Lessons from startups on increasing user engagement: Stephanie Hay

Lessons from startups on increasing user engagement: Stephanie Hay

Stephanie Hay, a content and UX specialist, drove the same point home over and over again during her presentation, “What Startups Can Teach Us About Content Strategy,” at Confab 2013. That’s because it’s a fundamental best practice that so many companies seem to ignore: stop using marketing words and setting unrealistic expectations.

Ah, marketing-speak. How many times have you read that a product is “unique” or “the best” or that a company is “the industry leader” with “unsurpassed customer service?” We hear these words so often that we tune them out. They don’t mean anything any more. Using marketing-speak makes users skeptical. Worse, marketing words can set the bar so high that it is nearly impossible for companies to deliver on unrealistic promises.

What startups can teach us about user engagement

So how do we get people to listen to what we have to say and increase user engagement? Stephanie suggested taking some cues from the scrappy world of Internet start-ups.

1. Start-ups have to get users to understand their role in the company’s success. Wean yourself off the habit of writing content because you know it will get stakeholder approval and instead structure communication as a genuine two-way conversation that takes the user into consideration. Stop using “we/me” when you talk about your company and tune into “you” instead. Make it obvious to your users that their participation is important to your success.

2. Start-ups pay attention to their customers first. Speak the same language your customers do and provide content that they are interested in. You can do this in a structured way, using a few tools:

  • Google keyword tools: Indicates what people are searching for and gives you other keyword ideas.
  • Google Adwords: Tests to find out what language will get people to click. Often the most effective language speaks to real problems a product or service can solve for a user.
  • Google Analytics: Helps you determine your most valuable content so that you can provide more of it.
  • Customer surveys: Allows you to ask users, “why did you sign up?” and “why do you keep coming back? Then incorporate these reasons in the customers’ language into your content.

3. Start-ups have to build trust in order to grow. We tend to trust companies that at least meet our expectations. When companies meet our expectations, we have a good experience and are more likely to share it with others. The product can speak for itself and doesn’t need marketers to add a bunch of meaningless hype.    

4. Start-ups have to get the content right before they determine the structure of how to deliver it. The content the user needs should drive the structure of a website. Instead of the traditional website-creation process – learn, structure, write, repeat – try: learn, write, and write some more until you feel you’ve gotten it right. Then apply the structure.

Write first, structure later

Stephanie admitted that this last point – write first, structure later – is something that’s hard for established companies to do. Companies ask, “How can I write without knowing the structure?” To which Stephanie responds, “Our content drives everything we do. It is the structure.”

To get there, Stephanie suggested the following process:

  • Collaborate. Map out content creation in a shareable format, like a Google doc, that all stakeholders can access and edit. The document should provide a “conversation map” that shows what users want and how a typical customer conversation starts and grows and ends. What do users not want? What complaints are you hearing? How do you work to resolve these complaints?
  • Write and publish. Use the collaboration exercise to come up with content ideas. Write good content. Then, using analytics, refine and prioritize topics.
  • Apply structure. Define the site map and create wireframes based on the content writing and analytics.

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