Things have been screaming busy at Headwaters Content of late, but last week, I called a quick timeout and attended Confab 2012, The Content Strategy Conference in Minneapolis. I’m very glad I did.
We not only work in a fledgling industry, but one that is elusive and difficult to explain to outsiders. By that very nature, it’s vital that a show like Confab exists. As someone who has staked a lot of beans in starting up a business in this industry, it was vital to be part of the discussion last week, even if at times it was over my head, or distinctly opposed to my way of doing things.
Here are some of my insights and favorite take-aways:
- Content and Cash – Leave it to me to lead off with the session on business development, but I found Melissa Rach’s talk on the ROI of content — and how to demonstrate it to a prospective client — to be fascinating. Proving how better content and better communications can lead to improved customer retention and bigger sales is inherently difficult, but it can be done. She approached it in a way that was refreshing. I particularly liked one comment she had that really sums up this business and where it sits: we’re often not competing against another content strategy agency; we’re often competing against a client not doing content strategy. That’s been my experience as well.
- Search Analytics for Content Strategists – Another session that I really enjoyed was Lou Rosenfeld‘s session on Search Analytics for Content Strategists. The temptation with analytics for any business managing a content-centric website is to do monthly reports. Check in, summarize, scratch it off your list, move on–holy shit, another month has gone by! Do it again. Lou did a very good job of not only showing some insights that can be gleaned from GA’s Site Search Analytics, but putting them into a logical step-by-step process that is far more powerful than the shampoo-rinse-repeat method.
- Twitter Works Best at Conferences – Do you follow Headwaters Content on Twitter? If so, odds are its because you know us and the work we do, and not because we’re prolific. We’ve been up and running for a year now, yet have only produced 214 tweets. 20% of those tweets were sent out in three days at Confab. I don’t mind saying that I’m a Twitter skeptic. It has its uses, but me prolifically navel-gazing to the world isn’t one. I work, I get my job done, I eat some lunch. Call me old school. But Twitter really came alive for me at Confab, to the point of it being indispensable. I learned quite a bit about sessions I didn’t even attend because of tweets tagged with #confab12. I know: Welcome to 2008, Kev! But it was the first time I’d experienced this phenom as a business owner, and it not only expanded my learning from the conference, but it also introduced Headwaters Content to other attendees. Speaking of Twitter, that brings me to the next point…
- Where’s the Debate? – Content strategy folks are very nice people. Everyone was so warm, gracious and (oddly) non-competitive. So often in business, you meet (and work with) people who are so obsessed with competition, they don’t want to share one ounce of intelligence. Confab was the opposite. Probably the best thing about the show. But along with this, there was also a lack of debate on many of the topics discussed, and it was most visible on Twitter. Many of the tweets about speakers were either direct quotes or “rah! rah! content strategy!” in tone. If we’re going to grow as an industry, we might want to think about challenging each other’s positions a little more. A content committee of up to 10 stakeholders with a few layers of approval might work in one setting, but it never would with my clients. Committees equal death in tourism, if you ask me. And organic may generate a more engaged audience than social referrals in one setting … from my experience, I’ve seen only the opposite. Hopefully, Confab 2013 will have a few more panel sessions, because I think debate will only help us make our industry stronger, more expansive and more versatile.
- Know Thyself – I’m fairly certain that a huge majority of attendees left Confab 2012 feeling more certain about who they are, what they’re good at, and how they play a specific role within the realm of content strategy. I’m sure quite a few left feeling more confused. As the conference went on and I introduced myself and Headwaters Content to the 58th person, I couldn’t help but notice how my narrative about who I am and what I do evolved with the conference. “I focus more on the role of content as a marketing and communications vehicle with an emphasis on travel, tourism and NGOs…” As a business owner, it’s healthy to know what you’re good at, but perhaps its even healthier to own up to the things you’re not good at. Doesn’t mean you have to master them, or even try to own them (I’ll never proclaim that we’re an SEO agency … we’re a content agency with a knowledge of SEO best practices). But if you are going to venture off on your own in the wonderful, cake-fueled industry of content strategy, know thyself and be specific.