Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Future Proofing Your Content: The Importance of Content Strategy in An Increasingly Mobile World

Ann Rockley gave the LavaCon closing keynote.

More and more publishers are putting out eBooks, mobile, smaller chunks of information.

89 percent of people in the U.S. access the Internet from their mobile phone.It's more than just reading. It's finding things. It's doing things. There are 5.3 billion people worldwide using mobile, and many are skipping the landlines.

So is it all about designing for a small screen?

With eBooks, page size, resolution, navigation is different. As with mobile. We have to re-think our content.

No more "re-thinking." Do it right from the beginning. It won't impact you when that next device arrives. And it will arrive.

Don't fall into the format trap. Handcrafting is unsustainable. Devices are proliferating just too fast. Functionality varies across devices. You just can;t keep up.

The solution is to design a format-free content strategy. That doesn't mean "eBooks first" or "mobile first."  Think content first!

Develop structure-free content models. You also need a reuse strategy and a metadata strategy.  Metadata is key for accessing and repurposing information and telling devices about your content.

Publishing eBooks is not easy. But you can't get it done, keep up with changes, by using a print-centric model.
  • To future proof content:
  • Determine the primary content.
  • What content can be layered or scrolled?
  • What content can be eliminated?
  • What alternate content should be presented, and what structure will support this?
If you think modular and succinct, you can support just about anything.

As long as you have structure, you're not tied to any format. It can go to multiple channels. It can be filtered, layered, it can be progressively revealed.

Identify structured writing guidelines. Come up with a reuse strategy.Come up with a good taxonomy and good metadata.

XML provides an industry standard for structured content. There are many implementations and structures, and it doesn't have to be in your face.

Look at ROI over the first 3 years. You're not going to see any in the first year, and if your company expects that, they are just wrong. 

How to Produce Amazing Webinars

Sharon Burton gave this as one of the final breakout sessions of the 2012 LavaCon, and I decided to take this one in as something that looked interesting, rather than necessary.

Weninars should be part of your social media plan, part of your content strategy and content develpment plan. They are a way to engage with your customers and users.

Webinars increase product and industry buzz, introduces your product to potential customers, positions your company as a leader in the field, and supports current users with in-depth demonstrations on advanced topics.

you and your company can look clueless if you have bad topics or a badly run webinar, or look like a genius if you have great topics and an exciting series.

Sales is not a good option to run webinars, although they will want to.  Marketing may be, if they are a technical marketing group, but if it's all shiny, customers will see that there is no content and leave. Support sees it as a way to reduce support calls, but they tend to only to webinars on the topic of "how to work around X," which makes your company only interested in making products that require workarounds. Upper management wants to talk about the company vision, but customers want concrete content. Tech comm people are perfectly positioned.

Webinar ideas don't appear like a bolt of lightning. You have to come up with ideas. Do research about what the competition is doing. You have to schedule them--and be careful about when: watch what else is going on, both in your industry and in life (such as holidays). Finding and managing guest speakers can be interesting. And of course you have to write webinar content, including white papers. People like having a thing when they are done with a webinar.

Afterwards, follow up. Write survey questions and evaluate results. Include a question on suggested topics for further webinars.

What are good topics? Think about the audience. Current customers? Potential customers/ Decision makers? C-level executives? Industry influencers?
  • Advanced topics for existing customers are always in demand.
  • Product demonstrations--but these are not sales, but pick a thing that your product solves (and never talk about how to buy the product).
  • In-depth product dives.
  • Survey results.
  • Top 5 or 10 things you need to know abou... (and "about" is not your product)
  • Where the industry will be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years (if your C-levels really want to give a webinar)
 Make your topics product-neutral.

You'd be shocked to find out how many people are willing to speak in your webinars for free.

Start internally to find speakers, from support, management, and training. Find conferences, work your network, look on Twitter to find external speakers.  Happy customers are one of your great speakers bases,, and they are doing interesting things. People trust case study information more than just about anything else we do.

As far as scheduling, probably want to do 1 ever 2 weeks, per track. If your company has a lot of verticals, this can take a lot of time. (But you don't have to start with that much.) Nothing says "we care about you" like a lot of free information. Find a time that works for the bulk of your markets, but understand at least half the world is not going to attend live--and that's OK!

You're missing as much of 50% of your audience if you're not recording your webinars. 

