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Confab Central 2014 Revisited: Wise Words and Big Thoughts

Confab Central 2014 united the greatest minds of content strategy. From the opening address to key takeaways for content marketers and brands, read on for the big thoughts and wise words that shaped this year’s conference.

For the uninitiated, as this copywriter was just one week ago, Confab Central is the living mass of minds and voices ignited by content strategy and its mission. For two days, those in the know and those itching to become part of the equation flock to Minneapolis to take part in a revelatory experience.

There are workshops and breakout sessions, keynotes and cake. Questions are poignantly asked as early as 8 a.m. and deep into the throes of the 4 o’clock sugar crash. The participants, the speakers and the organizers go full force into what they do best—making meaningful conversations.

For those unable to witness what has now become a well-oiled machine of big thoughts and good food, we’ve highlighted the best takeaways below—from influencer marketing to content audits, opening keynote to closing, and the myriad voices that came in between.

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Visual Storytelling at GE

Katrina Craigwell’s talk jump-started the conference. Craigwell, GE’s head of global and digital programming, presented a case study in what-ifs. What if you were tasked with telling the story of a historic corporation? What if your company’s expertise didn’t lend itself too obviously to visual storytelling? What if you had the budget and resources to find the brightest minds to try it anyway? Their attempts, of course, turned out to be wondrous. GE found success on YouTube with influencers The Slo Mo Guys, on Tumblr with Spring Break It, and on Instagram with their GEInstaWalk campaign—all while shining a light on their nanotechnology, materials science and jet engine arms, respectively. Craigwell described the process to us in her own words. And while her tips ran the gamut, the most practical ones lie below.

  • Find influencers passionate about your company story and allow them to tell it through their own lens.
  • Give social campaigns room to grow. If it needs a one-day activation period, give it three.
  • Space out influencer content in your favor. Put one on their channel, two on yours.

When you invite outsiders to come in and help tell your story, your brand vision gains humanity and diversity – Katrina Craigwell 

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Content and Collaboration in a Responsive Redesign

When Harvard College decided it was time to reinvent its digital imprint, three minds came together to make it happen. In one of Thursday’s best breakout sessions, content strategist Sara Wachter-Boettcher, designer Aura Seltzer, and Harvard College Admission and Financial Aid’s director of digital communications Amy Lavoie, spoke frankly about undertaking a task of immense complexity, with numerous stakeholders, writers and headaches aplenty. Slowly, the team began to disassemble the disjointed, drab-sounding site. First, came a new core strategy—one inclusive, warmer and more explanatory to applicants, students and parents—and then came modelling and building a responsive site, with easy navigation and clearer information from its previous iterations. The result? Mobile visitors increased 10 percent and questions posed through email decreased by more than 50 percent in the days before application deadlines. See their lovely deck. Our favorite takeaways:

  • When working with a team of subject matter experts across many silos, consider everyone a content person. The more everyone cares about the content, the better it will be.
  • Deliverables shouldn’t be husks of forgotten recommendations. They should function as tools, always.
  • Perfection shouldn’t be your goal. Think along the lines of how much change you can make stick in a place with a lot of complexity.

Success is what happens afterwards, when things become sustainable. It’s what remains after you’ve left the project – Sara Wachter-Boettcher

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Scaling the Content Audit

Misty Weaver, content strategist and community manager at Content Insight, focused her breakout session on her current bread and butter—the content audit. Weaver explained that while mapping a site’s ecosystem is a difficult, time-consuming and sometimes thankless task, it is necessary and not the job of the unpaid intern. When considering your next content, social or competitive audit and weighing the meaning of it all, Weaver advised listeners to think of the project’s pain points and who you would be answering to See her full deck. The best takeaways:

  • Content audits are not thoughtless work. It’s not just about pulling data, it’s about interpreting it and helping stakeholders to make a decision and take action.
  • When rating your content, use more rigid numbering like the 0-1-2 scale for clarity.
  • When beginning your audit, determine what meeting you need to go to, what answers you need to have and who needs answers soonest. Be sure your audit addresses them all in the timeliest manner.

Content without an inventory is like a library without a catalog – Misty Weaver

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Articulating Instagram’s Voice, or, How I Got a Bunch of Visual Storytellers Excited About Language

Friday’s most rousing talk came from Instagram’s first and only content strategist, Hazel Jennings. Jennings started off her session with a brief, hilarious moment she shared with fellow peers at a content strategy meetup. Full of pride, Jennings told them about her flashy new job. The majority responded, “Isn’t it a photo app? How much writing is there for you to manage?” The answer, of course, was more than you know. Besides setting the app’s content standards, Jennings spends her time articulating the product’s voice, providing UI writing, and allowing for copy to be easily translated into 75 languages. Here are our favorite bits of advice from Jennings:

  • Don’t discredit your non-content coworkers. Figure out where your team is coming from, their expertise and how they can work with you.
  • The more you tell your coworkers you’re working on standards that will make their job easier, the more content warriors you’ll nab.
  • Sometimes it’s more important to collaborate and lose the battle than win the war. Letting someone else have the last word in one instance, can give you advantage in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to take big risks iterating. It’s a great way to find out what’s working and what’s not working. Document it all – Hazel Jennings

 austin kleon

SHOW YOUR WORK

Austin Kleon, the artist, speaker and author of zeitgeist favorites Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, delivered Confab’s closing keynote speech. His message was clear; geniuses aren’t self-realized superhumans. They are products of their environments. So when considering how to move your own career forward, Kleon advocated sharing and living in that perfect space between using everyone else’s ideas and clogging the world with your own. Our favorite takeaways from Kleon include:

  • If you want fans, you have to be a fan first.
  • Be a valuable part of a “scenius,” a connected group of smart people who share your passions.
  • If you want to become a storyteller, you must study stories first, learn their patterns and then align them with your experiences.

Figure out a way to learn in public. Share what you learn as you’re learning – Austin Kleon

On departing the hubbub and excitement that comes with being surrounded by talented peers—at one of the best conferences around we might add—we realized that while we may not share the same space for a year, the great scenius of the Internet can help us continue the conversation until next time.

Want more things Confab Minneapolis? Look out for interviews with conference thought leaders on the iAcquire blog in the coming weeks.

 Image credits: Confab EventsGE, slideshare, slideshare, Instagram, Austin Kleon

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