Halvorson talks to Portland about Content Strategy

The Content Strategy PDX crew had Kristina Halvorson, CEO of Brain Traffic, over for a “fireside chat” tonight here in Portland. The Cleaners at the Ace Hotel, an event space in Downtown Portland, was packed with content strategists, web developers, user experience designers, and other kindred professions, sipping on beer and wine while listening to Halvorson talk shop.


(I’m really good at goofy photos.)

“Our content sucks because no one’s taking care of it,” Halvorson said, imitating a client, stakeholder, peer, colleague– someone who we’ve all probably had a conversation with about the state of content on the web.

Fortunately, there are talks all over the world, just like the one here in Portland tonight, about how to bridge different web practices together on a mission for better content.

Halvorson spoke a bit about the second edition of her book, Content Strategy for the Web, and how its latest iteration is an accessible methodology for other content-related disciplines. She answered questions from a good portion of the attendees. There were some questions that she crowdsourced to the audience for a few group insights and laughs.

Some of the things that stuck out to me:

“Content is an easy sell, but the maintenance and sustenance of it is the challenge.”

I think I paraphrased this from a combination of someone asking a question and Halvorson’s answer, but still. Quite true. Playing off of making a decision maker look good can sell content. However, the governance, upkeep, and resource gathering for the content is the big hill to climb. Hope we all wear our hiking shoes when we get to that challenge.

“Create a style guide, create a core team of writers (or creators), rely on a skilled editor.”

This was her suggestion to an attendee who asked about how to get content writers to use the same voice and tone. I was surprised that no one brought up borrowing from the ad agencies and implementing principles of the creative brief. That’s a method that seems to work to keep creative output “on-brand.” Maybe I should have asked…

“Useful content should be somewhere between findable and being of quality.”

Something was said along these lines when content and SEO were brought up in a question. The audience generally agreed that if content is too optimized to be found, there’s a very high chance that no one really cares about it. Instead, we should seek usefulness and generally making people feel smart that they found our content that helped them do whatever they were trying to do.

“Look for the quick wins.”

This one tugged at my heartstrings. Working in a smaller business, it’s the little discoveries and victories that can keep the ball rolling, eliminate doubt, reduce project creep, and basically make everyone smile as we all continue the good fight.

Halvorson touched upon how to sell content “up the food chain,” meeting user needs (though this topic always seems like it could use its own presentation all together), the subjectiveness of content value and quality, as well as how to wrangle content alongside colleagues outside of the craft, like legal teams. I think the group even set foot into responsive design territory, stretching the fireside chat across large swaths of web content design and strategy.

It was nice to see a sampling of Portland’s content strategist crowd, and other web developer, writers, strategists, and communicators from all walks of life. Hearing other people’s concerns and beliefs helped me know that everyone’s in the fight for better content across the web. Now when I head back to work on Monday, I’m reminded that I’m not alone on the quest for better web content.

Big thanks to the Content Strategy PDX crew for holding the event and for Kristina Halvorson for flying into the Northwest deluge to spend an evening with all of us.

Oh yeah… the most important nugget of truth from Halvorson– don’t forget to wear comfy shoes.

3 thoughts on “Halvorson talks to Portland about Content Strategy”

  1. Thanks for the summary, Andrew. Glad you captured so many notes–and wrote them up so quickly. Enjoyable to read too.

    Marcia (Riefer Johnston)

    1. Marcia, thanks for organizing this event.  I’m relatively new to the area so having a chance to meet new people is always good.

  2. No problem. I’m glad the notes can be of use. Looking forward to the next content strategy PDX event for sure. Thanks for all you’ve done, Marcia!

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