Standards, ROI, speed, and clarity: themes from an Italian interlude19 avr

I spent the first week of April in beautiful, sunny Italy attending two conferences: the first, a W3C workshop in Pisa on Content on the Multilingual Web; and the second, Eurocomm, organized in Turin by the Europe and Middle East chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

While the two conferences attracted different audiences and addressed different issues, some of the same themes cropped up in several presentations at both.

The first common topic was standards and guidelines: the lack of them, the need for them, and the challenge to get them adopted once you finally do have them. Interdependence underpins this need for standards. In communications, large ecosystems of individual content contributors must work within a framework that fosters consistency and protects the brand. Templates and guidelines on everything from emails to video production to social media use can provide that common direction and set of rules.

In the language industry, no one wants to be locked in with a single vendor or toolset. Yet the lack of interoperability standards makes it hard to share terminologies or transfer translation memories. There is also a call for standard practices: on the front end, in the ways users access languages on multilingual websites; and on the back end, in the organization of multilingual content across different content management systems.  The learning curve for both users and web managers who go from multilingual website to multilingual website should not be so high.

Lack of standards not only hurts brand consistency and limits interoperability, it costs a lot of money, in bug fixing and rework. The problem is: most companies have not quantified how much.

On the road from Pisa to Turin

Which brings us to the second big topic: ROI. We need to demonstrate that our content is effective, that money is well spent, that there is a return on investment. Without metrics, you do not speak the language of management, and you do not get a ‘seat at the table’. Without metrics, you cannot demonstrate that you’re taking a strategic approach to your work, and you risk losing your budget. No strategy, no credibility, no budget.

(Interestingly, I did hear of new take on this subject when applied to social media:  rather than measure ROI in social media, we really should be measuring IOR – impact of relationships.  Not sure it’s measurable but the point is well made:  some things have value but can’t be measured.)

Speed trumps quality. Not all the time, of course, but often, fast access to content that’s good enough trumps a long wait for content with high production values.  Plus, there’s now a plethora of tools that make that speed possible:  live tweeting from events, videos made with inexpensive, HD videocameras and smartphones, and machine translation are prime examples.  In fact, there are now instances where high production values may make your content less trustworthy: too much gloss can hurt authenticity. It’s a question of figuring out where you can lower standards, and where you can’t.

But does speed foster clarity? Lack of clarity is a big issue in business communications in general, and there are many reasons for it (including my favorite: the resistance to making changes to something that would then have to go to yet one more round of validation).  Not only does it create confusion and lead to poor user experience, it has impact on the bottom line. There are the lost opportunities because people did not act on a confusing call to action.  Or, your translator couldn’t understand the source content so hazarded a guess, which turned out completely wrong. (The need for post-editing English-language source content written by non-natives came up several times.)  The need for clarity is also behind the plain language movement. It’s also one reason we need…. templates and standards.

There’s a lot to be said on all these topics (which are far from the only ones covered at either conference), and I’ll be looking at them in closer detail in later blog posts.  In the meantime, here are links to some of the presentations at both conferences.

W3C Content on the Multilingual Web: You can find all presentations, minutes and videos here:

In particular, check out the ones by

Eurocomm: Presentations are still being posted, and they’re all found here:

Some of these are not stand-alone, so you might want to check out some of the conference blog posts:

My fellow IABC France member, Claudia Vaccarone, posted her impressions and reviews in three separate posts here:

Swiss communicator Christina Riesen posted her impressions here:

Head of the Dutch IABC chapter and communicator Steve Seager wrote posts covering:

A tweetstream is also available from the conference.

One Response to “Standards, ROI, speed, and clarity: themes from an Italian interlude”

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Dot·Connection is a web and content strategy consultancy that I started mid-2010.

My name is Lise Janody, and prior to creating this company, I spent the last 10 years managing and spearheading content for large, multi-language internet, intranet and extranet sites at Alcatel-Lucent. Prior to that, I spent 10 years as a freelance copywriter and business writer, mostly in the multinational, B2B space.