The power of process: Meetup with Misty Weaver

  • By Team CSI
  • |
  • Apr 21 2016
Categories: |News

Content strategy pioneer shared tips on audits, workflow, handoffs, inverted pyramid, and interface copywriting

On April 18, content strategist and University of Washington Information School instructor Misty Weaver bravely bussed it up to Vancouver from our neighbouring city of Seattle to present UX and Content: The Power of Process to a sell-out crowd ($5 bucks’ admission! What a deal!) at the group’s shiny new Brain Station venue.

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A trailblazer in teaching content strategy in a university setting, specifically undergraduate studies, Misty instructs students from freshman all the way to senior year. She assigns students five content audits, having them go super deep on sites that can’t be indexed. “You have to be frustrated by a site to really fix it,” she says.

Misty prefaced the presentation by saying that she gives the same talk regularly to undergrads and jokingly encouraged everyone to be at least a little bit distracted, lest she feel completely out her element.

Hopefully Misty wasn’t too disappointed that the crowd was completely riveted with her presentation, which focused on five key components, or lessons, of content strategy: audits, workflow, handoffs, interface copywriting, and inverted pyramid.

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“These are the high-level things I feel can’t be missed,” said Misty.

Audits

Misty described three types of audits, which could be motivated by a refresh, redesign, migration, or ongoing “care and feeding”:

  • Quantitative inventory: Find out how much content there is, where it is – that’s it
  • Qualitative audit: Hold the content up to a set of standards and determine how good it is, which could be based on language or contextual pieces “that perhaps only make sense to your audience”
  • Selective assessment: Take a couple of things and scale the assessment to isolate those factors only
“What if you don’t have a lot of time?"

“Ask if [your content] is really supporting your business goal,” she assured those wondering how to scale with little time. “You can do just a little – select top priority things to audit. Is the content accurate and is it functional? Does it come together and help someone do something? Am I giving a person the information that they need to make a decision and take action?”

Misty advised that the fewer evergreen pages you have to maintain, the better.

“Then you have more time to give focus to blogs, social media, and content content that doesn’t require a major action,” she said.

Workflow

When it comes to assessing and improving workflow, Misty acknowledged that taking a role you’re assigned is not something that a lot of us like very much.

“Politics are natural and inevitable,” she said. “Hierarchies are very hard to work with when it comes to multichannel publishing.”

She shared an example of a workflow process that was successfully implemented by Vanessa Casavant at Adopt Us Kids, recommended a workflow model by Michael Brito, and showed slide after slide attesting to the power of Post-it Notes.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 2.00.47 PM“What do we get out of workflow?” Misty asked. “We find ways for people to collaborate on how they are going to make pages together and put it on a calendar.” Done deal. 

Handoffs

“You have to plan how handoffs are going to happen, and people get in the way a lot.”

Misty described the struggle of having editors who want to approve every piece of content, “and want it to be Pulitzer level.”

“You know nobody is going to read the whole thing. They’re going to read the first two things, but you need to get this out because you haven’t spoken to your audience in six months. Or you can be in a situation where you have all the power, and after six drafts you just give up.”

Misty advocates for a feedback loop to figure out what’s important, what approvers are looking for, or whether it’s just a power play.

She referred to Content Strategy Inc’s RACI chart model as a way to prioritize and define content roles and responsibilities. (Aw, thanks Misty!).

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Interface copywriting and inverted pyramid

When introducing interface copywriting, Misty asked the audience who was familiar with the inverted pyramid model. Someone in the front row flung up his hand.

“It’s like the 9-1-1 style of writing,” he said.

“That’s new to me,” said Misty. “But yeah, totally. Inverted pyramid. 9-1-1. Nutgraph. Or Twitter style, too. Most important thing first, the rest of the story later.“

“But the hardest part for users is when your interface copy feels false,” said Misty. “We’re a bit button-happy. Calls to actions are not just for buttons. A call to action is about finding a next step.”

On calls to action, she advised strongly to maintain a pattern library, and quoted Nicole Fenton: “From navigation links and buttons to product tours, forms, and error messages—every string in your database is an instruction. These are your signposts, and they grab your reader’s attention.”

Misty concluded her tips on interface copywriting with a bit of a vendetta on Lorem Ipsum.

“Don’t put Lorem Ipsum in your designs, because it’s very hard to know how much word count you are going to need until you actually start to describe what needs to happen for the user,” she said. “Instead of using Lorem Ipsum, put real content there—competitor content, draft content, existing content, sample content.”

“Put these five things together, and—by adding content in the UX workwhat you’re really helping people do is understand relevancy. We want to have a relationship with them, we also want to help them have a relationship with us. You’ll understand who is going to do what and in what order, with fancy, fancy spreadsheets that only you will maintain, but when you look at it, you will see, ‘yes, I am the green column!’”

To join the IA/CS Vancouver Meetup group, or learn more about upcoming events, visit their Meetup page.

Further reading

UX and Content: The Power of Process [Slides]

Content teamwork: Aligning your people and processes [Slides]

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