Three Lessons from Confab 2012

A 2 minute read written by chad June 15, 2012

The Confab Content Strategy Conference logo

With a cool five months under my belt here at Yellow Pencil, I made the pilgrimage to the mecca of web content strategy: Brain Traffic’s Confab Conference in Minneapolis. I returned with a better grasp on the different facets of online content. Here are the talks and themes that really stood out and helped me connect the dots.

Content should be accessible.

Irene Walker’s Accessibility Means Business established that, with responsive design at the fore, a greater number of people are finally beginning to recognize the importance of accessibility. She presented some staggering statistics that really opened peoples’ eyes about just how vast and powerful the disabled audience is.

  • People with a disability make up the largest minority group in North America.
  • 83% of disabled people desert potential purchases because they feel unwelcome.
  • 1 billion people world-wide have at least some form of disability.
  • 21%&–23% of American adults have deficient literacy while 25%–28% have less than great literacy skills.

With competition growing due to an expanding online marketplace, why are so many people ignoring accessibility? Why are many companies alienating such a vast potential audience? Simply put: people don’t get it. Let's connect our push for accessible content with tangible statistics and help everybody understand.

Watch your tone!

Kate Keifer is the mastermind behind Mail Chimp's Voice and Tone. She took us through the development of her amazing guide and gave us some great content creation techniques.

One tool that I have begun to work with a lot since seeing Kate's talk is Plutchik's Wheel of Emotion. Using Plutchik's wheel, we can take our chunks of content and map them to emotions on the wheel, colour code them, and maintain an emotional inventory of our content. We can then see where our content types overlap and where they are different, and we can create more specific voice and tone guidelines for our content. A look at Mail Chimp's Voice and Tone guidelines is an excellent example of how this process works. They establish the user's voice before they assert their own and are able to use an appropriate tone when addressing their users.

Content needs context.

Juli Smith said during her talk Ritual, Ideology, and the Power of Content Strategy, "content is not context agnostic." That phrase has stayed with me and really shaped how I have approached developing content.

When we write, edit, or curate content we must know its context. When a user clicks on a link that says "Contact us" they are, in essence, saying, "I would like to get in touch with these people." Whether they're inquiring or stating, our content must accurately respond. When we create emotional context using a tool like Plutchik's wheel, we end up with consistent responses to user needs. Our content becomes much more responsible and reusable.

Daniel Eizans brought a more scientific approach to the conversation about content with his talk Solving the Context Conundrum. He gave us examples of his approach to the discovery process by showing us research results that have helped him develop and understand user contexts. I had never considered that a user goes through mental, physical, and environmental changes when they interact with our content. A person hunched over a laptop is a different user than a person sprawled out in bed on their tablet and our content needs to attend to these shifts.

Putting it all together.

I can't lie, there was so much to learn over the course of the week in the Twin Cities. I'm still referencing my notes and working to refine the content strategy process here at Yellow Pencil.

What I ultimately took away from Confab was that content strategy needs to be part of the conversation from the very beginning of every project, and that it never stops. The more work that we do to create accessible, relevant content, the more our content will inform the design and development of the websites that we craft.