14 takeaways from #ContentEd19

Our ContentEd 2019 sponsor, The Access Platform, break down the 14 key highlights from the conference.

Well, that was fun – wasn’t it?

It’s back to reality now after a fantastic couple of days indulging ourselves in all things content strategy and basking in the glorious summer weather and the spectacular setting of Edinburgh’s Dynamic Earth venue.

There’s little doubt that ContentEd 2019 was a resounding success; happy delegates, excellent speakers and so many little touches that didn’t go unnoticed – from a space to highlight one’s pronouns on their delegate badges through to a conference bag that can be planted in your garden post-event, it was all excellent.

Top of the agenda from a learning-filled two days in Scotland’s capital had to be a call-to-arms around making content inclusive and accessible – it will be fascinating to see how the sector reacts in the coming weeks and months – as well as embracing collaboration.

Not only that, how good were the first-ever ContentEd awards? Huge congratulations to everyone who was shortlisted, and the winners of course. The conference dinner was a lot of fun too.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to offer some tangible takeaways from the event, so that’s what I’ll endeavour to do as you continue to scroll down – enjoy!


1. Embrace the impossible

The tone was set for the whole event in Tracy Playle’s opening spiel, where we were encouraged to embrace the impossible – and with good reason. While the possible is where we can take comfort from what went before and what we know to be true, the impossible is a place for dreams and imagination, a place where creativity meets curiosity.

I know where I’d rather hang out!


2. Practice productive procrastination

I could easily have written an entire post about the feelings Austin Kleon’s opening keynote stirred in me. In a word; inspirational.

However, forcing myself to pick just one takeaway from Austin’s talk, I’d have to go with his assertion that hobbies and side projects are important in helping us stay creative and motivated – especially if we practice productive procrastination. As someone who has a foolish amount of hobbies, I really related.

Also, Austin insisted that we call them hobbies and not side hustles – we don’t have to monetise everything we do. Things are still allowed to be done for fun.


3. Accessible content is not dumbing things down, it’s opening them up

Just like Austin before her, Sarah Richards’ keynote was another that prompted furious note-taking. Her rallying call to make our content more accessible really resonated – accessibility is about far more than just screen readers. The most-tweeted soundbite from her talk had to be her assertion that you won’t lose people by communicating well – it’s not dumbing down, it’s opening up.

Also, we at The Access Platform like to think we put Sarah’s teaching into practice. She said your content only works if it’s where your audience is, so when we saw all the delegates enjoying the balmy weather out on the balcony we picked up our stand and joined them out there!


4. Collaborate for success

Hearing how the University of Glasgow approaches collaboration was fascinating – it’s really paid off for Team UofG too. In short, the advice of empowering others to make content for you and support fellow content creators, while also not worrying and not micromanaging was perfect.

Oh, and they had donuts. Donuts! Thanks!


5. Strategic storytelling

Brittney Dunkins asked what if we designed stories based on user needs and defined organisational values? And, you know, it’s a pretty fair point. Our storytelling goal should be a combination of what our audience needs and what we want to tell them.

Not only that, we need to build the right team – that means writers, photographers, videographers, designers, producers, editors and strategists. Ideally, a different person for each – but we all know how likely that is in reality.


6. Go easy on the emojis

Daniel Marrable’s session about making all-star, inclusive social media content was fascinating – we’ll certainly be making more effort to add alt text to our images on social media and capitalising new words in our hashtags.

But, the key takeaway from Dan’s talk was to ease off on the emojis. Why? Well, screen readers cover everything on screen. So, if you’ve used 😍 five times in a row then a screen reader will describe every single one of them. Hearing a screen reader do that once is hilarious, but any more than once would be darned annoying.


7. Six of the best

Can you craft a university content strategy with just six questions? It might sound like a tough ask, but it’s definitely doable – in fact, Sheffield Hallam have done it.

What are those magic questions? Well, at every stage of their journey with you, your audience wants to know…

  1. Why this region?
  2. Why this university?
  3. Why this course?
  4. Why work with this university? (for businesses)
  5. What is…? (are you being clear enough?)
  6. How do I…? (are you supporting them to understand, make a decision and take action?)


8. Start listening on social!

We loved the session on social listening from Liz and Steve at Campus Sonar – not only does social listening allow us to find conversations we might want to be part of, but it can also help with our content planning. Among other things, social listening can be used for audience research (to find people) and conversation analysis (for topics).

Added bonus, those helpful folk at Campus Sonar have bundled together a load of resources connected to their talk right here.


9. Treat your content like a product

When a company launches a new product, it goes through a number of steps before putting it out there to the world – from generating your ideas and prototypes, through testing and then further refinements.

Why is this relevant? Well, you should be doing the same with your content – treat it like a product.


10. Level up your events

So, you’ve organised an event and it’s going smoothly. But, could your event deserve better content being created about it? Probably.

Whether it’s a cool conference or your university’s graduation, there are a bunch of steps you can follow to ensure the content you make for your events is excellent. And, you’ll be pleased to hear, they’re pretty simple too.

First off, identify your audience and establish what they want and why they want it. Then you can work out what they love and, subsequently, what it is you can create that will give it to them – and when.


11. Be the hero the content world deserves

Jonny Williams thinks we’re all superheroes. He says we can and will make a difference if we embrace emotion as our superpower.

If we apply emotional understanding and use it to create user needs then we can eradicate evil content and save our users from negative experiences.

Hard to argue with that, really.


12. Make great teams

Teams, by their nature, bring with them a variety of people and skills – the challenge is pulling it all together and keeping everyone motivated. One way of doing that is to conduct a skills audit for your squad.

The experts at Pickle Jar suggested basing your audit around six key areas – planning, people, platform, production, promotion and performance – and within these areas to focus on capability, capacity, confidence and application.

Do this and you’ll identify holes in your team’s collective skills. Identify the holes and you can start working out how to fill them!


13. More collaboration superskills

Although he wouldn’t go so far as to suggest we put academics in airlocks (boooo!), Mike Powers’ keynote gave us plenty to ponder when it comes to building better working relationships across our organisation – with the ultimate goal of getting better content from them.

In fact, he gave us five guidelines for collaboration:

  1.       Know who the final decision maker is and get them to a meeting
  2.       Find the real problem
  3.       Manage conflict
  4.       Be authentic
  5.       Embrace the theatre


14. Panel headlines

The final session I was able to attend (due to a train that was subsequently so delayed I could actually have stayed until the very end), was the panel session, which covered gamification, algorithms and chatbots. All very different, all very interesting and each with a pithy takeaway.

When it comes to gamification, don’t just add game mechanics such as badges and points – think about human motivation and make your games better.

As for algorithms, well, they’re only as good as the data set used to collaborate at them. Also, you can swear at Siri, Alexa, Google Home and Cortana, and each one will give you a very different response – who knew?

Lastly, why would a university want to make its own chatbot? Because it worked! And because we need to stop worrying about changing the way we do things – which brought us full circle to Tracy’s opening talk 36 hours earlier.

Ah. Serendipity.

Thanks for having us!


I think I speak on behalf of my colleagues from The Access Platform when I say we had a blast being part of #ContentEd19 in Edinburgh. If you didn’t get to chat to us in person – or want to continue where we left off – please get in touch!

You can also listen to our podcast episode with the magnificent Tracy Playle talking all things content strategy right here.

We’d like to thank The Access Platform for getting involved as a ContentEd 2019 sponsor. 

If you’d like to advance your knowledge of content strategy, you can find out more about ContentEd, book a ticket to our next conference, or take a look at our blog.


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