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Five snackable content ingredients that add flavor to UX

Content without context isn't going to cut it anymore. Here's how snackable content can help shape a user's experience with your information or brand.

When it comes to mobile content, you recognize delightful digital experiences when you have them.

Consider what might happen if you arrive in a new city and want to get a quick overview of things to do. Ideally, just a few swipes and taps on your smartphone would generate several pithy recommendations relevant to your personal areas of interest, and you could start touring right away.

If you learned about a family emergency while riding the morning commuter train into the office, you could quickly check your firm's family-leave policies, review options personalized to your locations and roles, and make the right requests to human resources -- all from your mobile devices before you arrive at your destination.

Making content snackable

Notice how the content used in the two examples was snackable -- informative, relevant and with just the details you'd expect. You no longer need to page through electronic guidebooks or browse, section by section, through your firm's online employee policy manuals. Snackable content is bite-sized, immediately accessible and tuned to your current contexts.

As attention spans decrease, snackable content seeks to recapture that attention through targeted information snippets, including do-it-yourself videos on YouTube, likes and shares on Facebook, pins on Pinterest, and retweets on Twitter.

Whether you rely on native mobile apps or mobile web apps, it's clear that others have considered these real-life situations beforehand, and they've invested the effort necessary to produce the content you need to solve the immediate tasks at hand.

But how do these experiences get this way? What makes snackable content smart and manageable? Behind the scenes, you are experiencing the results of user-centric designs, which combine well-defined information architectures with targeted business insights.

Charting content flows

Something important is happening. To begin with, user experience (UX) designers are mapping out the content flows for your digital journey. Moreover, they are no longer designing for single experiences, such as assuming all users are utilizing full-screen browsers running on desktops or laptops. Mobile devices and omnichannel delivery (that is, delivery of information on a variety of devices and screen sizes) are now essential parts of the mix.

Designers must focus on multiple experiences that can be easily reconfigured for varied business contexts. Moreover, business analysts and/or line-of-business managers -- those who can easily envision how things should work -- are needed to help digitize experiences around targeted tasks. How do they do this? This is where information architecture becomes relevant.

Mobile web apps are only as smart and as useful as the content they access.

While modeling digital experiences, UX designers collaborate with taxonomists and business analysts to separate content into self-contained components and to tag them with meaningful metadata. These specialists leverage predefined categories that are based on specific attributes. They often structure categories into formally defined taxonomies that are useful for describing relationships between things. For instance, dogs, cats, and horses are all types of animals.

But there is a new element to consider. When modeling experiences for omnichannel delivery, designers and business analysts must optimize for both findability and navigation across multiple task-related contexts. They must also ensure that relevant content is easy to find and even better to use. To do so, designers and analysts extend predefined categories to include semantic metadata and to incorporate contextual signals, such as locations and directions, which are attributes easily generated and detected by mobile devices.

Managing semantic metadata

Remember, semantic metadata describes how attributes that characterize content components are interrelated. Beginning with web-wide tag sets, defined by Schema.org, semantic metadata is an important element for machine learning and the Google Knowledge Graph. With the introduction of microdata as a valid form of HTML markup (capabilities added with HTML5), semantic metadata can now be directly embedded within content components.

Through the virtuous cycle of metadata enrichment, semantic modeling is helping to improve the results of machine learning. Semantically enriched content components will become increasingly useful to shape digital experiences -- both tethered and mobile. End-user tools that enable nontechnical business analysts to manage and modify content components are needed, in addition to the UX design expertise on how to best structure the semantics for these new capabilities.

Mixing the ingredients for snackable content

What comes next? At this stage in the march toward delightful digital experiences, it's important to focus on the ingredients for snackable content.

Adopt a content management solution that implements the defined information architecture that your organization has established. Be prepared to extend the architecture in light of experience. This is where a third-generation web content management (WCM) platform can make a difference, as it is designed to manage content components defined by the architecture. A WCM can also be easily enhanced to accommodate HTML microdata markup, as well as to support Schema.org tag sets.

A third-generation platform also separates content management capabilities from presentation through template-driven webpage displays. Today, most designers produce mobile experiences with responsive website design -- where the content and navigation designed for full-screen browsers can dynamically adapt to smartphones or tablets. This is an important next step.

Mobilizing digital business journeys

However, don't stop with responsive website design. There is more to delivering on the promise of delightful digital experiences than transforming tethered applications into mobile ones by presenting comparable content and navigational links on smartphones and tablets.

Begin by identifying the different journeys that targeted audiences expect to take and the kinds of digital experiences that customers, partners and employees will have along the way. Link these digital business journeys to high-value operational tasks to ensure ROI and measurable success.

Next, develop a comprehensive, omnichannel delivery strategy to support these journeys. Clarify whether members of target audiences need the power and versatility of native mobile apps or whether they can accomplish their specific tasks with mobile web apps. Invariably, there are going to be different apps for different tasks. Plan to deliver multiple mobile apps that are tuned to the different operational experiences required. Consider adopting a mobile application development platform to accelerate development of native mobile apps, enabling nontechnical business analysts to deliver these apps on their own.

Finally, recognize that both native mobile apps and mobile web apps are only as smart and as useful as the content they access. It is essential to connect front-end experiences with back-end enterprise applications, artificial intelligence-related services and content stores. Follow the metadata and make sure it is programmatically accessible.

Most third-generation WCM platforms are beginning to support "headless content management systems," or the ability for applications to seamlessly access content components with relevant metadata through RESTful APIs. Going forward, many devices and disparate applications are going to utilize content components managed by varied venues through API-first application development techniques.

Packaging snackable content for success

When all is said and done, you cannot (yet) package snackable content for delightful digital experiences. It is not like going into a grocery store and just picking up your favorite munchies in different sized bags. Some mixing and baking is still required.

Nevertheless, at this stage, we know the recipe for success. Rely on journey mapping to identify the high-value business tasks and underlying content flows.

In addition, a well-defined information architecture can make the difference for delivering on the promise of snackable content. Work to define and implement your architecture through the capabilities of a third-generation WCM platform.

And be prepared for serendipity -- uncovering unplanned, yet valuable, content flows that support surprisingly useful experiences along the way. 

Next Steps

Using mobile for digital experience development

What does positive customer experience look like?

How WCM systems can benefit organizations

This was last published in January 2017

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