There is no "best" tool. Look at:
  • Is the UI easy to understand?
  • Is it complicated to create webinars? Can you create templates for reuse?
  • Can you have multiple speakers without adding accounts?
  • Can you create and sent email notifications?
  • Does it manage the signup process for you?
  • Does it record? And in what format?
  • Can you mute attendees?
  • Does it host recordings? And if so, what are the space limits? (And make sure you archive your content locally.)
  • Can you run polls during the webinars?
  • Can you send surveys after the webinar?
  • Do you get attendee reports?
  • Can you brand invitations and other public-facing pages?
  • Does it require Flash or other tech your users don't have?
  • Can attendees chat with you and other attendees?
Dos and Don'ts

Mute your audience. Business areas are not quiet. Attendees want to hear you, not your audience.

Use backup support. Someone to answer questions behind the scenes, handling technical support, etc. Make this a non-speaking person. You can't manage this while you are trying to present.

Give enough lead time. At least a week's notice. People have busy workdays, and you need time for social media to get the word out.

Don't do a bait-and-switch presentation. Don't publicize a topic and then do whatever you want. This almost always happens when you let your C-level executives do their thing. Do what you said you were going to do.

Learn your webinar technology. If you don't know, you lose credibility. If you have a guest speaker, make sure they know beforehand.

Once you have a webinar, you have an hour of content. Can you break that content up into pieces and reuse those pieces?

Monitoring Social Media for Documentation Customer Feedback

Rhyne Armstrong, who used to write scripts for haunted houses, started by saysng that the alternate title for this presentation is....

<cue haunted music>

It Came From the Intenet...!"

First, you have to prepare yourself. The Internet is a spooky place. For a long time, we could write in our cubes, send stuff out, and never get any feedback. We've gone from where we can hide within our organizational structure to where we have to get out there.

Because they are talking about you--and your documentation. If you're not in the conversation--if you're not leading the conversation--you may have this "crapstorm" going on about you without you knowing about it.

Social media does not belong to the marketing world.

Lots of free tools to do tracking, including Google Alerts, retweetrank.com, Klout, Bitly, SocialBro, and others. There are pro versions of many of these, and you can also pay 9big bucks sometimes) for monitoring. A number of companies are in the social media monitoring space.

Most people aren't looking for your manuals--that they can find on your website. They are looking for "how do I do X with Y?" 

3 ways to distribute documentation for feedback: passive, seductive, and aggressive.

Passive is like a mummy. When you publish and wait for feedback, it's a good start. Results can be skewed (usually negative), and you can always be putting out fires. Feedback is because they had a problem.

Seductive is like a vampire. It brings users to your content. Can be done through Facebook or Twitter. Asking them to come to your content, but not necessarily asking for feedback.

Aggressive is like a werewolf. Go where your users are. Put a face with the content. Announce, solicit, and respond. Communicate! It can be dangerous. It can be a full-time job to do this. But it becomes your documentation as much as your documentation.

Don't forget to use your braaaaiiiins...... (tips for surviving the zombie holocaust as well as social media.)

Sharing is better than feedback, which is better than silence.

 Never stop running. If you go silent, at least leave a breadcrumb trail to reach you.

Stick together. Work with other teams.

Unleash the beast. Let your documentation go.

Don't freak out. Don't get anxious when you get negative comments. You never know who is on the other side of the twitter ID. Gracefully, calmly respond. But don't always automatically capitulate.

Stay out of the woods. Don't use too many tools. Better to stay in the clear, where you can see things coming at you. You can't spend so much time distributing documentation that you forget to write good documentation.

You really have to consider the source. If CNN retweets something, you have to respond. Look at how many followers tweeters have. Try not to get management involved; C-levels either want to do something Right Now or they deny that it's an issue. 

When you're compiling metrics, don't use individual tweets.

New Voice, New Tone, New Information Architecture: Writing for the Modern Developer

Keith Boyd has spent 13 years (today!) at Microsoft, all of it in the Content Publishing group.

There are now (at least) 3 playforms that developers can develop for globall. So we asked how content strategy can better help developers work with Windows.

The problems were typical, lots of legacy content, siko'd teams, and so on. With Windows 8, trying a new approach.

Dev Content 101, 1980-1997: Big book, literally printed, out-of-date before shipment.

Dev Content 2.0, 1997-2010: moved to the web, semi-continuous publishing, MSDN became center of gravity.

Now: Dev Content 3.0.

Want an experience that inspires and motivates developers to bet on Windows. Give only relevant content, filter the rest. Content & samples that support end-to-end experience--tthe "horizontal layer" instead of narrow content about each feature. Make content feel like a conversation, not us talking at you. Access to everything in one place.

