Archive | Speaking

Identifying Legitimate Voices

We get into interesting discussions in my disciplines. I feel like a native in both content strategy and information architecture, yet the two very interrelated disciplines are quite different in some ways.

Content strategy is born from two directions:
* Web content creation, editing and management
* Technical communication, which is even older, but now has a significant web presence

Information architecture has roots in library science, but also very clearly in actual architecture, like buildings. Both of these roots make IA the more academically tied of my disciplines.

My journey began in 1995, when I was lucky enough to work for someone who found this whole internet thing interesting, and who was sure there were going to be good ways for organizations to communicate with their customers/members/patients online. We were building client websites by early 1996, and we ran smack into all the issues that pushed the development of these two disciplines.

So my original calling was as a practitioner of these disciplines. And as an early-years practitioner, it was clear that there were no experts. In fact, working for a small, custom publishing firm in Nashville, as soon as I started going to web conferences and talking to other professionals, I quickly realized that I knew just as much as anyone working for a big brand or agency — which is to say, not much.

But we all learned, and over the years and lots of mistakes, these two disciplines emerged. And I grew to be an expert on a number of things related to my work. Hard-earned, sweat-blood-and-tears expertise.

We call these fields “disciplines,” which is interesting in itself, to me. I wouldn’t say that they are “professions,” which to me implies that you get a degree [MD, JD, RN, etc.] or a certification by some authorizing body [CPA, law license, medical license, etc.], or both. While lots of trade associations like to promote certifications, and plenty of perfectly legitimate folks stick letters after their last name, to me, there’s still a big difference between a discipline and a profession.

We also have another interesting distinction, particularly in IA, and that’s between practitioner and academic. I’m in a master’s program in information science at the University of Tennessee [Lord willing I’ll finish in 2014!], and after practicing in my field and related ones for nearly 20 years after my undergraduate degree, I found it very interesting to plunge back into academia.

When you’re a practitioner, you can take any value you like out of academia, and I’d argue the good practitioners do, but you’re most motivated by practical results — thus the title practitioner. Someone who’s practicing. And is practical. [If they aren’t, they won’t be practicing very long.]

When you’re an academic, you don’t have the same pressure to be practical. In fact, you’re judged on an entirely different set of criteria. Did you publish enough this year? In what journals? How many books have you written? What press? Who reviewed your book? What conferences accepted your papers?

I don’t mean to sneeze on these things as a whole — but it’s awfully easy to get entirely divorced from the practical there. So I would also say, the best academics are motivated not just by the surface trappings of their profession, but by the long-term applicability of their work. The best academics stay in close touch with anyone who can use their insights in a practical way, in a symbiotic relationship that grows the discipline as a whole.

Here’s something else that happens when you don’t have a true certification or degree to practice in a field, however: We don’t have any external criteria to identify experts.

And I see a lot of us looking for ways to identify experts….who has standing to speak for us? To us? What is required of someone to stand up and say, “Listen to me!”

I’ve been weighing these things in my mind lately. I’ve done a lot of speaking the last couple of years, and it looks like I’ll do even more in 2013. And since before I started speaking regularly, I thought a lot about whether I was qualified.

My work is very deep in some parts of my disciplines, and barely surface-skimming in others. I have a hybrid of the kind of experience you’d get working at a large agency and what you’d get working for a large corporation, since my entire career has been spent at two small agencies with long-term customers, and one startup. Who’d be interested in what I had to say? Had I worked for enough major brands? Did my work still have value to the larger community? I didn’t have a master’s or doctorate in communication, information sciences, or human-computer interaction.

But I come down on the side that not only does my practical experience have value, so do my ideas that are borne out of that practice. I’ve given different kinds of talks: Some are how-to, some are motivational, some are what-ifs. A couple have been identifying a problem and demanding a solution that I don’t personally have figured out myself.

So in that light, I’m delighted to have helped with a couple of Cranky Talk workshops, the brainchild of Dan Willis and some other experienced speakers. I participated in a Cranky Talk workshop in Chicago in 2011, and “life-changing” would be an understatement. The idea is that new voices matter and have value, and we all ought to be pushing to be our best when we’re sharing ideas.

