The Content Strategy Experts - Scriptorium

The Content Strategy Experts - Scriptorium

Content ops stakeholders: Content consumers (podcast)

June 13, 2022

In episode 121 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Alan Pringle and Bill Swallow talk about content consumers as content ops stakeholders.

“If you look up a restaurant on your phone and go to view the menu, most of the time, that menu is going to be a PDF. And you are sitting there, zooming in, scrolling around, and pinching, and trying to read this menu that really should have just been a responsive HTML page.”

– Bill Swallow

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Alan Pringle:                   Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize, and distribute content in an efficient way. In this episode, we continue our series on content operations stakeholders, and talk about content consumers. Hello, everybody. I’m Alan Pringle.

Bill Swallow:                   And I’m Bill Swallow.

AP:                   So, far in this content operations stakeholder series, we’ve focused on really at this point, many groups. Let me think, risk management, tech support, localization, the people who manage the tech stack, executives and the IT department. And today, we’re going to focus on content consumers. But before we get away from that list that I just rattled off, I think we need to point out those people are also content consumers.

BS:                   Right.

AP:                   And I think the one that really strikes me the most is tech support being a content consumer.

BS:                   Right. Tech support, definitely. There’s a whole podcast on that topic. But yeah, they are consuming the content and repurposing and adding to that content. Other people here that are content consumers, that we’ve talked about before, certainly those who are developing products that redistribute content or remix content, or produce new content. So, developers who are working on, let’s say a chatbot feature, certainly that chatbot is a content consumer.

AP:                   Yep, it sure is. And I think what you’re going to hear more and more in this podcast, what we’ve seen is this trend where a lot of content consumers aren’t necessarily humans at first, and I think we need to account for that. And we’ll get more into that later in this conversation. I think one of the most obvious content consumer is if you work at a company that develops products and services is your end users, your customers, that’s your most obvious user base of content consumers. So, I think we need to address them upfront probably first.

BS:                   Right, because they’re the ones who have bought the product or service. So, they have the thing and they essentially need to know how to use and care for, and otherwise manage the thing that they bought. So, they need that content to help them along, whether it’s learning about the product, being able to know how to order replacement parts, if it’s mechanical, or if they need to send it in for repair, information about troubleshooting and so forth. And a lot of these people rely not so much on the content that comes in the box, which is fewer and fewer these days, but they go online to receive that content. And a lot of times they won’t think to use the vanity URL that you supplied on the box of the thing that they bought, they will rather go to Google or their search engine of choice and start searching for what they perhaps think the product name is.

AP:                   Right. And that vanity URL is on a box that is probably in a landfill or recycling facility. So, that’s one issue right there you got to think about. But bigger picture wise, you’ve got to be sure that the way you’re disseminating information to these, I’ll say first line content consumers, is actually getting to them. If your content is not at the top of search results for certain phrases that have to do with your products, you’re going to have your end users looking at third party content. I would say that is suboptimal at best.

BS:                   Mm-hmm. And I would also say that the format in which you’re producing this content is critical as well. The one thing that comes to my mind and is not directly related to technical content or what have you, but if you go online on your phone to look up a restaurant that you want to go eat at and you go to view the menu, about maybe 99 out of 100 times, that menu is going to be a PDF. And you are sitting there, zooming in and scrolling around, and pinching, and trying to read this menu that really should have just been a responsive HTML page.

AP:                   Exactly. And usually, if I am looking at a menu or looking for menus, I am hungry. And when I am hungry, I tend to get unhappy. So, hey, restaurant industry, think about your end users who are hungry, and hangry, and need to get the content in the format that they need when they want it. And like Bill said, if I’m on my phone, I want it in a quickly displayed HTML menu that I can scroll through really quickly to get to the part of the menu that I’m most interested in. And that very much applies to people with products and services, very much. Be sure that your content, first of all, is findable via the search engines and is in a format that’s usable so people can actually consume that information the way they want to.

BS:                   Right. And I would also add, make sure that it’s accessible, so that those who need some other means of consuming the content, whether it’s text to speech or some other format, that they have the ability to consume that content, that they are not left essentially stranded.

AP:                   Exactly. And I will say, as someone who now has to correct for reading vision wise, and I will just let people figure out why that may be. I can tell you, getting a PDF, for example, online on my phone is really suboptimal, because it’s much harder to deal with that than it is usually with a website that you can pinch and open up a lot more easily. So, you can’t assume that everyone’s just like you, as far as your content consumers go.

BS:                   Absolutely.

AP:                   There is another group of people who go out on the internet and research your products. And those are people who are shopping or trying to make a buying decision. And I think they very much come into play as part of this conversation.

