An Event Apart: Content/Communication

by August 6, 2013

At An Event Apart in Washington DC 2013, Kristina Halvorson talked about the importance working together collaboratively when dealing with content issues on the Web. Here's my notes from her talk Content/Communication:

  • Content Strategy as a discipline gained a lot of popularity online. This lead to lots requests for content strategy help. Clients would call overwhelmed, under budget, needing affirmation and be jaded about their content. Telling them they are doing it wrong only made things worse. They needed content "therapy".
  • Most content problems are not tied to deliverables like content audits. They come from people, groups, territorial issues, and more. Why are our people responsible for creating all of our content problems? We have things missing in our teams and process that prevent us from collaborating effectively.
  • A framework for collaboration can provide a way for us to think and talk about how and why we work together.

Collaboration Framework

  • Five things: objectives, strategy, principles, roles, and perceptions.
  • An objective is a concrete goal. For the individual, it is defined by personal or shared gain. In business, it is defined by customer success (external) or cost savings (internal).
  • Objectives connect our work to a bottom line. They help us understand how the work we are doing aligns with the bigger picture.
  • Business objectives come form the top and half the time we have no idea what those are or what they have to do with us. Activity does not equal productivity.
  • Ask the ever important question: why are we doing this? In what context is this project being completed. How do my activities contribute to specific objectives? You'll find this helps to motivate you.
  • Strategy gives you a way to reach your objectives. Make your strategy focused and simple. It needs to be a rally cry for your team that provides people a shared, long-term direction for their short-term goals and activities. This needs to guide the team.
  • Principles help bring teams together and form a culture.
  • The site is driven by a set of principles that are organized around people's actual needs. Principles keep us accountable to our values and embody our way of working together.
  • Often times principles that come down from leadership are crap. You can't apply them to real life. Make your own for your team.
  • Roles are not unique jobs. We all play different roles on teams -they shape what we think is important and organize our activities.
  • Collaboration helps you prepare for what's happening next.
  • We can't get married to a single process. Different approaches work or fail because of people.
  • The RACI model can help you determine how people's roles align in a big organization. R: who is responsible, AA: who is accountable, C: who must be consulted, I: who must be kept informed.
  • In any role you are responsible for making sure your tasks accomplish something useful. Align tactics with strategy.
  • We all need to be better listeners. You can only communicate with someone on their own terms. They can't hear you if you don't speak their language.
  • Content strategy skills must include translating and negotiating, so we can facilitate communication between disparate disciplines and help them to communicate. Content strategy needs to be a translator because everyone touches the content.
  • Getting to a shared language means learning how to explain yourself so other people can understand you. Ask for clarity if you need it.
  • Platitudes like "believe in yourself" leave a bad taste in our mouths but we still have to deal with people's feelings and issues.
  • In a major study of teams, the greatest predictor of a team's achievement was how the members felt about each other.
  • If people can't hear you, it is on you to tell a better story.