And then…Boom. There was a little Twitter chat related to this topic between Dan Klyn and Daniel Eizans yesterday, post IA Summit, [two guys I wouldn’t hesitate to call experts], and Dan shared this transcript of Richard Saul Wurman’s keynote at the 2010 IA Summit, which considers the idea of expertise…and stomps it pretty flat. [The transcript is long, but please read it. Really, really valuable.] Wurman says we’re in a world and a discipline that are changing very, very fast, so the idea that we can be “expert” is laughable.

Wow, do I love that.

At the same time, I don’t spit on those who call themselves experts [hey, I’ve done it!], or those of us who look for experts to help guide us. We’re all the blind men feeling the elephant, and it’s going to take all of us to figure it out. Part of the fun is to hear divergent voices and argue the particulars. None of us can own the discipline alone, but we each have important things to offer.

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Join Me at the Nashville Marketing Association Website Smackdown, Feb. 16

I have to confess that though I’ve been a member [even a board member!] of the Nashville chapter of the American Marketing Association for several years, I’ve never before made it to the NAMA Website Smackdown. But I have heard tell. And people, you do NOT want to miss this.

They’ve made sure I’ll clear my calendar this year by putting me on the panel of expert website reviewers. I’ll be covering content issues. Other esteemed panelists:

You don’t HAVE to submit your website to be critiqued, but this is a really cheap site evaluation!

Can’t wait to see you there, so register today!

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Speaking at IndieConf in Raleigh, 11/19

If you’re able to be in Raleigh, NC, on Nov. 19, I hope you’ll join me at IndieConf – a conference for people who are stepping out on their own as web professionals. It’s a great place to tap into the wisdom of other entrepreneurs, and find the support and ideas you need to make a go of it as a freelancer or entrepreneur.

I’ll be speaking about content strategy, of course. The toolbox and the mindset make your marketing and development work easier and more effective, whether you’re an independent web professional or part of a large agency or department.

Let me know if you’re planning to be there — and if you haven’t signed up yet, definitely let me know. I have a few discount codes!

It’s not too late! Sign up today for IndieConf.

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Planning Now for a #contentstrategy SXSW 2012

Well, it’s that time again — time that all the web-nerds penciled in our calendars months ago: The SXSW Panel Picker is open for voting!

If you’ve never been to the all-things-web-digital-music-and-film that is SXSW in Austin each March, I’m not sure where to begin. Last year I remember hearing that there were more than 25,000 attendees at just the Interactive part of the festival, making it the largest part of the event. SXSW pitches itself as uniquely focused on the creative side of the web, and I think there’s something to that. But there’s something for EVERYONE there, no matter your discipline.

In that vein, let me give you a little pitch for my discipline, content strategy.

Over the past few years, the SXSW sessions focusing on content have grown in number, and in my judgment, in quality as well. This year, there are a number of great-looking content sessions proposed in the Panel Picker, but we need your help. About 3600 sessions were proposed total this year, and they’ll take 500. The odds aren’t good for any one session, so content needs your votes and comments to shine strong at the conference.

Here are the ones I’ve specifically voted for. I’d value your thoughts and votes on my own proposal, but also on others that interest you. [You do have to create an account — free! — and sign in to vote. Speaking as someone who spent some time developing just my own proposal, I really appreciate your input!]

First, my proposed session:
Content Structure: Frame It Right, Make It Work
I’m planning to talk about content structure, metadata and information architecture — and how to use structure to make your processes more efficient and your copy easier to manage. I’d love your votes and comments!

Other sessions that got my thumbs-up today: 

Margot Bloomstein’s proposed session: Contextually Relevant Content Strategy
Margot is a smart, smart woman. I’ve heard her speak more than once and I’ve followed her thoughts online for some time. When she’s talking content strategy, it’s good stuff.

Panel moderated by Kristina Halvorson, with Joe Gollner, Erin Kissane, Mark McCormick and Karen McGrane: Rude Awakening: Content Strategy Is Super Hard
Amen. Some great names in the discipline gather to talk through the thorny questions.

Jeff Pfaller’s proposed session: Understanding Digital Content and Human Behavior
Optimizing your content for humans.

Amy Thibodeau’s panel: Copy Matters: Content Strategy for the Interface
Man, do we need this.

