Cape Town wakes up to content strategy: A review of the CSForum conference

Bandwidth Blog’s winner of the ticket to the 2012 CSForum, Jo Duxbury provides us with a review of her experience and highlights at the world-class conference that came to Stellenbosch’s Spier Wine Estate from the 25 – 26 October.
Introducing content strategy to South Africa
Answer the “˜So what do you do?‘ question with “˜I‘m a content strategist‘ and you‘ll likely encounter blank stares. Although not for long, if Kerry-Anne Gilowey has her way. After attending the first two Content Strategy Forum (CSForum) conferences in Paris and London, Gilowey undertook to bring the event to South Africa. The 150+ content strategists and the content-strategy-curious, who gathered from all over the world in Stellenbosch last week, are glad she did.

Fresh speakers, a new audience
CSForum offered delegates a completely fresh panel of speakers. Only three of the 28 people presenting were local ““ the rest came from north and south America and Europe, representing companies like Mailchimp, Facebook, Ebay, Opera, Razorfish and more. Many of the speakers are leading the way and setting standards in their specialist fields and the number of published books between them is pretty intimidating.
Conference highlights
Often conferences can be heavily theoretical but many of the talks at CSForum provided perspectives and ideas which can be applied right away. It was very difficult choosing from the three speaker tracks on the second day. Highlights included:

  • Luke Wroblewski‘s insight that the web is now “˜write/read‘. In the past only 1% of internet users were creating content, but that is changing. Now users go online to update a status or post a photo first, and respond to content from others second. Encouraging content creation depends on strategy and tools to make it easy. Start paying attention to the “˜write‘ element(s) of your site or app and work out whether deep or light content is going to have more traction with your audience.
  • Angela Colter‘s fascinating talk on low literacy (slides here), which is more prevalent than one might think in the US. Angela‘s studies have important lessons for online content strategy in South Africa, as our literacy levels are even lower ““ and English is not a first language for many.
  • Bruce Lawson from Opera has a gift for making complicated concepts easy to understand ““ like his talk on “˜HTML5 101 for Content Strategists‘. I‘ve never written a line of code in my life, but now know enough to ask my developers some thought-provoking questions. And Bruce‘s phrase “˜organisational vanity publishing‘ is going to be quoted in our office – often.
  • Kate Kiefer Lee from Mailchimp spoke about the importance of voice and tone ““ something which Mailchimp absolutely nails. She illustrated how the way a brand makes people feel is so important ““ and how voice and tone contribute to that.

Other interesting sessions were the energetic and entertaining Relly Annett-Baker on how to give people content strategy skills from inside organisations; the Western Cape Government‘s Thomas Bevan on executing content strategy in hostile environments; and Facebook‘s Diane Murphy on how Facebook integrated content strategy with a system for reporting offensive images on their site (did you know that 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day?).
It‘s all in the detail
Gilowey and her team of Rian van der Merwe, Nathan Blows and Irene Walker did an excellent job of attracting high quality speakers from all over the world, and pulling off a world-class event.
And CSForum got the little things right too: Desks were provided in all the presentation rooms – and these, along with free WiFi (thanks to Skyrove and Wireless Online) made stepping out of the office for two days much more manageable. The 1.5 hour lunchbreaks gave ample time for checking email and networking. And the venue, Spier, was not only top quality, but certainly impressed the foreign contingent.
As CSForum is a travelling conference, it sadly won‘t be held in Cape Town next year (it will probably be returning to Europe). The good news is that Kerry-Anne Gilowey, this year’s lead organiser, has committed to running another similar event in Cape Town next year – follow her on Twitter (@kerry_anne) for updates.
About the author: Jo Duxbury runs popular freelancer website Freelancentral and outsourced marketing agency Peppermint Source. Follow her on Twitter on @JoDuxbury