NowWhat?, the conference that “gives you the know-how to manage your website post-launch,” was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota last week, and I was fortunate to join them. The conference was directed toward an audience that’s sometimes forgotten in the digital world: those hard-working folks that manage, optimize, and keep websites fresh after the launch. It was a nice change from the workshops, webinars, and events that narrowly target only backend technology, large-scale website redesigns and implementations, or marketing solely in the form of increasing traffic to the site. (It’s also a perspective we’re often pondering in our Day2 program.)
NowWhat? topics ranged from content strategy, analytics, post-launch optimization, and workflow, to content tools for channel syndication. Throughout the sessions, some particularly sharp quotes resonated:
“The author experience is a usability problem.” –Karen McGrane
Karen McGrane’s “Content in a Zombie Apocalypse” talk equated new and evolving devices, platforms, and screen sizes to… yes, zombies. They’re here, they’re not going away, and the number is going to keep expanding. Even worse, we all have no idea what forms they’ll take in the future!
In answer to this, Karen posited, we need three things to fight the metaphorical zombies:
- A more evolved kind of content strategy: separating content from form, to better adapt to all known and unknown formats
- Adaptable publication workflow: accommodating all channels better, not just web pages that will be viewed on a desktop
- Better authoring tools: to streamline publishing and address author pain points
Following great examples from TV Guide and The Guardian, two publishers that have successfully tackled content strategy and the separation of content from form, Karen acknowledged the real-world problem facing web authors: the author experience. To uncover the depth of the problem, Karen suggested we all conduct research and create an author-focused usability funnel (we’ve all done this for our external users, right?), pinpointing the spots of frustration and abandonment. Brilliant.
Beyond just usability issues for authors, we need to support them with different kinds of interfaces that support publishing to more than just web pages. “The page is dead, and WYSIWYG is an outdated metaphor,” claimed Karen. It’s rather logical, when you consider that Xerox introduced the WYSIWYG editor decades ago, on the introduction of the laser printer to the marketplace. The WYSIWYG metaphor comes from the world of print, which is no longer applicable in our ongoing Zombie Apocalypse.
“We need content management systems, not web publishing tools.” –Deane Barker
Deane Barker’s session focused on the COPE “Create Once Publish Everywhere” process adopted by NPR about five years ago. Content management and strategy pundit, Deane utilized Aristotle’s descriptions of “logos” and “pathos” to back up his claim that Aristotle was the first content strategist, separating content from context.
Deane’s message drove home our need to think “beyond the page,” and break down content into the minimum reasonable unit. In this way, we can focus on designing user interactions across any and all channels. He’s also a proponent of automating cross-channel publishing as much as possible, and suggested some great tools:
- MailChimp and its RSS-to-Email feature
- IFTTT (If This Then That) that allows for cross-channel syndication of content
- Kapow Software, which can introduce structure to content after the fact
“Companies that are loved, win.” –Jeff Cram
“Making Experiences Better with Personalization and Testing,” Jeff Cram’s session, hit home with the entire audience. With personalization and testing being such hot topics today, Jeff emphasized the value to users and businesses in optimizing experiences.
I think it’s easy to forget that everything we’re talking about today — content strategy, technology, responsive design, analytics, marketing automation – are just a means to an end… the end, in my opinion, is delivering meaningful value to our users (our customers) that ultimately provides business results; maximize revenue, return value to shareholders, or whatever goals the business has.
Jeff’s premise on providing business results was simple: connecting and extending pre-launch customer-insight thinking to post-launch management will have significant business impact. That love we had for our customers during the design phase of a new website, with persona-making and customer journey mapping? Let’s continue showing them some love, especially after the site launch!
Supporting his case, Jeff provided context around results-producing site testing, and how ongoing customer insight can inform user experience optimization. Being a strong proponent of improving the authoring experience, Jeff shared the CMS Pain Assessment Tool.
Jeff rounded out his session with a framework, an approach, and some simple examples to start personalizing the user experience, encouraging the audience to start small and think big.
“We are perpetually catching up.” – Kristina Halvorson
Kristina Halvorson’s session, “Content/Communication,” emphasized the human element across all of the topics we’d discussed throughout the conference. In our industry, we collaborate now more than ever before, and we must always remember the human side of what we do. While no one knows where digital (and all that it entails) will be next year or five years from now, we will always be catching up. As such, we need to remember to cut ourselves and colleagues some slack. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” and it’s even better if you are energized by that thought.