Once and Future King: Can Syndication Save Content?
I’ve spent large parts of the past couple of years trying to convince publishers that syndication is a revenue stream, to no avail. I’d been content to let the industry die, but sounds like this panel will try again to convince them. Bravo!

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Content Strategy: It’s About the Mindset

My talk Friday to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s interactive SIG really underlined to me that content strategy is at least as much a mindset as it is a set of tools. We had a number of experienced web professionals in the room — from design, strategy, content, programming backgrounds — and the questions and comments really focused on two areas:

  • What do you put into a content inventory?
  • Whoa. This is a new way of thinking about things.

I find that as a group, content strategists are obsessed with how other CSers do inventories and audits. We are looking for the Holy Grail. We want there to be a single solution that answers all questions. I did my first, honest-to-God, inventory-for-the-sake-of-inventory about 6 years ago, and I’ve done countless ones since. And no two have ever been the same. Sure, I always start with URL and headline, but each one has been different, based on what we’re evaluating.

It goes back to the principle we work on at Creekmore Consulting: Content comes second, because your business goal has to come first. Give me your business goal, and then we can start talking about what your inventory should look like.

And that gets us right back to the mindset, doesn’t it? Content strategy helps you put the business goal first, and it lets the rest of your work flow down from that. We choose the tools, the technology and yes, even the content, based on your business needs.

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Laura Creekmore speaking at Nashville Chamber 8/5/2011

Update, 8/6/2011: If you wanted to see the slides from my talk on content strategy and marketing yesterday, they’re now available on SlideShare.

I’m really excited about an upcoming event — I’m speaking to the Nashville Chamber’s interactive shared interest group on Friday, Aug. 5.

Here’s the description:

Content Strategy: A Framework for Marketing Success

Content strategy is a framework to help you make better decisions about managing content as a business asset.

Great writing is an art, but business realities demand that we standardize and structure our content for maximum effectiveness. Content strategy gives you the tools to spend your marketing time and money well, whether you’re working on your website, a software product or designing a social media campaign. This session will explain how content strategy can improve your marketing results, and it will walk you step by step through the content strategy framework, giving you ideas to improve your work today.

The event is open to all Nashville Chamber members. Hope you can join us.

 

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My BarCamp Nashville session: Content Strategy…Or Else

Here’s the promo I just added to the BarCamp Nashville site:

Content strategy’s quite the buzzword these days. But what does it really mean? Does incorporating content strategy mean your web projects are going to be shiny and glorious? [Don’t we all hope!] Or that they’ll be more expensive, take longer, and get more complex? [No!]

Content strategy is the underpinning of a sound web project, and chances are, you’re doing some of it already. Learn the pieces/parts of content strategy in this session, from business goals to audits to information architecture to content retirement planning.

You’ll leave knowing how to be more intentional about your content. You’ll know how to prevent the train wreck that derails many a web project. And you’ll have all the lowdown on the latest web buzzword.

Please sign up now—it will be a great way to learn about how content strategy can improve your web projects.

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BarCamp Nashville: Sign Up Today

Tomorrow’s the first day to pitch speaking proposals for BarCamp Nashville 2010. Last year, I was able to attend just a couple of sessions, but they were great, and topics were really varied….but there wasn’t a ton on content strategy. So I’ll be pitching a session tomorrow. Watch for more details on that.

In the meantime, sign up now to attend BarCamp Nashville. It’s free, and it’s better than a lot of conferences you’d pay good money and travel to attend. [Note: the BarCamp movement calls for a particular style of “unconference” — and except for the first year, Nashville’s BarCamp has not really adhered to that loose, unplanned style. While BCN still bills itself as an unconference, you’re going to find well-planned, well-delivered presentations on a variety of topics, and logistics planning around food and events that put many expensive conferences to shame. It’s an outstanding day.]

Nashville’s digital community is not as well-hidden as we used to be, but I think it’s still fair to say that we’re emerging. I think the great news is, I’ve worked in digital media here for 15 years, and I used to know everyone in town in my industry. I haven’t been able to say that for several years, and I’m networking more than ever.

So, sign up for BarCamp today. You’ll get great ideas and you’ll meet some great folks in digital media.

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