#CONFAB2021: How do you write about something that won’t be read?

I got the equity scholarship for Confab this year and had the chance to learn from the best industry experts. In this #CONFAB2021 series I will share the main takeaways and my thoughts of the most inspiring talks. My first post is inspired by the keynote of Sophie Tahran, (UX Writing Lead for The New Yorker) who shared her view on Content Strategy for audio experiences.

Even though The New Yorker has been producing and publishing content for almost a century, since launching their app, podcasts and narrating stories, they had to face the fact that it requires a different content approach.

How, when and why readers choose to listen?

At the beginning, Sophie has shared the results of their user research which was conducted by using the The forces of progess method by Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek.

It turns out that users don’t always have time or the circumstances to dig into long-form articles: (when communing, doing the dishes, walking the dog) but they are into the topic or the writer enough to figure out a way to stay up-to-date with them.

Audio presented some issues: unreliable narrators, voices that people don’t like listening to and it was a new technology to master (requires headphones etc). Users also prioritise when an audio content is available offline.

Content design learnings

Adding a new feature to an existing app, offers less room to work with.

In case of The New Yorker app, it was a key to find the home for the audio within the app without making the already packed interface too overwhelming. They didn’t want to distract users from the pieces that brought themselves to the app at the first place (print or digital articles).

They took a closer look to the 2 types of audios in front of them: podcasts, and audm to find their similarities and differences. While podcasts are presented on an episode by episode basis, audm is a third-party series that provides narrated version of selected long-form pieces.

So to make it clear for the users they decided to use Play episode when it comes to podcasts and Play story when it comes to narrated stories. That copy not only represents exactly what the users will get but the CTA copy also changes (e.g. if you have already listened to the piece, it changes to replay)

They also made sure to make sure that once the user enters to the long-form copy, they left the actual text alone, so users who want to read won’t be interrupted.

Sometimes, the best copy is no copy at all. – says Sophie. So common features within the audio play are only communicated visually.

screenshot of The New Yorker’s native player

All controls, (pause, fast forward, bluetooth connection etc) do not require a single word on the screen.

Documentation and marketing are essential

Even though it sounds quite boring, you cannot miss on documentation: it creates consistency across design, product, engineering, marketing, support and beyond. Users shouldn’t notice that the app or the email is owned by a different team: it should really sound like one product.

Therefore it’s crucial to document the chosen terminology on all platforms.

As a result: the product lives far beyond the app itself. It goes to users’ inboxes, it’s on social media, or an announcement in a print magazine. When launching audio, you’re building a new habit.

So how do you write about something that won’t be read? By applying content strategy.

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