16 August 2013
Peter Bogaards & Bas Evers
Peter Bogaards & Bas Evers

Content re-framing: A digital disruption survival kit

A manifesto to connect experience design with content thinking

New challenges are upon us content people. The era of digital disruption requires adaptation at many levels by anyone involved with content, whatever its form or shape. As content crusaders, we want to point the road to travel with 10 imperatives.

“Old school” and cutting-edge content organizations and professionals all face the same challenge of inventing and discovering mechanisms, rules and principles of unknown territories for content application.

With this manifesto, we intend to reduce the friction in our collective journey of credible, useful, and relevant content for the digital era.

1. Grok the nature of digital content

Besides structure and form, all stuff in the digital domain flourishes through connectivity and computation. Deep understanding of the unique traits of digital content results in craftsmanship to work with the new material.

With its boundless space and the ultimate connectivity afforded by just one click, tap, or swipe away, connections between people, organizations, and topics are made instantly in the digital network. Every node is connected to any other, and the connecting process is endless.

Human thinking, problem solving, and understanding can be empowered by computational processes for the manipulation, retrieval and discovery of content. And also for new generations of tools and platforms geared towards creation, modification, and sharing.

We need deep thinking, learning, and understanding of the uniqueness of content in the digital domain. Production of and interaction with digital content require new kinds of craftsmen, designers, and engineers. Shaping, refining, and growing digital content will be their work; content and code will be their materials.

2. Think of content like finance, as oxygen

The oxygen of any healthy organization is financial revenue. The oxygen of any compelling experience is content. Without content, customer experience suffocates.

Everything an organization does has financial implications. Finance is the oldest business driver. No companies survive without healthy revenue streams and profits. Money is their oxygen of growth.

Content is a lot like finance. Each interaction with a customer on every touchpoint (digital or physical) entails content, such as the scripts used in a call center, protocols for face-to-face customer service, or engaging with customers via social media.

The experience customers associate with organizations largely depends on how they are addressed. When customers use touchpoints, their experience emerges through the organization’s content. Just as life emerges through breathing oxygen. For compelling experiences, content needs to be well-crafted, choreographed, and orchestrated.

3. Shape content to fit everybody

Every textual, visual, or audial shape you give digital content must perfectly match the use, contexts, and needs of individuals. And be flexible and adaptive.

Content can seem liquid, manifesting itself in any form or shape. You can use this characteristic to better serve your customers. Let digital set your content free. Each shape or form is possible.

Deliberately shape content to steer the experience of interacting with it: reading, modifying, collecting, combining, sharing, etc. Think about whom you’re creating the content for, and be open to how people use it – possibly in unexpected ways – and learn from that. The behavior of people influences its shape.

Give up the desire for control and the notion of one-size-fits-all. The shape of content needs to be adjusted for personal, geographical, and contextual reasons. Look for a perfect match between the initial shape of content and its intended contexts of use. Embrace all intricacies of content design for mobile experiences as an example.

4. Create content for customers, not for yourself

Find out what content people need, and only create content with added value for them. Above all, do so in a way that delivers a compelling content experience.

Organizations have been very good at inside-out thinking and creating content based on their own whims. “We are so proud of our new project, we have to tell the world about it.”

Changing to an outside-in perspective means asking the basic question: “Are customers really interested in our project?” Even if you can confirm they are, make sure you emphasize the aspects of the project that impact them.

It is the overall experience that distinguishes you from your competition. Creating a comprehensive experience means providing content people really need, doing it in an excellent manner, and shaping it appropriately. You can only start to do so, if you make content for your audience, not for yourself.

5. Empower others to (re)find your content

People are ‘informavores’: organisms that consume information to survive. They collect, organize, and share content they consider relevant, interesting, and remarkable. Provide them with the proper capabilities to do so.

For most people, the growing amount of digital content is a major challenge to face. In the old days, we used proven technologies to organize and allow the retrieval of physical content a.k.a. paper: index cards, book cases, and libraries.

With digital content, we must find new ways to search, find, and organize. Create content with built-in capabilities to collect, share, and archive it easily. Be aware that you create for unknown territories of application. Easy-to-share digital content should not only be based upon technological capabilities available, but also geared towards its psychological, sociological and cultural contexts.

Content is the life line for people’s – curious by nature – mind, knowledge and thinking. Like food contains the necessary ingredients to survive physically, feeds contain the stuff to survive mentally. Make sure you design content that fits people’s mental needs. Use the unique capabilities of digital content: its metadata, infinite ways of combining, and recommendations to surprise.

