I’ll bet that if you scratch the surface of just about any content strategist you will find a writer underneath. I’m no exception. It’s no surprise then that a great deal of the talk among practitioners tends to revolve around words. Add to that the fact that text was the original content of the web (they called it HyperText Markup Language for a reason). By default, it seems that content strategy is biased towards the written word.
But five minutes on Facebook are enough to show that most of what gets shared by the other 99.99999% of the planet IS NOT text. Sure there are links to articles, but they’re nothing compared to videos, photos and games. We get all flushed about things like Flipboard, Instapaper and Readability, but I can’t name one friend or colleague outside of my line of work who’s mentioned any of them to me.
So, I’ve had to face up to the fact that when it comes to content, text isn’t always king. For example, over the past few months I’ve been working on a project where the primary content is video. My writing responsibilities stretch from storyboards, scripts and text for onscreen animations to more traditional articles.
This and other experiences have forced me to realize that although I’m a writer at heart, not everyone is a reader. And it’s not just because people are writing more than ever that they have an innate love of the written word. Sobering. It has challenged me to imagine content in other formats. To reframe my storytelling to use the right format for the story being told and the audience (and not lazily indulge in my own personal penchant for words).
Now, when I start thinking about content creation, I try to leave my mind open as long as possible. I find myself consciously refusing the urge to think in terms of pages and paragraphs. The goal is to find the best format for the job. Here’s my current crib sheet of content formats, in no specific order. I keep it near at hand early on, when content strategy is at its most embryonic.
- Text (no, duh)
- Photography (I’m waging a private war against stock photography)
- Illustration (underused IMHO)
- Presentations (I’m really liking Prezi)
- PDFs (don’t scream, some people actually like them)
- Games/quizzes (serious and otherwise)
These kinds of content aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they are often most effective when combined. Think illustration and narration, think video and voiceovers. I like to call it hybrid content.
Writing myself out of a job?
I don’t think so. But I’ve had to evolve. When it comes to storytelling, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ways of achieving purpose. The inverted pyramid isn’t the only game in town. I’m increasingly intrigued by non-linear and contextual storytelling, for instance.
When it comes to content strategy, the plethora of formats has been a blessing and bane. A blessing because:
- More tools mean more ways to be engaging.
- It pushes content strategy in new directions.
- I can “densify” information value in a given space without adding to clutter (hence my battle with meaningless stock photography).
- Designers dig it.
A bane because clients aren’t always tooled to handle these new formats, either organizationally or technically.
I’m sure I’m neither the first nor the only person to have encountered these issues. What is your experience with other content formats in content strategy? I’d love to hear from you.
NOTE: I’ll be turning down the volume for the next couple weeks; I’ll be attending SXSW Interactive and making a swing through the Bay Area.