3 Reasons You Should Adopt Adaptive Content
I recently returned from Minneapolis, where I attended Confab, a conference for content strategists hosted by Brain Traffic. More than 400 content strategists from all over the planet converged to talk about our profession: the challenges we face, the battles we fight, and the latest and greatest research in our field.
And in almost every presentation I attended — and many of the ones I didn’t — adaptive content was a hot topic.
What is adaptive content?
In the second edition of Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, Ann Rockley defines adaptive content as, “format-free, device-independent, scalable, and filterable content that is transformable for display in different environments and on different devices in an automated or dynamic fashion” (p. 134). Put simply, it’s content that’s written and coded in such a way that can be viewed in any digital context, without a lot of manual tinkering or re-creation.
Why adaptive content?
So, what does adaptive content offer, in real terms? I’ll share three reasons (of many) you might consider as part of a content strategy for your business.
1. Adaptive content reduces resource strain.
The idea behind creating adaptive content — text and graphical elements — is that you only have to create it once. If you plan carefully and approach it with intention, there is no need to write multiple versions of the same content. In fact, this is also the underlying principle behind reusable content in a content management system (CMS). The end result is that your already-overworked writers and producers can take a deep breath and focus on what they do best, without worrying about rewriting and reformatting the same content for multiple channels, devices, contexts.
2. Adaptive content feeds adaptive (responsive) design.
As user experience designers and developers already know: Creating a responsive design allows flexibility and prevents the same kind of resource strain writers are feeling. As the mobile market skyrockets, designing for mobile interfaces has become a crucial part of digital strategy. Adaptive content feeds adaptive design, and that means your content can start making an appearance in places it’s never been before. Like social spaces. And mobile devices. And whatever is next.
3. Adaptive content can potentially make regulatory review easier.
As our clients in regulated industries will attest, regulatory review of content is becoming more complex and time-consuming. In my own experience with clients in the life sciences, both legal and regulatory want to review the content — ALL of it: graphics, text, metadata — in all its proposed forms before they will approve any digital release. This practice can potentially slow publication to a crawl for a single medium. Imagine the process across several devices, if the content is created separately for each device. However, with careful planning and detailed mapping for how the content will behave, which content will be pulled into which media, and how it will display in each content, regulatory and legal reviewers can feel more confident about what viewers will see without having to look at every single instance of every single digital content release.
Caveats and cautions
Yes, adaptive content is a powerful tool. And, yes, it can deliver as I describe above. But here are a few things to consider:
Adaptive content must be planned.
Adaptive content doesn’t just happen — it requires a carefully-considered content strategy, thoughtful content management workflow, and talented developers who can make it all happen within a technology framework. And content planning, according to many of the folks who presented at Confab (as well as in my own experience), is where clients tend to want to cut corners. Sadly, many otherwise good projects fail because content isn’t well-managed or well-planned. Carefully defining content types and how those types fit together to communicate what audiences want to see in various contexts is crucial to the success of a digital project.
Adaptive content relies on a good style guide.
Part of defining content types is defining what they look like, how they read, and how they will behave as they morph and fold and dance across contexts. As with any publication — digital or paper — good content requires good production guidelines. Standards. Rules. And they must be clearly documented so that when there are governance issues (below), there is an authoritative, approved reference to fall back on. Style guides are tools for writers and editors — even developers — to use to produce their best work.
You must have a governance plan for content management.
The style guide is only a start toward managing content. Keeping firm control over how content is produced, prepared, and published is critical not only to the success of the project, but also to the sanity of your resources. The Wild West is a romantic place to visit in movies; it wasn’t the most comfortable place to live. Governance can tame your content, keep it on the straight and narrow, and provide it (and the people who produce it) a stable jumping-off point for new and interesting forms and messages and contexts.
Having a well-documented governance plan can also ease the way with legal and regulatory reviewers, thereby saving revision cycles and frustration.
Adapt now, benefit now and later
In the short term, adopting adaptive content as part of your digital strategy will pay off by addressing your current users’ needs, contexts, and constraints. But it’s the potential for long-term benefit that ups the ante and makes all the planning, documenting, and governing worth the initial pain. Adaptive content requires a new, more ecosystem-based way of thinking about writing because words and pictures no longer “live” on a page — they are fluid, acrobatic, shape-shifting. New content types will emerge. New contexts, new devices are always on some not-so-distant horizon. Flexible, scalable, dynamic content that is well-managed and reusable now will be all the more likely to address the unforeseen contexts of the future.
SOUND OFF: What challenges have you encountered with moving your content from print to web to mobile to…?
Interested in reading more about shape-shifting and mobile experience? Read a UX expert’s thoughts about Optimizing User Experience Across Multiple Devices.