6. Determine content first, container next

Shaping compelling experiences is about determining content first. The container must match the attributes of content. An empty interactive box provides no customer value without relevant content in it.

There is a common issue in digital design: a preference of form over function. Traditionally, organizations first select empty boxes and then their content, instead of first deciding upon the content and then selecting matching containers.

Many content boxes are chosen for their slick interactions, technologies, or appearances. The result is cool containers with uncool content. It needs to be the other way around. Start with credible, useful, and relevant content. Then select the container that fits the best.

Customers are not interested in a fancy tablet app per se. They want to complete their tasks and will look for the easiest way to do so. Shaping valuable experiences is all about creating quality content. The proper relation between content and container is content first, container next.

7. Innovate in single content item delivery

Content industries must focus on their core business, which is to create quality content. They should let customers decide how to find, buy, and use their content.

Customers want to learn about a particular topic from different sources. They are not interested in packages like a single newspaper but want to read one news article, background story, or opinion by a thought leader.

A customer must be able to select a specific article that’s interesting. People may pay a small amount to read it, but shouldn’t have to pay for the other (unnecessary) content. And when a customer has bought this content, it is theirs to save, copy, or share.

These are the future steps for organizations that owe their existence to content. Any content industry – be it publishing, entertainment, or education – must set their content items free and let customers decide which ones they buy.

8. Extend management dashboards with content controls

Quantifying the success of an organization is easy when it comes to profits, revenues, and costs. But you should also quantify content you create, publish, and maintain to measure its value.

A traditional manager’s dashboard shows numbers for products, people, and performances. Management must make content a part of their dashboards as well.

Identify key performance indicators (KPIs) for your content and monitor the content’s performance accordingly. Define the ROI of every content item you create. Incorporate customer satisfaction surveys into all touchpoints, and analyze the results regularly from a content perspective. Combine this data with analytics coming from your website, apps, and social media accounts.

Together, these form an essential part of the management dashboard, ultimately allowing managers to pull the right levers to achieve a compelling experience. Organizations need to make content a part of their primary management processes.

9. Materialize the added value of content

Creating quality content may be an intangible and creative process, but the value of content can definitely be identified, measured, and evaluated in many ways.

Content creation is a creative act, full of pitfalls and failures. This does not mean organizations should do away with content as an unmeasurable element of experiences. It is very possible and useful to make the added value of your content measurable.

Don’t just gather data through web statistics; start interpreting and give meaning to them. There is much to be learnt from the customer’s behavior on and around your touchpoints.

If all is well, each content item exists for a reason. Effective content marries organizational goals with customer needs. Organizations must formulate clear and measurable goals for their content. The data will show the performance of their content and will guide next steps.

10. Act as a content entrepreneur

People in organizations need an entrepreneurial attitude towards content. Seeking new possibilities, taking risks, and failing with content must become their new normal.

Only a few people make money from content. In the old days, they were the professionals, the producers, the artists, and the mass-media companies. Nowadays, everybody can create content (in whatever shape or form) and publish it. The production and distribution costs have become zero.

Conventional ways of thinking about content from the last century are still ingrained into our minds. A new generation of content producers shows us all you can do with digital content. They mix and remix, make video clips and manage their channels, and collect and write posts on nano-topics.

In short, the new generation experiments, takes risks, and is not afraid to fail. They discover new avenues in which content plays first violin. This attitude of discovery, curiosity, and exploration must also be embraced by organizations redefining themselves in the context of digital disruption. To be successful as a person, group, or organization, be entrepreneurial content-wise.

About the authors

Peter Bogaards (@bogiezero) has been an online content curator ‘avant-la-lettre’ in information architecture and related user experience fields for more than a decade, choosing what he thinks is interesting, relevant or remarkable to share. With his tagline “Sharing knowledge is better than having it,” he has been an indispensable resource for many within the UX community. Currently, Peter works as evangelist at Informaat User Experience Design.

Bas Evers (@everbass) is content strategist at Informaat and fellow initiator of ContentCafé, a Dutch networking event around content strategy. He has evangelized content strategy at UXCamp Europe (Berlin), Design by Fire (Utrecht) and The Web and Beyond (Amsterdam).

Content strategy (20), Customer experience (67), Digital strategy (22)