This weekend I took a quick trip to Philly to attend and speak at Conduit 2018, hosted by the Society of Technical Communications Philadelphia Metro Chapter.
I’m consistently impressed by the quality of talks at STC conferences. At some of the larger conferences we hear mostly from agencies and freelancers. At STC conferences I learn from people working in-house, with case studies of longer-term projects and content strategy maintenance work.
At Conduit 2018 I came away with insights on everything from how to create the content of the future, to how to prove that not making a change can be costly, to how marketing and technical teams can work together.
How to Create Genuine Content
In his session “7 Lessons from the Future of Content,” David Dylan Thomas shared his advice on how the future will change the ways we create and utilize content – as well as how it will stay the same. These are great reminders of why we need a content strategy, and some valuable information on how our audiences (on the large scale) are changing.
- Materials are cheap – time is expensive. While this is hardly new to the future, it’s happening more and more. A phone takes photos as well as some of the most expensive cameras. We can create content easily, but we need a strategy and a plan if we’re going to make sure our time is being used wisely.
- We are constantly going to redesign success. Is your personal goal to make more money? Or to be more creative? Or to have more freedom? Similarly, what is your organization’s metric for success? You must check in with your goals, and your metrics for measuring the success of those goals frequently. Update them regularly. Don’t spend your time working towards outdated metrics.
- Content is a marketing tool as well as a product. The content may not be the thing that makes money (or hits your metrics). Teaching, live events, crowdsourcing, or swag may actually make the money – or something else entirely. Content is a marketing tool, however, that will get people to those other things.
- The future audience is diverse, and invested. Millennials and Gen Z are far more diverse and care more about diversity than previous generations. Appealing to millennial isn’t about Snapchat or being cool. It’s about being diverse and connecting to their values. You can involve your audience, connect them to one another, and let them create some of the content as well. Go where they are. See what they see.
How to Make Change
Suzanne Mescan presented “The Cost of Doing Nothing,” showcasing how to convince organizations to change their ways. Many organizations struggle with change. Higher ups say “but that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Suzanne reminds us that the way we’ve always done it is not necessarily the best way. If it was, we’d still be using typewriters.
But how do you change peoples’ minds when they say “we can’t spend the money to make a change?” Suzanne recommended the following steps:
- Inventory the current costs. Include time costs, such as the time it takes to write/edit/publish content, the time spent on support calls, and the time spend trying to find content previously written. Also include fees – license fees, maintenance fees, costs of outsourced services.
- Calculate the future costs. Calculate all of the same items, as well as the cost of making the change. High costs followed by years of lower costs will benefit the company in the long run, and an excel doc showing these costs side by side will prove it.
- Present the comparison to the right people. Show them how growth can happen more effectively and efficiently with the changes.
- Keep measuring. As change happens keep measuring to be able to show success or make future changes. Measure how much things cost, how much time things take, and shifts from the initial pain points in general.
I’ll add to Suzanne’s recommendations a reminder that change takes time. I’ve seen clients finally agree to make a change, and forget to account for the time it takes for people to get used to the new system. Plan for measurement from the start, and make sure everyone’s aware of the time it’s expected to take for people to learn the new tools or processes.
Marcomm is Techcomm
Bernard Ashwanden made the case for marketing and technical communications to collaborate in his talk, “Convergence: Tech Comm, Meet Marketing. You’ll Get Along Fine.” Often we see techcomm and marcomm siloed, but Bernard shows that they have more in common than you might think:
- They have the same audience
- They support the same funnel
- They use the same channels
Typically technical content is more detailed, but audiences aren’t looking for technical communications in a different place from marketing. What will best support our audiences is to use the technical communications as a form of marketing for the audiences who need more detailed information.
Since both are focused on the same customer, technical communicators can benefit marketing by making it more accurate, and marketers can support technical communication by getting it to the right people at the right time. Ultimately, it’s all part of the user experience. Technical communication may also work hand-in-hand with support teams or other groups (they’re not the same as marketing), but that doesn’t mean it’s not compatible with marketing. Just the opposite – it’s necessary.
What does all of this have in common? It all reminds us that collaboration is the key to success. It’s true on every level: content teams working with execs; marketing teams working with technical teams; content creators working with end-users.
It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. And the best time to start is today.