The whole idea behind content strategy is to make our content decisions more intentional, critical and effective, said Erika Hall in her talk “What Are Words For?”, a discussion about how to approach content and language online more holistically.
Yet all the “baggage” we tend to have about content — our belief that it is text (and since most of us come from writing backgrounds, as evidenced by the majority of hands raised when Erika posed the question, many of us fall into this trap), and that anyone can create it easily — tends to hold us back.
A large part of Erika’s message seemed to be the importance of cross-functional teams, with everybody working together to get things right. “Getting people to do good things well in a capitalist system is hard — people need to work together,” she said.
A few thoughts from her talk:
- The advice of Strunk & White to “Be specific” has never been more relevant, Erika said. The choices we make about tone, words and design are fundamental the experiences we create online. “Make sure everyone you’re talking to knows specifically what you’re talking about.”
- There was a backlash several years ago about using words to communicate because of the studies that came out (from Jakob Nielsen and others) reporting that people don’t read online. People started becoming fixated on creating pictures-only ways of communicating, a sense of “You didn’t work hard enough to come up with the perfect icon for that concept!” The truth is that reading in many cases has never been about reading every single word, Erika said.
- We have a sense of nostalgia about writing/content creation: it’s precious, it requires a lot of expertise. Erika talked about the writing of a best-selling business book – that a huge part of marketing and selling the book is baked into the actual writing of it.
- Erika pointed to a site such as MailChimp, which has perfected the way it uses words on a page. “This only comes into being if a small team works together.”
- People tend to think of content as this “stuff” that we churn out, a kind of “pink goo.” Instead, content is a continuous process that needs tending and nurturing and that is part of a larger ecosystem.