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Ahava Leibtag – Content: Messaging and Marketing  

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Ahava Leibtag

The goal of any site is to have great, compelling content. But what constitutes great content? How is the success of a blog post or a video measured? How can you be sure the time and effort put into crafting your content is providing an adequate return on investment?

Ahava Leibtag believes that content is a conversation in a marketplace. In her virtual seminar, Designing Effective Content Marketing, Ahava discusses the challenges that organizations face when approaching content that not only dictates the user experience but also influences the bottom line. The audience asked some great questions during the live seminar and Ahava joins Adam Churchill to address some of those in this podcast.

  • What are the most important channels to create content for and how do you prioritize?
  • What if your content isn’t the type to “attract and acquire”?
  • How do you handle content that may be technical or considered boring?
  • How do you sort out the challenge of being responsible for multiple touch points?
  • What are the signs that your content is no longer relevant or isn’t evergreen?
  • When is the right time to bring the UX team into the content conversation?

Recorded: March, 2014
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Full Transcript.


Adam Churchill: Hello, everyone, welcome to another edition of the Spoolcast. Earlier this year, Ahava Leibtag joined us to present her virtual seminar, “Designing Effective Content Marketing.” Ahava’s seminar, along with over 120 others, are now part of UIE’s “All You Can Learn.” It’s a library of all things UX that you can get at.

In her seminar, Ahava expands upon traditional content strategy, both external and internal by folding UX into the conversation. In the seminar, she shares how to explain content marketing to stakeholders. She shows people how to set up a pilot program in your organization, and best of all, how to collaborate on content that can be measured.

Hey, Ahava, thanks for spending a bit more time with us.

Ahava Leibtag: Hi, Adam, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Adam: For people that weren’t with us for the seminar, can you give those folks a bit of an overview on, what you talked about?

Ahava: Sure. I think that when I talk to people about content, they find it incredibly challenging in their organizations. One of the themes that I explored during the virtual seminar was why content is so hard. I think it really has to do with a couple different things.

The first is that people don’t really understand what content is. They use it for a lot of different things, and so defining terms is incredibly important. I think we also see a lot of terms being thrown around by content strategy and content marketing and lean content and UI content.

Explaining the differences between all those different things was part of the seminar, so that people could create vocabularies around how to talk about these things that made it easier so that there wasn’t so much overlap about what it is that we’re talking about when we’re talking about content.

For me, the best metaphor that I use for content is that content is a conversation in a marketplace. In every marketplace, there’s a buyer and a seller. It’s important to know which role you’re playing. Then what it is that you’re saying, what your brand represents for people, who you’re talking to, so developing personas and using other UX tools that we have towards creating those kinds of things so that our teams are all working off the same page.

Then also, when you’re talking to people and which channels you’re using and what are the most appropriate content formats for those target audiences.

It was a lot of good stuff. I think I also covered how to set up a pilot program of content marketing within your organization, how to pull your UX teams together, when you need them. Then the smell test for content marketing. How do you know that this is content marketing versus maybe some other kind of content? It was a fun seminar.

Adam: Very cool, yeah, it was a great seminar. We got lots of good feedback on it.

Let’s dive in. There was some great questions from the audience and let’s revisit some of those things. We had one person that asked the question, what are the most important areas to create content? She listed out social media, your blog, product pages. Is there a priority there? How do you think about those things that way?

Ahava: Yeah, so I think there is a priority, but the priority is different than what types of content do I create. The priority is, what are the things my customers need to know?

Marcus Sheridan has a great rule of thumb. He says, get your team into a room together and list the top 100 questions that your customers have about what services and products you provide. Blog about those things, each question can sometimes produce two or three blog topics. Or write pages on your website that answer those questions so that people understand what it is that they’re looking for.

Then from that, the answers to those questions, you can create other kinds of content like social media, like videos that you might put on You Tube or that you might host off of your company website.

There’s this idea, there’s something called the Rule of Four that I learned from a guy named Brian Reich. He talks about how every time you create a piece of content, you should be able to produce it in text, audio, visual and video. That’s a lofty goal and a lot of organizations just don’t have the capacity to do that.

But when you start from the idea of not what types of content we should create but what should the focus of the information be, you’re going to get a lot more return on investment from your content. Because you’re giving your customers what they want, which is the answers to their questions.

Adam: Ahava, you talked about using content to acquire and attract. What if you don’t have content that you would describe that way? Or maybe is the challenge finding the content in your organization that can be used that way?

