[quote style=”boxed”]1. Audit the content you have. List it in an Excel spreadsheet. Look long and hard at it.2. Put someone in charge of the content at the beginning of the project. Not just the content creation, but really asking tough questions about it and finding out who has the answers. And make sure it’s someone who can get really close to the content, like the writer or the IA. The earlier this happens, the better. 3. Every time someone suggests a new piece of content (or microsite, or image gallery, or social media account, or blog, or app), ask … “Why?”[/quote]
Kristina Halvorson is widely recognized as the industry’s leading advocate for content strategy. She is the founder and CEO of Brain Traffic, a world-renowned content strategy consultancy; the author of Content Strategy for the Web, the first and most celebrated book on the topic; the founder of Confab: The Content Strategy Conference; and the host of Content Talks, a 5by5 podcast.
Kristina’s tireless efforts to promote content strategy as a key discipline in organizational, web and communications design is radically shifting the way companies worldwide think about content. In 2009, she organized the first Content Strategy Consortium, which acted as an important catalyst in the international content strategy movement. In 2010, she delivered the keynote address at the world’s first Content Strategy Summit in Paris, France. Today, Kristina speaks regularly to conference and corporate audiences around the world; her presentations, interviews, and writing continue to help shape and promote the discipline of content strategy. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her two young children, whom she often quotes on Twitter (@halvorson).
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I’m working with the team at Brain Traffic to plan Confab 2012 (our content strategy conference). Another big focus in the coming months will be co-authoring a second edition of Content Strategy for the Web with Melissa Rach (Brain Traffic Vice President, Content Strategy)—the new outline is done, so that’s a small step, at least!
On a weekly basis, I’m always doing interviews for my weekly content strategy podcast, Content Talks; developing and tweaking talks for a bunch of conferences; connecting with other authors and speakers to see how I can support their work; and showing up at Brain Traffic now and then so they don’t forget who I am.
And always, every day, helping people recognize that content is a critical business asset, and it’s time to start treating that way.
What does your typical day look like?
I have three kinds of days: working in the office, working at home, and being on the road.
Working in the Brain Traffic office (which I love) typically means dealing with emails, catching up with co-workers, meetings, hiring, bantering with my hilarious colleagues … all the stuff the CEO of a growing consultancy is supposed to do.
Working at home involves me staying in my pajamas, not showering, playing with my kids and the dog, and procrastinating. And, uh, working.
On the road means conferences: tweaking my slides until the last minute, cramming my brain full of new ideas, enjoying drinks with fellow speakers and attendees, Skype chats with the kids, fighting with Delta. (Sometimes I teach workshops, too, but I’m doing less of that these days—workshops are exhausting! I admire people who can do those regularly. I am old and therefore tire easily.)
Three trends that excite you?
1. Content strategy. Heh.
2. Responsive design, because it’s starting to bring to light the desperate need for smart, well-structured, quality content. FINALLY.
3. Naps. Well, naps are trending with me, anyhow.
How do you bring ideas to life?
This is a great question, but a tough one.
If I sit and think about ideas I’ve had over the past, say, three years, there are three specific “how”s that come to mind: actively seek out others’ perspectives and opinions, take time off (I need space to let the path between points A and B become clear), and be annoyingly optimistic. Connecting with others is my primary “how”, I guess. The work I do simply can’t happen while I’m sitting alone in front of a screen. Whether I’m managing Brain Traffic, researching, writing, speaking or planning new events, my work is inherently collaborative. I like it that way.
What inspires you?
People—sometimes by what they say, but most often by what they do. Specifically, I’m super inspired by people who are brave enough to bring new ideas to the table, or to (respectfully) debate others’ ideas in a public forum.
Whether or not I know them personally, watching those folks step up to the plate is always extraordinarily energizing for me. I know firsthand how terrifying it can be to share your thoughts with strangers for the first time, so it makes me cheer extra loudly for them.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I guess it’s related to my answer above. Both in my work and in my personal life, I’ve often paid more attention to people’s words than their actions—in hiring, in choosing collaborative partners, in relationships. It’s a really difficult distinction to make sometimes, especially when you have an established connection or relationship with the other person. What I’ve learned, though, is that a person’s character is ultimately defined by their actions. I wouldn’t say it’s made me jaded or more suspicious of others’ words, necessarily. But it has helped me to be far more judicious when it comes to making any kind of commitment to someone.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Well, between you and me, I think the Harry Potter books would make great movies.
What do you read every day, and why?
The only things I read daily without fail are my email and Twitter. Twitter is sort of my gateway to a bunch of other stuff—articles, videos, podcasts—my curated list of curators. So although I don’t have a website or blog I check every day, I’m still reading all the time.
How’s that for the most non-specific answer ever.
What is the one book you recommend our community read, and why?
I’d point to Erin Kissane’s book, The Elements of Content Strategy, as an incredibly important primer on the topic. It really does a terrific job introducing the messy world of content strategy to a wider audience, especially designers and developers. I especially appreciate the way she tackles related disciplines and highlights shared principles between them.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
My iPhone! Wait, did somebody already say that? I’m a big fan of Wunderlist. People in my office give me nonstop crap about how I’m constantly scratching lists on random scraps of paper. Erik Westra (Brain Traffic Director of Media and Events) finally showed me this app, and it works beautifully. Just really simple and straightforward.
Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?
@LuckyShirt: No one else cracks me up as consistently as this guy does… whoever he is.
@TweetsofOld: Just a totally delightful curation of snippets from old small-town newspapers.
@bogiezero and/or @iaTV: Yes, I know that makes four, but just shhhhh. Both of these guys are hands-down the best curators of UX articles, podcasts and posts on Twitter. Half of my Instapaper account is just the content they’ve linked to.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
– Maria Guidice, Hot Studio
– Mandy Brown, Typekit
– Hugh Forrest, SXSW Interactive
What are three things a project team can do to introduce content strategy into its process?
1. Audit the content you have. List it in an Excel spreadsheet. Look long and hard at it.
2. Put someone in charge of the content at the beginning of the project. Not just the content creation, but really asking tough questions about it and finding out who has the answers. And make sure it’s someone who can get really close to the content, like the writer or the IA. The earlier this happens, the better.
3. Every time someone suggests a new piece of content (or microsite, or image gallery, or social media account, or blog, or app), ask … “Why?”
How does it feel when people call you the “patron saint” of content strategy?
OK, I’ll go ahead and say that there are two pretty specific sides of this weird “micro-celebrity” coin I’m carrying.
The great part: it’s awesome to know I’ve helped to spark and shape this conversation about the important of content. It’s amazing to hear that my work has helped other people do their jobs better, or even to get new jobs! I get to speak at fun conferences, to easily connect with people whose work I admire, and to shine the spotlight on people whose work deserves more attention.
The difficult part: it sucks because, being perceived as this “figurehead” in the industry, I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to fulfill that role on a daily basis. For example, I feel like I have to constantly stay on top of everything that’s happening around content strategy at all times. If I’m in a bad mood at a conference and want to go hide in my room, I feel guilty for not hanging out with people, some of whom came specifically to see me talk. I rarely find the time or energy to write blog posts, and I beat myself up about it constantly. I get dozens of mails from people asking me questions about their work or careers, and I simply can’t answer all of them, and I hate that. I’m probably way too neurotic about this stuff, but it really matters to me.
This is a difficult topic to discuss. Generally speaking, I take my role in the CS community very seriously and work hard to continually improve my own knowledge and encourage others to share theirs.
When is the last time you laughed out loud?
About three minutes ago, walking down the aisle of the airplane past someone who was sleeping with their mouth wide open. Gets me every time.