I had never been to an “unconference” before. Although, to be fair, I had never been to a regular conference before, either—Content Camp + PodCamp Philly 2015 (#CCPC15) was the first industry event I attended as a real-life working adult (i.e. since graduating from college). So, in anticipation of encountering the new and the unknown, I was excited to see what the day-long event would bring.
As it turns out, the day brought a lot of things, including a keynote speech from Linda Holmes of NPR’s pop culture blog, Monkey See, several small breakout sessions covering a wide range of topics, some successful in-person networking, and a delicious watermelon-lemonade flavored popsicle (I got it from Lil’ Pop Shop during the lunch break—I highly recommend.).
For me, the “unconference” angle was what made the event great. The schedule was flexible, the conversation was unforced, and the vibe was community-centric. Because the small session topics were decided upon that morning by the very people who were attending the event, the subjects covered were diverse and the people who spoke about them were authentic. Overall, I learned a lot at Content Camp and left with some really great resources (You should see how many almost-legible scribbles there are in my notebook!), but these are the takeaways that stuck out in my mind the most:
Differentiate between standards and habits.
During her keynote speech, Linda Holmes shared tips for reevaluating a content strategy. She encouraged the audience to actively evaluate the difference between standards and habits. It’s possible for a process to remain unchanged because it upholds a certain standard, but it’s also possible it has remained unchanged simply because it’s a habit. Knowing the difference, and acting accordingly, is key. She told us to ask ourselves, “If I change my approach to this, am I lowering my standards?”.
Part of forming a good strategy is analyzing your competition.
This seems obvious, but after listening to social media afficionado Cecily Kellogg speak to how detailed this analysis can (and should) get, it takes much more effort than people may think. Sure, you can quickly glance at a competing company’s Facebook page to get the lay of the land, but did you take note of how frequently they post? What kind of posts are getting the most likes? Do they cross-promote social media platforms? And, most importantly, is what they’re doing working? A great way to predict how your own strategy is going to work is by comparing it to others’.
Always stay up-to-date on tools that will make your life easier.
I left CCPC with a notebook filled with the names of tools and websites that, according to experts, were going to make my life “so much easier.” And I was PUMPED. But it also reminded me that I should be staying up-to-date with the latest tools on my own. To stay efficient (and competitive!) in an industry that fluctuates as readily as digital media does, it’s important to stay on top of new tools that make getting the job done better and/or easier.
When it comes to staying descriptive, remember the “box of coffee” rule.
This tip came about during a session about best practices for interviewing. During a mock interview at the front of the room, the session host, Jordan Mann, asked for a volunteer and Martin Schneider, who appeared to be some kind of recruiting wizard, stepped up to talk about the best ways to improve a resume. One of the tips he mentioned was the “box of coffee” rule: If the words you’re using to describe yourself could also be used to describe a box of coffee, you need to change them. Example: I provided support to the Editing team. Well, couldn’t a box of coffee also have “provided support” to the Editing team? While this point was introduced in a conversation about strengthening your resume, it could also apply to content. Why be vague when more descriptive language will communicate your message better?
The future of content is basically just the LOL shrug-girl emoji, and that’s the beauty of it.
A recurring theme of Content Camp was the fact that the future of digital content is pretty much unknown. Linda Holmes gave face to this uncertainty in her speech by describing it as the shrug-girl emoji. Content Camp founder David Dylan Thomas, who led a session called “7 Lessons From the Future of Content”, spoke to the fact that predictions are made all the time, but there’s really no certainty about how things will end up. However, the sentiment was that this uncertainty should not inspire fear; if anything, it should generate excitement. Thomas suspects content will continue evolve in new and exciting ways we can’t even fully conceptualize yet. And Holmes, who sees this uncertainty as an opportunity for personal fulfillment, advised, “In a world of total uncertainty, do the thing you feel good about.” Both of those takes were music to my ears.
Beyond the helpful tips and expert opinions, the thing I enjoyed most about attending Content Camp was being surrounded by people who care about quality content as much as I do. The people who attended #CCPC15 were not just professionals—they were passion-filled individuals actively seeking to refine their craft. It was refreshing to talk to people at the conference because many of them think the way I do. We discussed the struggle of sounding genuine and informative in 140 characters or less, we chatted about where the cutoff should be for TLDR (too long; didn’t read), we bonded over our best pieces and how disheartening it can be when the page views don’t prove it. It was a like-minded space that brought people together for the same reason. So, in short (which, considering I’m already 970 words, is pretty inaccurate), I enjoyed my first (un)conference, because any place that breeds meaningful conversation about something I value is a place I like to be.