Launching another salvo in the content strategy-UX war

Update, 8p: I’ve just heard from Melissa Rach about the context that Twitter can’t provide. It’s some great info and I’ll share it here.

From Melissa:

I really appreciate you letting me know about this blog. I wasn’t able to get on Twitter all day (computer meltdown), but I was told that the quote was taken out of context. What I actually said, is pretty much what you say in the second-to-last paragraph of the blog (I agree wholeheartedly). I also agree [with] you that [it] is part of our job to make sure the organization knows what the user wants (that was in a different part of the presentation.)

My definition of content strategy is something along the lines of “helping organizations use content to achieve their business goals.”  And, it’s true, I intentionally leave “users” out of that statement. But, I do that for several reasons:

1. (most importantly) — serving the user should be one of the business goals we are trying to achieve. If the organization isn’t committed to an overall relationship with the user, the content will not be supported and have a difficult time being successful. (It’s a battle we can’t win).

2. A really great content strategy is the combination of three things: user perspectives, business perspectives, and content “best practices.” However, during strategy work, if you say the business perspective and the user perspective have exactly the same weight — in my experience, you get businesses creating types and quantities of content they can not maintain, which is not good for the user or the business. So, we need to say “here’s what the user wants” and temper that with “this is what we can handle right now.”

3. Some organizations get really limited by the user research — they can’t innovate beyond what the users specifically asked for. As, the old saying goes, if you asked people in 1900 about transportation needs, they would have said “faster horses” not “automobiles” — because they didn’t know those things were possible. So, as a strategist, we need to help companies have room to innovate in order to improve the overall user experience even more than users could imagine.

So, actually, I think we’re pretty aligned — and I would appreciate it if you would amend the post to say so.

P.s. There are actually examples of enormously successful (but of somewhat unethical) content strategies that actually do exactly the opposite of the what is in the users’ best interest. Not something I would advocate, but interesting to read about. The IBM FUD example is an interesting one:,_uncertainty_and_doubt

I’m going to leave the original since Melissa refers to it, and because I DO see people using the business-only perspective.

Original: It’s been a long time since my mouth fell open at something I heard at a conference, but it happened to me today. I want to say that the unfortunate part is, it happened at a session I wasn’t in. So from the outset, perhaps I’ll get corrected or someone can clarify that the tweet I read was completely out of content….but I asked about that and got more context, and my mouth was still open.

Earlier this year, Erin Kissane wrote a broad post on the Brain Traffic blog talking about where content strategy fits in the web strategy landscape. I largely agree with her post. [Following is the part that no longer applies:], but I can’t agree with a comment from her colleague Melissa Rach that was tweeted today. [But this part still does!] I’ll say first, I momentarily met Rach Sunday night and she seems lovely, and by all accounts, her presentation on strategy today was one of the highlights of Confab. I’m sorry I missed it.

Here are the two tweets that rearranged my face [See context above!]:

@CSApplied2012 As a strategist I’m here to help the business achieve their goals – user isn’t in my definition @melissarach #confab

@CSApplied2012 Content strategists serve the business and through the business we serve the user @Melissarach #confab

It may just be that I approach my work from a different perspective. But to me, in my work, the user experience is primary. If the business goal isn’t aligned with user goals, you aren’t going to succeed. And the business perspective is fine, as long as the business actually understands its users. But I find that many, many organizations do not even bother to ask their current customers what they need. They just assume they know.

So I think the first job of any successful content strategist has to remain helping a business figure out what its customer actually needs. We have to be user-focused first, or we can’t help the business in the end.

Don’t Let Your Experience Be Your Guide

If you’re in the web industry, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that everyone — and I mean everyone — is an expert on what the web should be doing. It’s similar to education in this way: We all went to school, so we all think we know how a school ought to work. The same mindset applies when we use the web.

You hear web project managers, designers, programmers and others complain about this — the marketing director who likes the color green, so the site must be green, or the CFO who doesn’t use Google, so he won’t approve an expenditure for any site search technology….the list goes on.

Unfortunately, I’ve also run across this attitude in other web professionals. It’s an easy bias to have: We know how we search/browse/like images/don’t like images/expect to find content/like our forms to look, so it’s all too easy to say, “The way you want to do it is [list your personal favorite way].”

So when you’re hiring web professionals to work on a project, you don’t want to know their favorite way. We’ve all got our own biases. Just because I can use your site search engine for 10 minutes and find any document on command doesn’t mean your customers can or will. Hire the person who can tell you how most people like to do it, or even better, who can figure out how your site users like to do it.

And whatever you do, make sure you’ve got a better reason for your site design….or your navigation philosophy….or your content categorization, than, “makes sense to me.”

P.S.: This is the first post I’ve written in an editing swap with Matthew Grocki. Thanks for the cleanup, Matthew!

Crazy-smart small detail in Flickr search

So I’m looking up some Creative Commons images on Flickr for a presentation I’m finalizing. And I just noticed a crazy-smart detail in the Flickr search.

I’m clicking from page to page in the search results, using the numbered buttons shown here.

Screen shot 2009-09-22 at 2.01.25 PMI noticed that I was just clicking over and over as I paged through the results, without moving my hand on my trackpad. That’s because Flickr moves the numberline each time I click. So now that I’m on page 14, page 15 is under my cursor. When I click that button, Flickr moves the line so that 16 is under my cursor.

I love this.