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Starting the Content Strategy workshop, Kristina Halvorson introduces herself and her background with content strategy. After suggesting that crucial part of Content Strategy is actively listening to other people, she asks the students to interview each other about their primary pain points with content.

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Transcript from the "Introduction" Lesson

>> So I'm Kristina, and I had my start as a copywriter back in the mid 90s, and when the web became commercialized in about 97, I decided that I was going to double down on writing for websites. And so I started working with a lot of agencies who were also very excited about this thing called the web.

[00:00:23] So, I very, very quickly came to realize that writing for websites was not at all like writing for sure a catalog. I did a lot of studying around usability testing and information architecture and experience design. And what I found was a complete lack of knowledge or instruction around writing, or creating content for the digital environment.

[00:00:46] And it was one thing to worry about how do you write for online readers? And how do you structure content on the page for online readers? It was quite another thing to try to find information about how to get and plan for content that was gonna be useful and usable to the online reader.

[00:01:05] And so what would happen is that I would walk into these teams and they would say things like, okay, we've been on the project for nine months, and the design is done, the AI is done, the coding is done. And now we've got our dev team sitting on their hands waiting for the content, and that's where you come in.

[00:01:21] And I get handed a sitemap with a bunch of labels. So I'd go in and I'd make a content inventory which we'll talk about just a list of content requirements in a spreadsheet. And I tried to start writing but I would have no idea what the page objectives are, who the core audiences were, what the core what the key messaging was, how the pages were linked together in the user experience journey.

[00:01:40] I wouldn't know anything about the search strategy, who is gonna write the metadata, where the error messages were gonna come from. I had just a million questions and nobody could answer them for me, or nobody wanted to answer them for me. Because I had Microsoft Word and I was a writer, so I was just supposed to be able to create the content.

[00:02:00] Just like they expected the client was going to just magically create the content and handle the content over, and that just never ever, ever happened. We'd be missing all the H tags, and I mean, it was just a disaster. And so I ended up kind of backing into this thing called content strategy, which I didn't really realize was content strategy.

[00:02:19] But I just started inserting myself into these meetings earlier and earlier in the project process, which of course, nobody wanted to pay for. Because they'd already spent their $96 and they had $4 left for content, all thousand pages of it. So I imagine my delight when I found out that this was a thing called content strategy.

[00:02:40] So I wrote a book about the topic in 2009, it was the first book that was published on content strategy for the web. And that has served I think the community and writers and content strategists and experienced designers and developers for a while. So I've done a ton of teaching on the process.

[00:03:00] We also host a content strategy conference here in town every year called Confab that welcomes folks from all different disciplines. Which is kind of always been the vision of the conference that everybody that does all the things related to the internet across now all of its glorious platforms and screens would kind of come together to have real conversations about the complexities of content.

[00:03:22] So we're gonna dig into those complexities today. We're also gonna talk about the strategy part of content strategy, which will get us out of I think our day to day sort of to dos that we have in project mindset. And so even if some of this is not directly applicable to your day to day work, what I find I really enjoy just sort of thinking about it, getting my brain wrapped around it, and pushing myself to think in different ways.

[00:03:51] It's good for the elasticity of my brain. So hopefully you guys will have some good takeaways and some good thinking time. Okay, great. So, what is the single most important skill for a content strategist? It's not what you think and I'm not gonna make you try to answer because you're all still waking up and none of you will.

[00:04:12] It is listening. And this is the first and last you'll see a PowerPoint clip art guy, but I came across him and I just couldn't resist. The very, very early part of any project is exactly when we need to start talking about the content. And as a content strategist, it's our job to ask really good smart questions that will help people see the complexities of content that they are committing to.

[00:04:44] Or that it's not just a brainstorm and it's not just an outline that we're gonna create, that it is more than just post it notes up on a wall. Because we can start that conversation early is going to lay the foundation for much smoother process later on in the project, and people will be more invested.

[00:05:03] The secret of conversation is that the more you can get the other person to talk, the more that person is gonna trust you and like you. So, it can be extremely difficult when we're sitting in meetings and people are questioning our work, or have different priorities than we do, or are just saying dumb things that are making us crazy.

[00:05:25] But if we can listen actively and reflect back to people what it is that they're saying, it actually creates pathways for them to be able to listen to us and to our perspective. So we're gonna start today by interviewing each other, which I know you're all excited about.

[00:05:47] If you're at home, you can interview yourselves [LAUGH] or your cat. So this is, I don't know how much, one of the things that I see in content is that a lot of the disconnects that happened are because content, we'll talk about this two content activities, are really spread out throughout a team or an organization.

