Content strategy visuals: where’s the fun?

Just-the-Facts1

“Just give me the facts, I don’t care what it looks like.”

Have you met this person?

Visuals–despite being an important communication tool with the succinct and often dramatic ability to pull details together and make the complicated meaningful–are not always given the credit they deserve.

Online, where most users can see faster than they can read, where users generally respond to visuals rather than text or speech, visuals are crucial. Used properly, visuals can reinforce messages and set them apart in the digital deluge of social feeds.

So let’s take  one topic, content strategy, to see how visuals have been used in the attempt to clarify what content strategy is all about.

1. Approaches to web content strategy.

ingram.content_strategy

This diagram was created by Richard Ingram, whose blog Shut the door on your way out, Cicero discusses content strategy, information design, and web accessibility.

The visual is part interconnected beehive part Venn diagram. On one hand it quickly makes the point of many separate but interdependent and overlapping considerations.

On the other hand, it has “Page Tables” in the point of most emphasis: the visual centre where there’s the most overlap and contrast between text and background. Its page table-centricity distracts from expressing the idea found in the left-side explanatory text, that “diverse skills and experience” make up content strategy.

A caveat for visuals: to say what you intend, pretest images with a representative audience before publication.

2. 11 Ways Every Business Can Create a Content Strategy.

 

growwithtrellis content strategy

This diagram is included in the article, 11 Ways Every Business Can Create A Content Strategy. It’s fun to look at and makes the point that content strategy is a multi-step process.

However, in addition to the unexplained downward dip following “promote,” it leaves out the interdependencies between content and people, organizations and users.  I looked for an explanation in the article’s text but found none.

A couple more cautions. First, make sure your visuals support your ideas; avoid using a linear representation to describe a non-linear process. Second, if there’s a conventional element, for example something that looks like a trend line, make sure the data is explained somewhere, ideally within the visual.

3. Content strategy mind map.

ContentStrategy

Evolved from the author’s personal process for outlining and planning content strategy, this mind map comes from web-content-strategy.com.

Follow the paths and you’ll find the components of content strategy from highly-specific details like “validate content dates and milestones” under project planning to the intersection of its five subtopics: structure, business, creative, creative, process and technical. The first impression the mind map gives is of many considerations and many levels of detail; it’s the most exhaustive visual I found.

However, its scope makes it unwieldy on a desktop screen much less a smartphone’s. Zooming in on the details loses the sense of interconnection. And following the paths by scrolling is a dizzying experience.

The mind map dates from 2009. Created now, its shortcomings might be solved with interactivity. Here’s an example of a self help interactive content strategy guide where each section expands to reveal guidelines and reference articles.  Click the image to access the live version:

it.umn

 

While unexciting as a visual, the clickable outline has a couple advantages over a sprawling diagram. Its text-based content is more search engine friendly than an image. And it invites user interaction beyond simple viewing, again increasing the visibility of the content with search engines.

An ideal visual to express content strategy? Comprehensive, engaging, SEO friendly and yes, fun. Most people really do care what things look like, especially when content appears online.

How can we increase visual appeal to explain topics like the theory and practice of content strategy? Do an image search on “content marketing infographic.” Compared to the theorists I considered, the results are definitely more colourful:

google result content marketing strategy

Finally, here’s Mary Poppins to sum it up: in every job that must be done there is an element of fun. So find the fun in your topic, align it with your organization’s workflow, governance and content needs. Add your users’ needs and snap, the job’s a game!find the fun and snap

Just the facts image: forbes.com

6 Comments on “Content strategy visuals: where’s the fun?

  1. Hey Robyn!

    Your entire blog is fantastic and I love your use of graphics (some I think you’ve created yourself right?)!

    I love your very thorough look at the benefits of visuals and what makes a good infographic. While it can be tempting to try to put all your findings or information into one graphic and adding a ton of colours and pictures, trimming out everything but the essentials makes it far more accessible and not as overwhelming.

    Side note: not sure if you frequent reddit or not but there’s a great forum on there that shares really well put together data in a ton of different ways. If you’re interested check it out – https://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/ There’s also a ton of other subreddits for cool graphs and whatnot but /r/dataisbeautiful is my personal favourite.

    Thanks for posting!

    – J

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment! Yes, I’ve done most of the visuals on robynfacts.com. Experimenting both with my capabilities and with what visuals help to tell my blog story. I’ve considered watermarking my originals, but hey, if someone else uses them at this point that makes me happy.
      I once created a six foot long infographic (an onerous scrolling experience) for one of my Ryerson courses, so I know what you mean by trying to fit too much in.
      Thanks for the reddit link. I have two books on the subject because I ❤ designed information. ("The Designed Miscellaneum" and "Knowledge is Beautiful.") Their only shortcoming is the format: too small to see some of the details.

      Like

  2. Robyn, awesome post!
    I found the mind map the most valuable one out of them all. However, at first glance I liked the first infographic because it was colour-coded but once I opened it up it became confusing. I definitely agree to do a visual right you need to make sure you know your audience first instead of trying to explain the visual with text within the actual visual. It almost defeats the purpose of a visual in the first place.

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, Natasha. True: to do a visual right first you have to know your audience. And also ensure the visual stands on its own to communicate its ideas within a user’s time frame–all the way from at-a-glance analysis to more detailed scrutiny. You never know when a group of PR students might be sent on a search and evaluate mission!

      Like

  3. Awesome again . . . I don’t know what ‘Page Tables’ are, so you certainly know more about design than I do. This is certainly true: “Most people really do care what things look like, especially when content appears online.” In fact, 94% of first impressions about a website or an infographic are based on design, with only 6% on text.

    Like

    • Hi Boyd, thanks for the feedback! 94%/6% makes sense. Although, when I’m doing research I’m more influenced by who the author or publisher is or the credibility of whatever source sent me to to a website (for example, as a required reading for CDPR108). But if I’m browsing or following links from social media (where there are many alternatives) I’m highly impatient/judgmental with slow loading or cluttered/unrelated images–both make it hard to find content. Grrrr….
      I prefer sites where the user experience is informed by a harmony between form and function. TED.com comes to mind. Do you agree?
      Finally, page tables. I ran into the term in Content Strategy for the Web (p. 125). “Everything you need to know about content on a specific website page.” We’re using a version of them in this course. The blog themes dictate where things appear on the page, fonts, colours etc.; and the course content/grading rubrics specify posting objectives, key messages, specific recommendations, required standards for source content etc. 🙂

      Like

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