Due to COVID-19, LavaCon 2020 morphed into a completely virtual event with new focus on user experience (UX) evident in this year’s event name. Held Oct. 23-28, Jack Molisani and his team did a great job organizing the event to meet the demands of our virtual times. It was my second LavaCon conference, as I had also attended it four years ago in Dublin.
So what grabbed my attention this year? I wanted to learn more on how companies have moved to content management systems. And, I wanted to know more about measuring content. Content silos were a big topic of discussion at the conference –specifically, how to bridge them and focus on aligning your content with your company’s business goals.
Case studies on setting up a content strategy
Two presentations immediately caught my attention. Storming the castle: Winning support for and executing a content strategy, featured Britt Ellmer of TSYS and Noz Urbina of OmnichannelX and Urbina Consultancy. The other, Building content, building success was led by Joe Gollner of Gnostyx Research Inc. .
Storming the castle gave great practical information on how to make the business case to management for a complete change to how content is produced. Noz and Britt discussed such aspects as:
- The importance of thoroughly researching the audience, the organization’s requirements, the Return on Investment (ROI), project metrics, and the corporate climate (what does the company actually care about)
- Collecting key metrics by going to your users and uncovering how they use your content
- Building a team, with an emphasis on keeping t small
Fortunately, Noz and Brit came armed with examples of how they make the case. Their documents included an audience analysis, the project scope, and an elevator pitch. They found that simply talking their pitch wasn’t enough; they also needed a visual content strategy map that showed the different elements
Two other key takeaways were the importance of being ready for change and need for scope to align with the budget. They pointed out that you probably won’t get all the budget you want in the first go but will probably need to do multiple rounds of “storming the castle.”
Joe Gollner’s case study presentation went into more detail on the CMS implementation side. Like my employer, his client–NCCER–works with external companies that provide content. This vendor-provided content had significant impact on how they built their CMS since it had to be able to facilitate collaboration with outside entities. While planning and testing the CMS, one of their external partners changed and another partner changed their publishing standards. They found that the original CMS was too cumbersome to deal with such customer changes, so they replaced it with a more lightweight CMS to provide flexibility.
Measuring the impact of our content
The impact of technical documentation is much more widespread across an organization than its members often think. To understand the value of our work and communicate it, we need to identify the impacts and how they help groups in the company meet their specific KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), KPIs that are aligned with the company’s mission statement.
In their session titled Documentation has Value? Prove it, Joe Gelb and Lawrence Orin of Zoomin Software explained the three different types of data —useless, scorecard, and actionable—and why we need to focus on collecting actionable data. Scorecard data shows us how things are going but not what action we need to take. Actionable data “gets us out of our chair” and doing something. Actionable data is data with a goal. Goals let us judge the data and determine what action to take.
Andrea Ames gave an inspiring talk, Content is NOT a business outcome, about solving business problems with content. Andrea believes that we need to be clear when measuring content whether we are measuring the content itself or its outcome. She stated, “Customers aren’t buying your product, they’re buying a transformation.” Questions we therefore need to ask ourselves are:
- What are our customers achieving by using our products?
- How does this impact our company and its business goals?
- When our content is successful, how does this impact the company (companies want to earn money)?
- What are the biggest concerns of those people we need support from?
From such questions, we will find our opportunities.
We must stop thinking that “content is king” and start focusing on the outcome of using content, because that’s where we’ll find the value we bring to the company. Our content teams should operate like a business and we need to get into the habit of documenting the impact of our work.
Bridging silos and fitting into the wider business ecosystem
As companies grow in size and complexity, invariably silos develop across it. We often become isolated within our silos because they make it faster and easier to deliver. Content plays a huge role in customer experience. However, producing information from multiple disconnected sources nearly always breaks that customer experience.
Several speakers spoke about unifying silos. Beril Maples, Head of User Experience Design at Google Analytics, in her presentation on bridging silos explained that to get out of our silos, we need to reach out to a wider circle, learn what are the goals of other groups, and become familiar with the business of the company. This helps us see how our work fits into the larger picture and how we can help improve the customer experience. However, bridging silos does takes time, particularly now that we’re all working remotely.
Content operations is a recently identified field. The panel discussion, The Future of Content Operations defined its role: to optimize content production so that companies can scale their operations while continually producing quality content. Content operations is the manifestation of content strategy. It lets you treat content as the business asset that it is. And it’s tool focused. However, companies frequently encounter problems when expecting people to work on both managing the CMS tools and writing the content. Such “wearing many hats” detracts from both skill sets. To better ensure content quality, companies should separate the roles of CMS management and content creation.
The conference itself
LavaCon UX billed itself as “A Fully Immersive Virtual Content Strategy Conference.“ Using Zoom and Stack made it easy to attend the presentations, play back recordings and engage in discussions with attendees during live presentations and in virtual Networking lounges. All live presentations, Lunch & Learn discussions, and on-demand presentations (think TED talks) have been recorded for later viewing by attendees (they won’t be made public). LavaCon hosts nearly 100 recordings of presentations and discussions for attendees to listen to over the next year. That’s a lot of information from just three days!
Overall, an excellent interactive conference.