[00:06:10] It's very rare that we have like this beautiful centralized content strategy team that is connecting all the dots between all the different functions. They usually there are conversations happening about content in IT, for example, and conversations happening in marketing and conversations happening in UX design, and conversations happening within the subject matter experts.

[00:06:28] And there's no connective tissue between those things, and that's the role that content strategy can play. So, if there are pain points that you are experiencing with content, the best way to begin to solve them is to sit down with somebody over coffee and just say, tell me about what your pain points are, where you see opportunities.

[00:06:47] So, here are the questions that I would like to have you guys think about. We don't need to go on to what do you think will make this project a success necessarily. What I would love to do is have you just sit with each other, ask about what your role is, either within your organization or this time in your career.

[00:07:10] If you can just give observations about what you have seen and his primary pain points in the development part or design process with content, that would be terrific. If you haven't had that much experience working directly with a writer or with a content strategist at all, maybe you wanna talk about just general pain points you as a web user experience with content online.

[00:07:34] There are so much pain and suffering around the topic of content [LAUGH] that I just encourage you to sort of explore that with each other. And then what I'd like to have you do is try to differentiate between what the symptoms are and the cause. But here's why we're gonna do this, is that one of you is going to be the interviewer and one of you is going to be the interviewee.

[00:07:59] And as the interviewer, here are your directions, okay? One thing that happens when we are interviewing is that our own perspectives and ideas and thoughts start to bubble up. And we either want to add our two cents or empathize or jump in with a solution. This is a huge thing that I see especially with experience consultants is that I often say that there are 1,000,001 content symptoms, and a very finite number of actual problem causes.

[00:08:31] I want to go back and talk about that real quick, too. So, I feel like I've seen just about everything there is to see when in terms of dysfunction content within teams and organizations. But it's very important for me not to jump in and go, yeah, I've seen that before, and you know one thing that we should talk about is, and jump to solution.

[00:08:52] So, your first job as an interviewer is to just be quiet and listen. If you have to take notes, ask permission. Before you do start taking notes, I want to encourage you all to take notes in these mock interview sessions, because the art of listening and writing at the same time is something that needs to be kind of developed.

[00:09:13] I typically we'll take notes by hand just because it allows me a more personal connection with the person that I'm interviewing, but I certainly will let you do whatever you're most comfortable with. Don't finish sentences. Don't try to relate. Don't offer solutions or insights on the spot. And then this is like one of the most magical things that can happen especially when somebody is feeling defensive and shuts down.

[00:09:38] Or just says yes or no or gives a very abrupt answer, is to be able to just say these like magical words, which is tell me more about that and it just really opens up. This is a magical phrase, I use with my children when they're just like, no.

[00:09:54] It just helps people open up and again, the more you can get them talking, the more you're going to be able to establish kind of that trust with them, okay? All right, what I wanted to talk about with symptoms and causes. So let me give you a few examples.

[00:10:12] So, we earlier before we started streaming a question had come up came up very, very quickly around legal, and how difficult it can be when you craft this gorgeous content and it is onpoint, it's readable, it's scannable, it's the messaging is consistent. It serves user top tasks, all this great stuff, and then you hand it off to legal and legal just completely destroys it, right?

[00:10:40] And it comes back and it's crap. So we can say, that's the problem. But there is a difference between a problem symptom and a problem cause. And actually legals coming back with a bunch of legal lease, and us being frustrated, and being in pain, that's actually a symptom.

[00:10:57] The cause of this, is that legal does not understand, or does not care about the ultimate usability and findability and relevancy of that content. And so, if that then is our actual problem cause, there are a couple of solutions to it, one of which is simply to get them educated through a series of meetings or interviews, or tell me more about that.

[00:11:26] I'll actually give you a metaphor that I use quite a bit about when we're sick. So, if I have a sore throat, I'm like, my throat is sore, well, that's not my problem, right? I mean, that's a symptom, that is a symptom. To find out the cause of that symptom, we go to the doctor.

[00:11:45] And the doctor will give a diagnosis and say, well, okay you have strep. So then there is a treatment plan, and then there is follow up throughout on that treatment. And a lot of times this is really effective way to think about it when we are diagnosing our content problems as well, okay?

[00:12:03] So as you're interviewing, try to differentiate in your own mind the difference between what a symptom might be. And then part of our role as content strategists is digging in and identifying the root cause so we can come up with a treatment plan, okay? All right, so I am going to actually list those three things as your questions.

[00:12:27] So if you guys can partner up and anybody that's available, I think that we have an odd number of, no, we don't we haven't even number of folks here now. So, let's take about five minutes on each side, you can decide who's gonna be the interviewer and who's gonna be the interviewee, and we'll go