BS:                   Definitely. And a lot of times now, more and more technical based content is being looked up prior to people making purchases. Whether they are buying a new device, whether they’re buying a car or what have you, people are scouring the internet because they don’t want to sit in endless sales meetings where they’re only being told what the company thinks that the buyer wants to hear. They want to suss out the specifications and make a rational decision or an informed decision.

AP:                   Absolutely. I know I have seen, and I’ve had clients do this in recent meetings, say, “Well, our competition or a place where I used to work before I came here, which is often the competition, us doing it this way, we need to do it this way, in regard to how content is being distributed and consumed.”

BS:                   And yeah. I had a conversation with a client that not so much pulled up the competition, but they pulled up examples of other people’s documentation, just to say, I like this aspect about how they presented the information here. And then they’d pull up another company’s documentation say, but I also like what they did here, and can we somehow marry the two?

AP:                   Yep. Yeah. So, it’s not just shoppers and end users, it may be the people who were trying to steal your business who are looking at your stuff. So, that’s something to definitely keep in mind. One other, I think less obvious content consumer is government agencies, because there are a lot of people who are in regulated industries and the way that you distribute your content for consumption is highly regulated. And there’s certain rules about how it has to look, how the wording is supposed to be, and all that stuff. In a lot of cases, there are reviews. Your content is reviewed to be sure that it meets whatever standard that is. So, the government can be a consumer of your content, not necessarily to read it to use your product, but to be sure you can sell your product, which is probably, ultimately super important that you adhere to those regulations in the way that you talk to end users through your content.

BS:                   And in addition to those, there are also trade regulations, which means that you have to be able to show proof that you have content in the particular language for a particular country or a locale that you’re distributing your product. And I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard stories about product being left in shipping containers at the docks, because the company was scrambling to get the localizations required in order for them to get the green light to sell product in that market.

AP:                   Yeah. And again, is this regulatory agency, are these customs people really looking to read the content to use your product? Not really, but guess what? It’s just as important as if they were, because you can’t even sell your product if these conditions are not met. So, they’re consumers, not in the traditional way, but they’re absolutely consumers of your content.

BS:                   Yeah. And actually, I’d say they’re probably even more gatekeepers, because as Alan mentioned, I mean, they don’t care about what’s written on the page, but they care that it’s there because they are trying to protect the consumers in their country and make sure that their people get what they expect from a product.

AP:                   Yep, absolutely. And I think we also now need to talk about how the different kinds of content that are out there are blurring. I think we’ve seen really a trend where it used to have this very interdepartmental view of things. These are the people who are creating your user guide content. These are the people who are creating your marketing content. These are the people who are creating your learning content. And there were these very firm rigid silos in there. But with the blurring of those things, I think that also very much ties into the content consumers. Because at the end of the day, when you need to find a bit of information that you need, I don’t think you care where it comes from, from the company who’s providing that information.

BS:                   Right. There’s no expectation from a person to say, “I really need to go in and I really need to read the content that their technical documentation staff has put together.” They just go in there and say, “I need to know how to configure this new phone I got in the mail. And all it came with was a slip of paper and the URL that is on it got smudged. So, I don’t know where to go.” Something like that. And there is that blurring of the line because you have actual users and you have shoppers and decision makers, and other people all searching for your content, whether you like it or not. You never know, is this person a long time customer who just misplaced their bookmark or what have you?

BS:                   Is this person a brand new customer who is interested in our product? Is this person a competitor? How much information should we supply without a login? That type of thing. So, there is that blurring of the line, but since you never really know who’s going to stumble across your content, (that’s for lack of a better term) out in the wild, you need to make sure that it does have a bit of everything in it. That it has the tone and structure that your marketing team believes works with your market, but it also needs to contain the correct technical information that people may be looking for.

AP:                   And not only does it need to be correct, it needs to be consistent. You can’t have a situation where, say part of the website says that specification for product X is this, yet a marketing slick somebody picked up at a trade show. And yes, they still happen, believe it or not, says something completely different. That kind of contradictory information is really a huge problem. Because first of all, you’re going to probably have that customer or potential customer call and clog up your tech support asking, which is it? And you’re also setting a really bad example. And those people may go to use another company because they can’t get consistent, easily verifiable information from you.

BS:                   Right. They’re certainly not going to waste their time if they cannot find the information, that is pretty much clear. People really are making buying decisions, essentially content first. If they can’t learn about your product, if they can’t get the information that they deem important to themselves to make a buying decision, but your competitor is providing that information, it’s a no brainer. People are going to go with the people who are being transparent about their product.

AP:                   Yeah. And you’ve also got to think about how certain people like to consume different flavors or delivery formats of content. I for one would prefer to read something. I know people who prefer to see a video. I am not that person, I’m going to assure you that, who will instead go to YouTube. And a lot of places have YouTube channels that are corporate YouTube channels for those kinds of people. So, you’re hitting all of the different delivery targets and essentially providing that same information in these different formats to meet a particular user’s or end user or buyer, to meet their personal preferences. And there are a whole lot of delivery formats out there now.

