Content is About Service and Design: Lessons From 18F’s Content Design Manager, Nicole Fenton

My notes from 18F’s Nicole Fenton’s, presentation, which might also be enjoyed by other content strategists.

Last Tuesday night, I attended a content meetup at Huge in Brooklyn, and I’m so glad I did. I left feeling inspired, reaffirmed and was reminded of simple practices that make all the difference in content strategy.

I also met some really smart people, who love content (possibly my favorite combination), and to make sure I remembered their insights, I decided to write a blog post about it so 1) they can be shared with others who love content strategy (which might lead to fun discussion!) and 2) so I can reference these learnings quickly and easily for myself.

The Speaker: Nicole Fenton

The speaker of last week’s Content Meetup was Nicole Fenton who manages the content design team at 18F, a digital agency that — the way I see it — is modernizing government communications. She most recently worked on an open-source data project for the FBI, where she helped make crime data more easy to find and understandable to those of us who don’t spend our days deep in crime data research.

As a result of her and her team’s work, crime data will become more comprehendible, ultimately leading to better informed discussions and thus policy change in the future. (*queue applause*)

With careful deconstruction and reconstruction, Nicole has been helping bring clarity and simplicity to the FBI’s communications around crime data, without losing its accuracy or meaning. A sign of a true talent.

You can absorb her years of practice and learnings in the book she co-authored called, “Nicely Said” (which I have been using profusely to help better my company’s content strategy) and on her online portfolio. She also has a monthly newsletter (that I just signed up for), and a class at SVA if you’re interested. But perhaps even more meaningful than her brilliant resources, is that she’ll take the time to talk to you after an event, which is not always common for people that are in such high demand. Thank you Nicole for your time.

Alright, let’s get to the learnings.

YAY The Learnings!

  1. “Content is not just about the words on the page. It’s about service design.” — Nicole Fenton. I’m hoping I interpreted this one right when I summarize this to mean that content is also UX. After hearing this I went back to my company blog and took the time to look at it again through the eyes of first-time visitors and re-organized our blog posts and topics. As currently a team of one, I find that the majority of my work focuses on content ideation, creation and distribution, so this was a great reminder to continually check to see that the user is in fact, getting what they need from us.
  2. Have stakeholders write quotes about what they want to be said about their site. I love this exercise. Not only does it help enrich your vision for the site, but their answers will also help you get words for tone directly from the voices that make up the organization (important for consistency).
  3. Don’t tell people how to interpret the data. While this philosophy was engrained in me during my journalism school years, I love the simplicity of this statement. When broadened, it highlights a basic belief I have that writing is almost always more effective when the reader can come to a conclusion on their own.
  4. Are you being sensitive and accurate? This is all about earning an someone’s trust — and what do you need to keep customers coming back time and time again? Trust. Who are your customers? Your company’s blog readers! ..most of them.. we hope :)
  5. Treejack is a platform you can use for testing how users navigate your site. I don’t have much to say about this one except that it seems like an awesome program. I’ve added it to the list of future tools to enhance our company blog.

Overall, I was reminded once again that simplicity and clarity on purpose are tough to nail simultaneously, but ultimately a sign of work done by the greats.

And finally, I’ll end with this quote that came to mind after considering how much I got out of this event.

“Eighty percent of success is just showing up” — Woody Allen.

If you want to attend the next HUGE content event in NYC, RSVP on their Meetup Page.