22 February 2018
Xander Roozen
Xander Roozen
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Agile Content Conference 2018 (London)

A trip report

In January 2018 I visited the Agile Content Conference in London. Here’s what I liked about it.

The design and creation of successful content is, as many of us experience every day, not a walk in the park. Everybody wants content that is consistent, that works for users and is efficient to produce.

But actually getting there is a balancing act of dealing with increasingly demanding users with specific needs, stakeholders in the organisation that run the business, and technology that’s in place but not always easy to use.

The Agile Content Conference

Content strategist Jonathan Kahn – who once said that trying to fix an organisation’s content problem by installing a CMS is like trying to save a marriage by booking a holiday – is together with Richard Ingram the driving force behind the Agile Content Conference in London.

A conference focussing on the challenges that come with good content design and creation. It’s a 2-day conference with a small and dedicated audience of digital content experts.

The setup of the conference is simple and convenient. The first day with a larger audience had a mix of case studies – from organisations like Global Radio, GOV.UK and Breast Cancer Care – and short workshops. On the second day, with just a small group, Jonathan Kahn led a full-day workshop focussing on the lessons learned on the first day.

Integration

During this fourth edition of the Agile Content Conference last January the focus was on integration.

The idea of integration derives from the work of Mary Parker Follett from the beginning of the 20st century on how to handle differences. Parker said that instead of domination – one side gets what it wants – or compromise – neither side gets what is wants – we should strive for integration. We have to find a way that works for both sides.

When stakeholders, let’s say from the product or legal department, push back on your content recommendations, you don’t need to shiver. Next time they share their opinions, insist on using jargon, or appear to ignore your data, you have to resist the temptation to argue your case. Because your case, and your evidence, is just a different reality. We have to start looking for a shared reality instead.

The takeaways

Question is of course, how to get a shared reality? Basically, by using two concepts that got a lot of attention during both the presentations and the workshops: active listening to uncover insights and pair writing to create content.

First the act of active listening, an interviewing technique. User needs only make sense with business alignment. One way to get the alignment is by interviewing people to uncover insights, and really understand their concerns and needs. Integrate their perspectives about an area of disagreement, like the tone of voice of a specific piece of legal content.

The insights eventually lead to a set of principles that work for everybody. An example of such a principle could be users can comply with relevant rules. Using these principles is where shared reality starts.

But mind you, as one person told me during the coffee break: getting fixated on one particular person after a particularly compelling interview is at best unhelpful, and at worst, actively damaging.

The second part is pair writing. It sounds easy, and to be honest, it actually is: Create copy together with your stakeholder. Sit next to a product expert, or someone from the legal department and start writing. Use a proper user story, a blank paper and type away. Create the text for a product landing page, or meta description for a landing page. Pair writing with your stakeholders not only builds trust, it gives a much better outcome. No endless reviewing, sending documents by mail and a digital paper trail with screenshots anymore.

Final thoughts

The Agile Content Conference was a thoughtful experience. Its small scale, the likeminded audience and the depth of the discussion of the topics was highly enjoyable. Plus the ideas and techniques shared during presentations and workshops can be easily applied to day to day activities.

Want to see more? Quite literally. There is a video of every presentation available at the Agile Content Conference website. Videos on how to build a content community for example, or a content operating model.

About the author

Xander Roozen (@shuggie) is an information architect at Informaat. His interests focus on using information to create structured systems for human experience. Xander is fascinated by the design challenges that come from linking things that couldn’t be linked before the Internet. He also likes to sit at the intersection of music and technology, and think about how the two affect one another.

Content strategy (17), Events (21)

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