2015#7 Surviving content shock

Last week I gave a talk about ‘overcoming content shock’ for Techmap’s regular meet up in London.

It’s something I think about all the time.

How do we stop feeling overwhelmed by demand, stakeholders, data, learning and frustration?

Knowledge plays a huge role in managing the feeling of being overwhelmed because it helps us:

  • Prioritise demand
  • Push back on stakeholders
  • See the story behind the data; customers/users/people instead of numbers/statistics
  • Collaborate more which means we learn a little about a lot
  • Feel empathy with disciplines for smoother projects

Here are the key things I talked about…

1. Shock of the new

I noticed a huge change in content, communications and community around 1995 when I started talking to people in online forums. It was around 2000, when I was a director at a PR agency, when it began to change client work.

We were moving from traditional content distribution (press releases by post) to online content and real-time feedback. The audience’s reactions informed content in a way that we’d never seen before. We’d gone from broadcast to engage.

At the time I was a consultant news editor for the Department of Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund (ESF). They needed to communicate policy changes, share success stories and increase project outcomes (more people in employment) for ESF-funded projects. Broadcasting wasn’t working and they wanted to get two-way feedback going.

We launched an enewsletter and website which had a listening ear symbol at the end of each story with an email address to encourage project managers to email in their questions, stories and feedback. This was answered personally and swiftly by the ESF team.

It sounds laughable now, but it was the beginning of what we now call ‘engagement’, the ask, listen and change cycle.

2. Client need > user need

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is ripping up traditional models of production for its digital services and they believe striving for perfect is futile.

Revolution is painful and messy. Clients are struggling to move from the safe zone of ‘published perfection’ to the risky unknown. It’s our job to educate and convince them to make the leap.

In the last few months, I’ve found this diagram can help when clients want to reuse material or create assumption-based content. It puts user need at the centre of content creation and helps push back client or stakeholder needs.

3. Knowing me, knowing you

Since 2000, the biggest change we’ve seen is around data. It was expensive to get close to the user 15 years ago. It involved specialist agencies, telephone surveys and mega reports, which clients simply didn’t want to pay for very often, if at all.

I remember creating copy without having to analyse data sets. Now we can get data for free or cheaply and it’s our starting point for content strategy. We want to understand who we’re trying to target, their motivations and how they connect to us.

The downside is we’re drowning in data and we can forget that the numbers and statistics are real people. Personas help us build a story for each user group and they are vital for matching content to the audience segment.

4. Sowing the seed

Content distribution is also shifting and social media is the new postal service. Yet social media constantly changes the rules and we’re trying to keep up. Organic reach is dead, platforms are flooded with content and it’s harder than ever to get noticed. We need budget to really make the most of these platforms, but clients have yet to ramp up their digital spend adequately.

There’s also a rigid focus on reaching the perfect core audience via social and a fear of wasting spend on non-core. We need to help clients feel confident in casting their social net wide, so they make the most of people’s broad, personal networks.

Critical mass is making money for entrepreneurs. Social Chain has set up comedy and parody accounts and attracted large followings — around 209 million. They can now get hashtags trending on Twitter just through sheer follower volume and are working with major brands.

5. Sharing personas

The change in content distribution means it’s important to think through why someone would share something.

Sharing involves complex motivation triggers.The image above shows research by the New York Times into the personas of sharing. It shows that the desire to share goes way beyond offers of a prize or money. Increasingly people want to be directly involved with brands.

One Direction, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber have amassed enormous communities by rewarding fan content marketing. Today’s official fan forums or apps swap engagement for coins or similar, this earned community status can be exchanged for exclusives. This strategy creates an army of authentic content producers who respond to official content in real-time. It’s powerful when you see it in action and worth far more than any advertising.

6. Collaboration

Working in a multi disciplinary team with a broad range of skills helps you identify bad ideas more quickly than if you work in silo. You need people to challenge your ideas, question your thought processes, improve on your creativity and help you understand when you’re heading down a dead end.

Working closely with other disciplines — design, digital strategy, analysts, UX, project managers — grows knowledge. Instead of hiding that I am a generalist, I’ve come to understand that there is a huge advantage in being one and having knowledge about a wide range of disciplines. It makes you empathetic, useful and collaborative on projects.

In fact growing knowledge is the key. Being a lifelong learner, remaining curious, ditching the bad and sharing what you know are the only ways to survive content shock.

Originally published at 100and40.tumblr.com on May 4, 2015.