Content Strategy Delivers (Confab: Part 1)

By Joe Baz

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend Confab, the first North American content strategy conference, hosted by content strategy’s biggest advocate and the founder of Brain Traffic, Kristina Halvorson. The debut conference tackled a range of topics, from content curation to persona development, to branding and the overarching theme: user experience. The loudest message I heard at the conference was “We deliver value!

Content Strategy’s White Knight: One set of tweaks to Facebook generated 600 new Facebook users PER MINUTE! In terms of money: estimated $24M of additional revenue.

The proof of this message was exhibited all around me. For those unfamiliar with the value of content strategists or even uncertain of what content strategy really is, I will defer to content strategy pioneer Margot Bloomstein: Content strategy is “your plan for meeting the needs of your target audience and organizational brand through the common denominator of communication in a medium over time.” Though this statement barely touches the details of content strategy, it succinctly sums up its purpose.

Tools of the Trade

Many of the sessions I attended relayed techniques for validating content – and consequently attaching a numerical value to the quality of that content. Some of the best techniques discussed were:

  • Readability Formula: A simple math equation that helps you to examine a specimen of copy and determine its complexity, or “grade” level. This formula is: .39 (# words / # sentences) + 11.8 (# syllables / # words) – 15.59 = grade level. This is important, as it allows you to present a scientific, quantitative metric to your boss or your client and demonstrate how easy or difficult your copy is to digest.
  • Usability Testing: A familiar face in the realm of content strategy, one session discussed conducting usability tests on body copy, interface text and online video. Another session talked about the differences between moderated and unmoderated usability testing and how preferred content consumption varies by audience. (More on this coming soon.)  Both pointed out how the testing greatly impacted the knowledge of how content was working or not working.
  • The Cloze Test: This mashup of reading comprehension and mad libs allows you to see if users can understand the meaning of your content by its context. Derived from the Gestalt theory, a Cloze Test is the process of removing words from a paragraph of copy, and then testing others to see if they can guess the missing words, given the context. This test has been used by many content strategists and usability professionals to evaluate the effectiveness of content. (Thanks, Angela Colter, for making me take this test!)

    This way to great content!

    Photo Credit: Sean Turbidy (@tubes)

I left with new tools at my disposal to validate content, and plenty of new methods for helping clients to get the most out of time and money invested in content strategy. And yet, the thing that really took the cake at the conference was the case study on Facebook.

Facebook to the Rescue

Sarah Cancilla, Content Strategist at Facebook, told the story of how she came into an engineer-heavy company with a penchant for hacking at breakneck speed. Her first challenge was to prove that content strategy could deliver on its promise of value. And she did!

Recently, Sarah and her team tweaked the Find Friends module, a piece of content that represented about 10% of real estate on the main user’s page of Facebook. The original copy contained lengthy paragraphs with hyperlinked keywords interwoven into the copy. The revised copy separated the paragraphs into bite-size call-to-actions in bullet form.

The end result: Facebook added 6,000,000 new users to Facebook in one week, or roughly 600 new people per minute! Facebook brings in roughly $4.00 per user in revenue, so these small copy tweaks yielded an estimated $24M in additional revenue. The proof’s in the monetary pudding and, in terms of value, content strategy’s a hero!

So, What’s Next?

If the world’s biggest social network has proven that content strategy is effective, then it seems clear that content strategy needs attention.  But how do you start today on improving your content strategy? I offer two options:

  1. Throw money at it!
    Hiring a content strategist is always a surefire kickstart, whether you outsource your content strategy (hint hint ;-) ) or hire one internally. The latter is a very good option if your product or brand relies heavily on content. Check out my twitter list of content strategists.
  2. Become fluent in Content Strategy
    Whether you’re learning to create your own content or just getting up to speed speaking the language, there are some great resources available to get more acclimated to both the strategic and technical functions of content strategy:

    1. Complete Beginner’s Guide to Content Strategy by Andrew Maier, UX Booth.
    2. Content Strategy for the Web: Kristina Halvorson’s primer on content strategy
    3. Content Rules: a hands-on book about content strategy by C.C. Chapman and Anne Handley’s

Whatever you choose, one thing is clear: content strategy is a too often-neglected area of your business that you can no longer afford to ignore. Done right, it can greatly impact your revenue, and delight your users in the process.

Did you attend confab? What was your biggest takeaway?

For those curious about how usability testing debunked the notion that every business should be getting into online video content, subscribe to our RSS Feed to receive notification of our upcoming post on the topic.

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