Confab Higher Ed 2017: What We Thought

Courtney McDonald

[Image: Our own Courtney McDonald welcomes Confab Higher Ed registrants. From @ConfabEvents on Instagram]

In DUX, we see content strategy as a crucial part of overall UX design; it doesn’t really matter how easy your website architecture makes it to find content if that content doesn’t make sense when you get there, or if it isn’t the content that you need! Confab is a terrific and well-organized content strategy conference; prior to 2018 it encompassed not only a big annual conference in Minneapolis but also smaller and more focused conferences that convened in a different city each year, including Confab Higher Ed. (See past blog posts about Confab.)

In November 2017, we got lucky in that Confab Higher Ed landed a mere 50 miles north of us in Indianapolis – making travel easy. I was delighted to be invited to give a talk (“Interview Your Stakeholders Like a Librarian” – here are my slides), and  while I’d attended both Confab Central and Confab Higher Ed in the past, this time around some other IU Libraries folks joined me at a Confab event.

My job as the Libraries’ Web Content Specialist means that I “do” content strategy as a part of my day-to-day work, so the talks presented at Confab are highly relevant for me. I especially loved Scott Kubie‘s talk on content ecosystem mapping – which seems especially relevant to some of my work right now as we evaluate our social media workflows and the relationships between content, and the people & processes managing that content, across multiple channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the Libraries’ blogs, the Libraries’ website, IUCAT, etc.). As a nice bonus, it was awesome to reconnect with IU grad and Confab speaker Melissa Beaver, with whom I worked when she was a grad student in information science! It makes me happy when our grads are professionally successful.

But I was curious how useful the conference would be to my colleagues who aren’t so closely involved with content strategy and who hadn’t attended Confab before. I asked them, and here’s what they told me.

Ashley Hosbach, Graduate Assistant, Reference Department:

As graduate students in the Library and Information Science program, we are encouraged to attend a variety of librarian oriented conferences. But what about conferences in different disciplines? Most of the people we work with aren’t fellow librarians; our work environment is built off of communicating and collaborating with other departments within our organizations. Attending Confab Higher Ed gave me the opportunity to connect with professionals in higher education across the board. I think that all MLS students should look into conferences like Confab. Approaching content strategy from a variety of perspectives made me reassess how I view library media and user design. To create content that is both impactful and accessible to our users requires sifting through our sites, media and catalogs. After all, there’s millions of stories floating throughout the stacks, and the voice of the library “brand” should rise above them all.

Leanne Nay, Digital Engagement Librarian:

Why did you choose to attend Confab Higher Ed?

After hearing Anne Haines rave about this conference I had to see if it was worth the hype!

What was your favorite session, and why? 

I loved Jared Thomas Meyer’s session, “Too Many Cooks: Overcoming Content Interference.” He had excellent practical tips for collaboration, but what I really enjoyed was his discussion of empathy and vulnerability. As Jared put it, “It’s our job to build a world that is compassionate and empathetic.” In retrospect, this statement sums up the entire conference. Content strategy isn’t about making money or getting the most followers on social media, it’s about seeing things from the user’s perspective.

If you learned one thing that you plan to implement or at least investigate in your day-to-day work, what was it?

A lot of presenters mentioned repurposing content across platforms. Here in the library, we have lots of different ways to communicate with our users, from the website to digital screens to social media. Instead of creating content and graphics for one platform, it’s a huge time saver to remix things and use them across multiple channels. Not to mention, it helps with brand consistency. I tend to use things once and move on, but I’m trying to think in these terms going forward.

If you don’t “do content strategy” in your day-to-day work, did you still find Confab relevant to what you do? Why or why not?

The most obvious application in my daily work is how I approach social media. You can apply content strategy to something as simple as writing a tweet. For any given tweet, I might ask myself, “Who is this tweet for? Is there an image I can use to help communicate the message? (Make sure to add alt text for screen readers!) Am I using an acronym that only a handful of people will know? Is there a hashtag I can use to reach more people?” And the list goes on.

Long story short, yes, I think content strategy is very relevant in my day to day work.

Can you compare Confab to other conferences you’ve been to? How was it different or similar?

The overall energy level was higher and the speakers were more dynamic than most conferences I’ve attended.

In general, do you think it’s a good experience for librarians to attend conferences that aren’t aimed directly at a librarian audience? Or do you think librarians should focus on deeper study within their own field?

Confab is a great conference for librarians because it speaks to how we communicate with our users. I think it’s applicable to all librarians.

Anything else you’d like to share with the class?

It was worth the hype!

Courtney McDonald, head of DUX and interim head of Reference:

Why did you choose to attend Confab Higher Ed?

I had heard such great things about it from a trusted colleague!  And it was, in fact, great.

What was your favorite session, and why? (If you had more than one favorite feel free to talk about as many as you’d like!)

My experience might have been a little different in that I also volunteered at the conference … that said, I actually really enjoyed the continuity of being in a single room all day and seeing the variety of presentations just in that one space. If I had to choose, I’d probably say Matt McFadden’s talk on “Content in the Age of Personalization” – I loved how he framed personalization in terms of presenting content and letting the user refine, rather than how I often think of personalization which is all about account creation, etc.

I also really enjoyed the presentation by Kelly Davenport and Jackie Wolf
titled “How to go from good to great: A case study on redesigning the University of Michigan Medical School website.” They manage a Drupal site that serves the entirety of Michigan Medical so hearing how they thought through a redesign on that scale and managed to meet so many individual and varied needs and goals of departments and content editors was inspiration for our own upcoming redesign / migration here.

In general, do you think it’s a good experience for librarians to attend conferences that aren’t aimed directly at a librarian audience? Or do you think librarians should focus on deeper study within their own field?

Yes! If the work that we do has connections to a larger industry or community, inside or outside of higher ed, I think there’s so much benefit to be gained from actively connecting to that community of practice. We do have opportunities to connect with the library community of practice, and I value those, but I am also part of the content strategy Community of Practice and that helps me approach my work with a different, and useful, context.

Author- Anne Haines

Web Content Specialist in the Discovery & User Experience Department, IU Libraries. I've spoken at events including edUi, Confab Central, Confab Higher Ed, IOLUG, ILF, the IU Libraries' Digital Library Brown Bag series, and the Libraries' In-House Institute. You can find me hanging out at the intersection of content strategy and librarianship, singing a doo-wop song under the streetlight. Follow me on Twitter: @annehaines