What do you think when you think about content?

January 21, 2022

Listen instead

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man, in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife...and that content marketers are very good at promoting the idea of content marketing so that they get to market more businesses using content.

And that isn't me taking a dig at people in the marketing profession.

It's me trying to make sense of some of the conundrums we considered last week.

Why we all have slightly different definitions of content, and the impact that has on how we get the content work done.

This week, I'd like to invite you to maybe shift your definition of content a bit. And how to do it well.

We're going to open it up, and make it wider.

We're going to start with a story.

It was 2018. I think. Time has little meaning since the pandemonium.

A friend from uni shared a LinkedIn post that explained their role. They were a content designer. And my brain exploded a little.

Someone was explaining web content in the terms I thought about web content, and the way I was trying to work with website clients within the digital agency where I worked.

I was hooked on this new direction, and one of my first forays into this new world of content saw me heading off to a content strategy meetup in Sydney.

And who was there? The very same uni friend who had launched Sarah's career 2.0.

They told me about their recent projects, and it didn't take long for me to get hooked on the work they were doing.

The way I remember it, they had begun to work on a few pages of the Service NSW website, around what happens when someone dies.

They were there to do some "simple" content writing. But there was so much admin for a grieving person to go through. It was hard to make sense of what information to put where.

They realised that in-person and digital journeys that were meant to help people manage end of life of a loved one - were a tangled web of forms, instructions, and conversations that spanned a huge range of different policy areas, delivery teams, call centres, and websites.

They were confusing, and adding a lot of stress to people who were already in grief.

The many threads were difficult to untangle. So the team began to make some noise about how, to untangle the content, you need to untangle the services first.

I can't tell you the exact ins and outs of what happened between then and now. But a search for 'end of life' on digital.nsw.gov.au tells me that a huge amount of life cycle mapping took place.

It seems like a Life Journeys team took the end of life journey, and consulted heavily and widely with different stakeholders, before developing and delivering a new approach.

A wrap up post from November 2021 says,

"When the Life Journeys team within the Department of Customer Service discovered that bereaved customers had over 40 different NSW Government services to contact and notify of their loss reducing this additional stress became a priority.

Alongside NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages, the Life Journeys team developed the Australian Death Notification Service (ADNS) with funding from the Digital Restart Fund. To date this service has saved approximately 17,480 hours of customer administration and there have been more than 53,000 visits to the site."

Remember, from what I know, this started as a 'lets adjust some pages on the website' project. And ended with collaboration across 40 government services to create new, centralised digital tools for all Australians (not just NSW citizens). For NSW citizens though, the tools live within a new 5 step process, housed and explained on a single digital home (NSW Births Deaths and Marriages).

What does this tell us about how we should think about content?

Or perhaps 'good content', 'better content', or 'more useful content'.

  • Content is more than words. It's also digital tools like forms and calculators, videos, images, workflows, emails and anything else that can live on the internet.
  • Content is service design. Words on a page can't exist seperate to the processes, services, and customer experience you're trying to create.
  • Content is operations. The day to day work of these Government services have guided the content, and the changes to the content will have changed the day to day work of the services.
  • Content is an investment. Making content useful and usable, to meet your goals and the audience's needs, takes an investment of time, effort, and money. It doesn't just happen.
  • Content is strategic. Way back when I did the Content Design 2 Day Workshop my favourite slide read, "Content without discovery is like playing chess without a board". Content projects often involve taking a moment to step back, before you can step forward.
  • Content is empathetic. Content isn't always going to be joyful, enjoyable, and entertaining. And it shouldn't be. It should meet the audience where they are, and adjust its tone and structure to suit.

And, no doubt, in years to come, this service will change again. Because content is never finished.

Web1.0 was all about the democratisation of information, while Web2.0 has been all about the democratisation of publishing (don't ask me about Web3.0, maybe the democratisation of ownership through NFTs and crypto...IDK I don't get it).

The internet grows exponentially day by day, as our rate of publishing - as businesses and individuals - continues to change.

Yet, we expect the tools that help us find information to not just keep up, but stay a step ahead. An iPhone uses an algorithm to guess what you're typing, just like Instagram uses an algorithm to guess what you want to look at, and Google uses an algorithm to guess what you're really looking for.

If you want to provide a good experience to your audience - to be findable, useful, and easy to get to - you need to be mindful about how you're thinking about content, and how you're doing content work.

It's not always about volume - amount and decibles - but doing useful things with purpose.

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