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Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A #ConfabEDU Wrap-up

I just returned from the first ever Confab Higher Ed, in Atlanta. I’ve been to a number of conferences over the years, but this is the first one I’ve attended that focused specifically on the content side of web work. I’d always heard that Confab events are very well-organized and the talks well-curated, and this was certainly borne out in Atlanta; a hearty congrats on job well-done to the Confab folks and to Georgy and Rick from MeetContent.

Just about all of the sessions I attended left me with something to chew on, but my favorite single session was probably Felicia Pride’s “Transmedia in Higher Education.” Of course, it’s hard not to win over the recovering comparative mythologist in me when you’re talking about storytelling and technology, but I found Felicia’s discussion of using complementary content in different channels to be a fascinating reminder that the “Create once, publish everywhere” model that has become the content strategy mantra is not the only way to think about the content we’re producing.

One of the social needs that conferences seems to fulfill is commiseration, the acknowledgement that all of us gathered in this place face a number of common challenges, and there was certainly no lack of that at #ConfabEDU. My (somewhat, but *only* somewhat) tongue-in-cheek contribution to the #confabfeelings hashtag going around the conference was "Verging on despair at all the barriers in the way of doing good work.” It is really, really, hard to do strategic work when you are constantly putting out (often imaginary) fires or doing time-consuming projects for the sake of, say, a faculty member’s vanity. When strategy is something you have to sneak in around the edges, instead of the guiding force of everything you do, it’s not much of a strategy. I would loooove to have an institutional message architecture (as defined by Margot Bloomstein, "a hierarchy of communication goals that reflects a common vocabulary. Concrete, shared terminology, not abstract concepts.”) written on the wall of the office, and when someone asks us to, say, design a poster that no one will ever see, be able to point to the wall and ask them how this project fits in that architecture.

The golden nugget that I came away with is this: content strategy is really people strategy. The person planning how the content will fit together and be distributed is rarely also the the one creating or maintaining that content. If you can’t get buy-in from the folks who actually own the content, can’t get them to take ownership of and pride in that content, your website — and your users — are going to suffer.

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