BS:                   There certainly are. I mean, just from a human content consumer point of view, there is of course the ever present PDF online or what have you, that can also be printed. There’s the HTML, so whether it’s on a website, in a help system, in a knowledge base, or wherever you’re publishing your content, there’s the online factor. And then of course, you do have audio, so this podcast, which we also provide a transcript. So, here we are providing two different formats here. I will say that my personal opinion, when I go looking for information and I need that extra help to figure something out, so fixing one of my lawn tools seems to be the task this year.

BS:                   So, I look up the manual, I don’t find the information there. I search for how tos. I may get some information, but ultimately I do land on YouTube. And honestly, from my own point of view, I look for the shortest video possible that seems targeted toward my particular need, because the last thing I want to do is click through to a video that is an hour long on something, when I only need 15 seconds of information.

AP:                   Exactly. And really, I mean, to each their own. And people who deliver and share content have to remember that, that not everybody is going to want to consume information in the same way. And in some cases, as you were saying earlier, that content needs to be accessible because you cannot assume that everyone can reach that information like you can. So, you have to account for that. And at the core of this, with this exponential growth in the different kinds of ways that you can deliver things now, I still think it’s fair to say that this digital content transformation we’ve been going through the past few years is really far from over at this point. I guarantee you, there are formats for delivery we have not even thought about yet at this point. And I’m thinking more of a lot of this virtual reality stuff in particular, that people are just starting to poke at.

BS:                   And I will note that over the past few years, JSON has really grown in popularity as an output format or a delivery format for content, because that content is going into other devices. It’s being loaded into other systems and used in many different ways. So, it’s no longer just the classic PDF and HTML. I mean, it’s going out into a variety of different formats.

AP:                   And this comes back to what we said earlier, your primary consumer sometimes at first may not be a human being. It may be another system that has to decipher and render and combine information to then provide some kind of dynamic, customized experience for your end user or shopper or buyer or whomever.

BS:                   Yeah. And as those systems become more and more robust, I think we’re going to see a lot more happening with another buzzword that’s been hitting the market lately with Content as a Service.

AP:                   Yes, exactly. I do think this is where everything is headed, and I guess we need to go ahead and define that very quickly, what Content as a Service is. We will put some links in the show notes to give you some resources on Content as a Service, or CaaS as people call it. CaaS is basically, instead of a push model where you’re pushing content out to your end user, it’s more of pulling it from multiple sources, combining it, and then serving it up to your customer in some kind of format that’s usually a little more personalized and dynamic than, say your standard webpage, for example. And Bill, you can tack onto that barely adequate definition that I just offered.

BS:                   Well, no, definitely the pull is correct. And it’s also a pull from the consumer side, because the consumer is not receiving information, they are taking it.

AP:                   Exactly. That’s a very valid point. I think this comes down to where people can, for example, specify the product that they have or they want to buy, and then immediately get feedback on the particular features that they’re interested in. And a good example of this that I can think of, if you have got people who want to fix whatever product that they’ve bought from you, and you have numbers about where inventory for parts are available across the globe, wouldn’t it be helpful to present to a person who wants to fix something? This is how you fix it. And if you need to buy these parts, guess what? This place has these parts and this many left. So, there’s inventory there for you to go get. That’s the kind of thing that I see CaaS really trying to accomplish. And I think we’ve also got something, we’ve got a client in particular who has done some really interesting things with CaaS, but it’s, I think even more critically important, because we’re dealing with medical charts and cancer. Why don’t you talk about that a little bit?

BS:                   Yeah. So, there’s a American Joint Committee on Cancer, they publish a cancer staging manual, which basically, it’s something you never want to read because it will haunt you for the rest of your days. But essentially, it is every single type of cancer and how it can manifest and what to expect and how to identify it in each and every stage. So, a lot of that information is now digitized so that they are able to inject it right into active medical charts. So, no longer are medical professionals going through a heavy tome and trying to decipher which type of cancer might be there, might be a candidate for further study. But they also are able to pull in all the specifics. Once a person gets diagnosed, they have all that information at their fingertips and can just inject it right into the chart. So, we’re not dealing with any kind of missed transcriptions and so forth.

AP:                   And outdated print editions. You’re getting the latest information, some of which is experimental or you can get that kind of cutting edge, bleeding edge information, and it’s combined altogether with a medical chart. That’s pretty important, I think.

BS:                   Definitely.

AP:                   And I think this is probably a good place to end. So, Bill, thank you.

BS:                   Thank you.

AP:                   Thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit or check the show notes for relevant links.

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