Now created a single unified Windows developer portal. Content focuses on the how, not the why. The architecture focuses on software development lifecycle.  The latter is an emphasis on building apps quickly, from getting started to sales. Content is organized by that lifecycle. Still have deep conceptual guidance, but not everyone needs it, so it's de-emphasized.

Samples are the backbone of the experience. It's in a pyramid. At the bottom is reference material with code snippets. Above that, feature material with API feature level samples. Then is cross-feature guidance. And finally end-to-end demos show the value proposition.

Changed the voice. Made is collegial, not colloquial. Part of it is admitting when something is going to be hard or complicated--and helping developers through the pain.

Code samples are checked in to the Windows code source tree and tested nightly, which raised the bar for sample code quality. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Galileo's Dilemma: Satisfying Information Consumers in the Post-PC Era

SDL's Andrew Thomas gave Tuesday's closing keynote. The idea of living is a post-PC world is driving change. What does "post-PC world" mean?

It means channel explosion. Your customers get information not just from you, but from social media sites and more, and you have very little control over that. The idea is to not fight that, but to embrace that.

As soon as you add language and locale to that explosion, you've multiplied the challenge.

Your customer is the center of their own universe, not your company or your product.

Good content makes a really good impression. Good content is media rich, it's contextual, and it's meaningful.

Good content provides better support then people.Self-service is growing. A growing number of people want to do it themselves. They don't want to interact with a real person. They expect that the information they are looking for will be available.

Content reuse enables efficiency, consistency, and quality. If you find a chunk of content that's of poor quality, you have to fix it only once.

If your content sharing model involves copy and paste, you have failed.

If your customer can't find the content they need from you, they will go somewhere else.

Content has to be compelling, useful, and easy to create. The latter is where XML has fallen down: it may make sense to a tech writer, but not to anyone else. 

Influence Without Authority: Applying the Art of Motivation

Andrea Ames subtitled this presentation "mind tricks of the Jedi masters." It's about how to affect cultural change at your company. This should be a half day workshop, but have to cram it all intyo 60 minutes.

You can be introverted and be influential.

This is the piece that makes progressive design work.

I create beautiful architectures with stubs. If the writers don't think it's a great idea, well, there are a lot of passive-aggressive writers out there.

Lots of people perceive that influence is about personality, but don't think influence has anything to do with that. Influence is almost entirely about credibility and trust. A little bit of follow up and follow through and commitment and responsibility makes a huge influence on people.

But it's really, really, really hard.

Figuring out how to deliver what you say you will or to negotiate very early is critical. It's not something that we;re used to. It's not something you're born with, but it is something you can improve.

It is part of your attitude, how you interact with people, how you present yourself.

Influencing is not a zero sum game. You don't have to influence everyone, but you do have to influence the important people.

We have a leg up: we are good communicators.

Manage up is an important skill. Being able to manage and lead in all directions is important.

It's the 75-25 rule. I like to be the one who brings the 75 to the relationship.

There are critical components of respect. You have to treat people with respect (even if you think they are crazy). If you want people to believe that you are a trustworthy person, you have to show that to them.  You may have to make some assumptions. But in some way or another, others are worthy of respect. One of the best ways to get the respect of others is to be the first to admit a mistake.

One of the most important factors to be successful is to get a mentor. Someone you can trust, someone you can bounce stuff off of, someone who can give you good advice is really, really important.

Always overcredit other people.

Err on the side of being transparent. When you are trustworthy, people will share with you.  And take a little risk: share with others. Then evaluate. Be conscious about how you build that rapport with others.

Understand the escalation path for all of your relationships.

If you do not have a good relationship with your manager, you have to figure out how. Otherwise, you might have to start polishing your resume.

The most important thing is to figure out how to lead yourself. Figure out what makes you tick, how to control your behavior. Focus on you, and it will positively impact the relationships you have with others.

Effective Tablet Strategies for the Mobile User Experience

Kenneth Davila took on this subject, substituting for the scheduled speaker who was feeling a bit under the weather.

To start, you have to decide if you want to do native development or responsive design. Native development leverages device and OS specific features. Responsive design leverages current architecture.

User experience during development can be broken into three layers. These layers correspond to the components of web development: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Rich content is a key term when talking about the web. You want to have a "rich share." So a UI design is driven by the goals of the site,  is influenced by the content strategy, is defined by the system architecture, and is developed in context of the target audience and device.

Your site's content acts as a road map for users. Keep language, styles consistent. Don't break the Back button.