Ahava: Yeah, I think that there’s two different ways to look at this. The first approach to it is to talk to the people on the front line and find out what your customers want to know, and then look for content that answers those questions, or create content that answers those questions.

But I think that in a lot of organizations, people are really pressed with budget. Sometimes your managers can ask you to do things that don’t really seem like they’re going to serve the bottom line, like we need to create a video or we need to create a Facebook page, even though your audience may never go on Facebook.

Somebody recently just told me a story that she was doing marketing for a national trucking company and he wanted to create a Facebook page. She said to him, “But the people that you’re trying to attract don’t look for people to supply this need, trucking, shipping, on Facebook.

They go to the web or they meet people at conferences or they network in other ways. They look at ads and there’s industry trades.” He said, “I don’t care. Everyone’s on Facebook, so we need to be on Facebook too.”

I think that that’s a classic example of, content that’s used to acquire and attract has to be purposed for your target audiences. You think you might not have content like that, but chances are you probably do. It may be hidden away in a sales manual somewhere or it may be in an old brochure, or it may be in an ad. You just have to find a way to re-purpose it for some of the more up-to-date channels that we have.

Just make sure that those channels are appropriate for the people that you’re trying to reach. If you’re selling to a trucking company and they’re not ever going to look at Facebook for that kind of thing, don’t use Facebook as a marketing channel. However, if they are the kind of people that respond to ads, even if it’s in a print publication, oh the horror. But that’s going to get your target audience to pay attention to you, so why not use that form of content?

I just think that we have to get smarter and be more efficient about how we’re spending our time. If we are not pulling people in as leads through our content, whatever channels we’re using, we’re not doing it right.

Adam: What about folks that their organizations generate, often by necessity, content that might be described as boring or technical or academic?

Ahava: Yeah. I think that that’s a very typical question that I get a lot. I have spent a lot of time working in healthcare and higher Ed. There is often a lot of times content that is dry and that is technical. Again we have to ask ourselves, who is this content for? Are the target audiences that we are marketing to, to get their business going to want this content? Sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not.

I’ll give you the classic case of where it may not be a real goal for the organization, but it’s a goal for one of the stakeholders. In hospitals, doctors very often want to publish their research, because that helps their reputation and it shows what value they’re contributing to their particular specialty or their field. They want to publish this research on the hospital’s website.

Not only that, but they want the hospital to make a big deal out of it and write a press release and write a blog post and do all sorts of social media about it, but to most people, the research is probably not going to affect their life in any real way.

There are a lot of healthcare organizations that are doing really important research that do affect people’s lives on a day-to-day basis, but most of the time these are political requests that come in from doctors that have a lot of political clout, and they want somebody to make a big deal out of the fact that they’ve done this research.

That’s when there has to be a question that’s asked about, maybe it’s not necessarily a hard goal. We’re not going to pull in more patients by creating this content. But it’s a soft goal. We are going to increase the prestige and reputation of this doctor, and that may influence other factors that will then help pull patients in.

You have to weigh the different business goals that you’re trying to achieve and what the best ways are to get at them. There are ways to make content more interesting that is academic and dry. Sometimes the most effective way to do that is to break it up into smaller pieces. Very often things that are dry and technical, people can manage paragraphs at a time, but the whole thing coming at them at once just feels like too much.

There’s a lot of, I think, creative things that we can do with content that may feel like it’s boring. But if the content is answering your customers’ questions, then it’s not boring to them. That’s the really important thing to remember. My husband’s an economist, and when I listen to him talking to his colleagues, it sounds like Greek to me, but to them, they’re all really engaged and they understand what they’re talking about.

It’s just really always important to go back to your target audience, your personas, who you’re talking to, why you’re talking to them, what you’re trying to get out of them and answering their questions for them.

Adam: On the Twitter stream during the seminar, there were some folks that were talking about the wrestling match they have of being responsible for multiple touch points. Can you speak to how content marketing fits in with people that have that challenge?

Ahava: Sure. I think that we’re actually reaching this peak where the content marketing experts are starting to tell people, “Hey, you don’t have to be on 27 different channels. Master one and then move on to the next one.”

I run this really fun thing on my blog called “Confessions of a Content Strategist,” and I like to interview different content strategists and different content teams to find out best practices. You’ll never know what you’re going to learn. I run it monthly on the blog. I love it. It’s just for me — interviewing people and finding out their tricks always contributes to my own practice.

