The View from Outside In: What Users Don’t Care About and What to Do Instead

This post is based on my presentation at STC Summit 2019, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), and incorporates takeaways from Alan Porter and John Bowie.

Customer interactions are becoming synonymous with content interactions. Today, content must be available for more than single-channel troubleshooting, documentation, training, or lead generation. All content must be available across all touchpoints to satisfy user intent at every stage of the customer journey.

But all too often, organizational divisions and siloed knowledge lead to different teams who publish different types of content in different channels.

Spoiler alert: Your customers don’t care.

Presentation slide courtesy of with text The customer doesn't care where your content comes from

Invert your perspective to outside-in

Do you care about your customers and incorporate their perspective into your strategy? Your answer is likely an emphatic YES, as it should be! However, that’s not enough to create and sustain an optimal customer experience. Committing to an outside-in approach means prioritizing customer value over what seems best for business (or your team) now.

When it comes to content experience, outside-in perspective means challenging the status quo of how you create and deliver content.

It’s time to evolve to a mature content experience that puts customer value first. What does that look like? The answer is complex in terms of the many variables involved, but simple to describe in terms of what it looks like in practice.

A mature content experience has two main components:

  1. Seamless content delivery – customers can access the exact information they need in whichever channel they are interacting.
  2. Feedback loop to business objectives – all content interactions are correlated to desired outcomes or analyzed for actionable insights to improve products or services.
A Powered by MindTouch graphic depicting Seamless content delivery - customers can access the exact information the seamless content experience—delivering content customers need in whichever channel they are interacting

Seamless content delivery

Content channels are splintering based on customer demand. Some key stats from Gartner about self-service illustrate the influence of customer self-service expectations:

  • 15% support interactions will be handled via artificial intelligence by 2021 – a 400% increase from 2017
  • 85% support interactions will start with self-service by 2022 – up from 48% in 2018

Both technology and human-controlled processes will need to improve to accommodate these interactions. On the technology side, artificial intelligence and machine learning are already getting incorporated into your tools to automate engagement.

The harder change to make will be, as Gartner recommends, to distribute consistent knowledge across all self-service and assisted channels. Consistent knowledge delivery will be a challenge to achieve because it requires people and process alignment. So we need to start the tough work now to get our content ready for the technology already en route.

Does your content pass the water test? For consistent knowledge distribution, your content needs to be able to adapt into any channel or device just like water can take the shape of any container.

Image with text Content is like water

Two of the most important “containers” on the path to ubiquity are conversational user interfaces (chatbots) and voice assistants (smart speakers). These mechanisms need the same content to be delivered with quite different formats—most significantly, either with or without a visual user interface.We must prioritize the experience of the people interacting with these devices to help them get the information they need.

The future of content during this Industry 4.0 era requires certain characteristics identified by the Information 4.0 Consortium:

  • Molecular
  • Dynamic
  • Ubiquitous
  • Independent
  • Spontaneous
  • Offered
  • Profiled

Incorporate Information 4.0 characteristics for your content to work best for chatbots, smart speakers, and the all-important humans. Approach knowledge as microcontent snippets that are fluid enough for all touchpoints.

Feedback loop to business objectives

An outside-in perspective goes beyond seamless and consistent content delivery. Prioritizing user experience also means taking every opportunity to reduce effort and improve value for your customers.

While you tackle the challenge to align your teams and processes around user-focused content strategy, ensure that alignment is directly connected to your business objectives.

Content measures to consider:

  • Conversions – when a user completes desired goals. Identify both your micro conversions (smaller value interactions moving towards a goal) and macro conversions (completed transactions or interactions of monetary value). Measure where and how your content fits into your conversion landscape.
  • Leading and lagging indicators – measures of activities around content delivery (leading) and the outcomes of content interactions (lagging). Correlate the relationship between indicators to determine which leading indicators are most important to focus on (and act on) to achieve the desired lagging indicators for your business objectives.

Content measures to be wary of:

  • Vanity Metrics – easy-to-measure (and manipulate) data that doesn’t necessarily correlate to anything meaningful. For new web-based content, perhaps after you upgrade your dated PDF outputs, these metrics can be a good place to start measuring. But repeatedly showcasing page views, sessions, bounce rate, or time on page without correlating to value-based outcomes (like conversions and lagging indicators!) does not provide any actionable insights to improve.

After you become a pro at measuring all the right things, look for actionable insights to improve your products or services. As John Bowie of Edmentum called out in his presentation:

You can’t write your way out of a problem you designed yourself into.

Your customers give you invaluable information about what they want when they interact with your content, which includes their search queries. Evaluate content interactions through the lens of data-driven optimization to ensure a feedback loop to the organization.

Find opportunities to improve in a way that reduces customer effort, which may even eliminate the need for some of your content. This highlights why vanity metrics on their own can be unhelpful or even misleading. More content interactions do not always equal better experiences!

If you are responsible for any type of content in your organization, be prepared to disrupt your own methods to achieve a blended content experience that’s best for your users.

Connect to your customers with knowledge

Content professionals have an opportunity to provide more value to customers than ever before, but it takes enterprise-wide collaboration to execute properly.

