“Using content strategy to get teens talking about mental health” – Chris Atherton at Confab

Confab Events logoYou might have noticed that I’ve been at Confab 2013 in London and have done a lot of blogging? Well don’t go away just because the conference is over, I’ve got more…

“Using content strategy to get teens talking about mental health” – Chris Atherton

Chris Atherton was explaining how to build a content framework when none of the content exists yet. And you are trying to do it for a taboo subject. The project, with agency Numiko, had been to build the “Young People” component of a campaign to talk about mental health.

The fact that people don’t talk about mental health is one of the biggest issues with it, and Chris explained that even kids as young as 10 have picked up that there is something “weird” about discussing mental health, because they observe that adults don’t do it. The project she worked on was called Time to change.

The “Young People” section of Time to Talk

The “Young People” section of Time to Talk

In order to start working out the content they needed, they did some card-sorting. Not so much to organise content as an IA typically might, but in order to get potential users to rank an order of how “excruciating” it would be for them to do particular elements of the campaign. Was texting a friend who was suffering a mental health problem better or worse than a face-to-face chat, for example?

Chris outlined a really interesting way to use personas in relation to content. They had gathered some personas of young people — one in ten of them face mental health issues themselves — who exhibited a range of behaviours in relation to the campaign, like “reactive supporter” or “unconscious discriminator”.

She made a map of how they might progress through a spectrum of understanding mental health as an issue, or actively supporting the campaign. She showed us her “shitty first draft” of this, and then also showed some of the work she’d done cutting up and organising bits of paper to map potential journeys of understanding for each of the personas.

First sketch of the problem

Chris Atherton’s first draft of the problem space

Chris really sold working with paper and scissors – “Post-it notes never gets old” she said. “Mapping this stuff is messy,” she added, and she urged the audience to push bits of paper around on a canvas as big as you needed to really allow yourself to think freely about potential solutions to a problem. She said all too often we get in front of our computers and “put the technology in the way of what we are trying to solve.”

The map in development as pieces of movable paper

The map in development as pieces of movable paper

Their map showed users with more engagement with the campaign on one axis, and with more knowledge and experience of mental issues on the other. They then had a moment when they realised that actually, this was their content map. Every step along those journeys for each of those personas needed content to support them. For example, the “unconscious discriminator” needed some fundamentals about “what is mental health?” that the grown-up bits of the site assumed everybody already had understood.

Excerpt from the final map showing persona journeys

Excerpt from the final map showing persona journeys

One worry with the project was actually reaching the right young people. Firstly there were persona types, the “conscious discriminator” who it was impossible to research with. And young people, Chris reminded us, have a highly developed “cringe barometer”. In research they express the desire that something be built for them, but also the view that most things that adults build to appeal to their age group are utterly cringe-inducing.

I had a sudden horrible flashback to a moment a couple of weeks ago when someone I’m working with and I realised that on a particular project we were the equivalent of Radio One’s middle managers — desperately trying to design a service that would appeal to “the youth of today” whilst being decidedly 40-something. I need to commission more “cringe-factor” research.


Whether I post any more notes from Confab this evening will basically depend on whether the baby sleeps, whether the England game against Montenegro is interesting, and whether I get into a series of increasingly sweary Twitter-spats about the Telegraph’s paywall plans

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