I was talking to a group at Einstein Medical School in New York. They were telling me about how…that’s the way that they approached it. They decided that they were going to get really good at Twitter. Then, they were going to move on to something else.

Having done that, they’ve been a lot more successful, because they really learned about how that channel operates, who the personalities are that are going to interact with them on that channel, what kinds of content do really well. That’s what I would say to you.

I would say to you is if your bosses are saying, “You got to be in 27 places.” Then it’s your job as a professional to educate them about what that’s going to look like for you and to set expectations that you aren’t going to be able to be really effective on 27 different channels.

But that you’re going to pick one to focus on each quarter. You think that by doing that, by the end of the year, you’ll really be able to influence the bottom line. I think you’re going to go a lot farther in convincing your leadership that that’s the way to go.

Adam: There’s lots of organizations. You talked about this in the seminar that think of their content as evergreen. I’ll raise my hand. Right at UIE, we’re a great example. We think a lot of our content is Evergreen and target it as such. How do we really know? What are the telltale signs that your content is no longer fitting for your content marketing?

Ahava: That’s a really excellent question. I think that every organization needs to examine this, at least once a year. With the way technology is moving, things are just going to become out of date.

I think that one of the good ways to do this is to sort of ask yourself, “What are we seeing in the social media conversations that we’re having about what’s going on with our customers? Do we have pieces of content that we’re still seeing a lot of traffic on that maybe don’t answer those questions or are out of date?

One of the things that I think is really effective for companies is to leave a piece of old content on their website. But to say something like, “We’ve updated this. Visit us over here.” That’s probably the best tactic for a blog to say, “We’ve updated this blog.” In that way, the evergreen posts stays there. You have doubled the traffic because you get people to the new update as well.

I think that content is no longer evergreen when it was dealing with a particular situation that was going on in the marketplace at that time and doesn’t really affect anybody anymore. For example, when Facebook paper launched, I wrote an email newsletter about it. That’s not an evergreen piece of content. That’s a piece of news content that was to address a certain concern in the marketplace at that moment.

That’s a small test that you can use for when your content is no longer evergreen. Business priorities change. Businesses grow or they shrink and they change what they’re doing. They change who they’re targeting.

Looking at your content and having a rolling audit going with it, sort of looking at it either quarterly or yearly or having captains that are in charge of certain sections so that they can report back to the editorial team and say, “We think we need to pull this down or we think we need to update this page.”

It’s a constant challenge. I really don’t think that anyone has the perfect answer for it. I think that sort of knowing what you have out there and knowing what you’re trying to achieve, and who you’re trying to achieve it with will help you narrow down how to decide whether or not it’s evergreen or not.

Adam: One of the things that we do with your seminar is we sort of pitched it as all these folks that are thinking about content strategy. We’re challenging them to [indecipherable 14:02] UX into the conversation. When you’re creating your content, how do you know when it’s the right time to bring in the UX team? What’s the ideal process like?

Ahava: I think the right time to bring in the content of the UX team is when you’ve decided, who your personas are and which content formats are you going to use? If you decide that your target audience is a bunch of teenagers and you decide that video’s really the way to go with them, then that’s the time to bring in your UX video team or the people that sort of overlap with that production.

To me, the best way for that process to happen is to have integrated teams that aren’t siloed, where you get different experts in the room. You get your video person in the room. You get your info-graphic person in the person.

You get your visual design people in the room. You sort of brainstorm together on what the business objectives are that you’re trying to accomplish and what would satisfy these target markets or what would appeal to them and attract them.

Then, figuring out what those content formats look like. If we are going to write away paper, who’s going to be in charge of, like I said before, the rule of four, repurposing that piece of content. If we’re going to write an annual report, who’s going to go through it and pick out little blurbs that we can use on social media and longer pieces that we can create a blog from.

The ideal process is one where we start from a business objective, we figure out who it is that we’re talking to and then we create content that has been planned to be repurposed from the very beginning.

I think that companies really love that approach. It’s much more efficient for them. They’re not constantly thinking about, “OK, who’s going to write this? Who’s going to edit it? Who’s going to put it on social media?” It’s all decided at the very beginning of the campaign or at the very beginning of the idea so that the road map pretty much maps itself out for them.

Adam: Ahava, you are amazing. Thanks so much for coming back, spending a bit more time with us.

Ahava: Thank you! You’re amazing, too, Adam!

Adam: To our audience, thanks again for your support of the UIE virtual seminar. Goodbye for now!

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