Their self-service journey cannot happen successfully without your focus on next-gen knowledge management.

Originally published on the blog

STC Summit 2018

The #STC18 Technical Communication Summit is the annual conference organized by the Society for Technical Communication, which took place this year in Orlando on May 20-23, 2018.

Incredibly, it was the 65th anniversary. This milestone illustrates the longevity of the STC organization. This year’s theme, Communicate the Future, exemplifies the forward-looking focus that we will all benefit from.

I attended to represent as President of the STC San Diego Chapter and to present about Future-Proof Writing – an extension of my Effective Content Framework tailored for the conference theme.

See more conference highlights on the STC San Diego blog: 2018 STC Summit – Cheers to a milestone birthday and the future!

Read more about the conference theme and industry trends: Communicate the future at #STC18 and beyond.

Freelance Business Fundamentals – Key Takeaways

STC San Diego collaborates with SD/PEN every year to host a fall workshop. I think they keep getting better every year and this year’s workshop to Kickstart Your Home-Based Writing and Editing Business was my favorite by far.

The workshop included five expert-led presentations:

  1. Alex Bennett – Legal Basics
  2. Janina Goldberg – Time Management
  3. Martin Ceisel – Finding Clients and Copywriting
  4. Nikkie Achartz – Pricing and Profitability
  5. Allison Mellon – Digital Marketing Strategy

Top Takeaways

I have too many notes of action items and resources to list here, so I’m sharing my favorite takeaway from each session.

Legal Basics

Contracts can use overly-broad language to describe how the work you perform for your client becomes owned by them. Verbiage regarding intellectual property may say something like:

“… all processes, methodologies, inventions, enhancements, ideas, improvements, developments, modifications, derivative works, know-how, and trade secrets.”

That basically describes all-the-things! Agreeing to that type of all-encompassing language sets yourself up for risk, especially if you are pursuing personal projects or working with multiple clients at the same time.

To gain some control, first try to push back and ask for more specific contract language that describes the exact type of work you’ll be doing for the client. If they refuses to modify the language, then insist on itemizing other work to exclude.

Time Management

I asked for the cure to procrastination and learned a great tip! When you find yourself procrastinating for something important, write down the reasons you are delaying a given effort.

Forcing yourself to acknowledge why you are procrastinating identifies the root causes, which you can address more directly to give yourself the kick you need dive in.

Finding Clients

There is no excuse to not have a portfolio with at least a few quality examples of your work. Even if you are breaking into a new field, either as a new graduate or career-switcher, you have options to create a portfolio.

  • Create a Spec Ad (speculative advertisement, an ad you create on your own) or other samples just to demonstrate the specific skillset you need to highlight.
  • Volunteer for a professional association or community organization and offer your talents for something that helps them and your portfolio at the same time.
  • If your work is protected by an NDA or you don’t have permission from the intellectual property owner, create a scrubbed or modified version of the piece as an alternative.

No excuses!

Pricing and Profitability

When marketing yourself, focus on the reasons and motivations of your potential client. People are motivated to make decisions based on one of three things:

  1. Fear
  2. Pain
  3. Desire

Weave in specifics about how you can save the client time, money, aggravation, etc. If your proposal directly addresses the problem you work will solve and why you are the best person to solve it, it will be received better.

Digital Marketing Strategy

My favorite takeaway about digital marketing is something I already knew, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t over-focus on keywords for SEO gains when publishing marketing content. Search algorithms continue to evolve towards ranking based on searcher-intent and context rather than exactly matching keywords.

Google cares more about relevancy than other factors. Create content that is valuable for users—what I call effective content—and engagement will become your biggest SEO boost.

Event Follow-Up

To see parts of the workshop that were recorded, check out the YouTube playlist: 2017 Workshop – Freelance Business Fundamentals.

To be notified of future events with STC-San Diego, subscribe to the mailing list.

STC San Diego Workshop 2017

STC Summit 2017

The Technical Communication Summit is the annual conference for STC. The #STC17 Summit was May 7-10, 2017 at the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor in Washington, DC.


  • The 2017 theme was ‘Gain the Edge to Get Results’ and spanned more than 75 different sessions during the conference.
  • The San Diego Chapter won Most Improved Community!
  • Browse through all the #STC17 Tweets.

Sara Feldman at STC17 Summit

Hot Topics

These topics either had multiple sessions or a lot of interest among conference attendees.

  • Strategies for Introverts
  • Terminology management and translation memory
  • DITA – Even if you don’t have the business case to implement DITA, more people are catching on that you can apply DITA principles to non-DITA setups, a.k.a. structured authoring.
  • Analytics & Reporting – TechComm is paying more attention to content analytics, well beyond just article feedback and ratings.
  • Journey Mapping – Capturing customer interactions has been around for a while, but this specific methodology is getting extra attention lately.
  • Accessibility and ADA Compliance – This is starting to get more attention from a content-perspective.
  • Agile Writing – 4 different sessions explored this topic.

Originally posted for STC San Diego: 2017 Technical Communication Summit Summary