and a pioneer within your field. It is about expanding a discipline; giving to the community.  As such, while there are huge rewards to be garnered in the form of professional reputation, and consequently marketing value, it is not a “game” that can be cheated. It is not a marketing strategy. (This notwithstanding, the term has such strong connotations, almost two thirds of business-to-business companies think they are involved in it.) Read more of this post

Leveraging Community Management (CS Forum 2013)

Speaking on a subject that I, personally, have trouble understanding, Misty Weaver delivered a rousing call to embrace people’s passions -to help them get the most out of what they love – thereby knitting together a community that will turn to you also as a supplier of choice.

Summary:

We hear constantly about community, especially as an empowerment of business: engage your community, the rallying cry goes. But what is this community, and how can one truly harness it. Given human nature, a community needs a guiding hand; it needs to be managed. Otherwise, its dynamic nature will result in it evolving away from being “your” community. Management implies some for of order.

There are many activities businesses think initially will help them manage their community, in the misguided belief that they are somehow dealing with people who do not conform to human nature. Specifically: Read more of this post

Creating Powerful Stories (CS Forum 2013)

Kicking off the second day of CS Forum 2013, we had Marli Mesibov talking about stories: the fundamentals of our communication.

Summary:

Stories have been with us for thousands of years. Verbal storytelling is as old as language; written stories date at least as far back as cave paintings. The simple reason for the endurance of stories is that they stick with us – the concepts persist far beyond recall of the source.

While communicating with stories is definitely powerful, we have run into a challenge of late: people’s attention spans – their openness to new stimuli – has contracted (by 33% in the last dozen years!). If we cannot grab someone’s attention in a matter of seconds, we will not be able to tell them our story. If we can engage them, then the longer story can be told. At this point, length is no longer the issue – as long as the story does not become too boring… Read more of this post

Deblobbling in the Real World (CS Forum 2013)

What must have been – at least from my perspective – one of the two best talks at CS Forum 2013 was delivered by one of the most turned-on people I know – Jeff Eaton – tackling the beautifully thorny challenge of structured content.

Summary:

Content is not just a tool for self-promotion. Content is an asset, with intrinsic value; for many, it is a core product.

In order to leverage the value of content, it needs to be eminently reusable; repurposable. This is not just that it can be shared socially. It needs to be sufficiently fluid that is can move easily between formats and platforms, remoulding itself to suit the situation. Content that is baked into a particular format is about as reusable as an ingredient in a served cake. The only solution is to store content in a structured format.

Of course, even a well-conceived structure is not infallible. To paraphrase Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, “No model survives contact with real content.” Read more of this post