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In June 2010, Eloqua published a comprehensive Social Media Playbook featuring a fantastic infographic, titled The Content Grid, that helps marketers visualize who creates content and who consumes it [full disclosure: Eloqua is a client]. To date, the playbook and content grid have been Tweeted about 1,500 times, covered in over 50 blog posts, and downloaded more than 25,000 times. And the Eloqua blog post about the playbook and grid boosted referrals to the Eloqua website by 43%.

ContentGridIn this interview, Joe Chernov, Director of Content for Eloqua, and Leslie Bradshaw, President of JESS3, share insights into the catalyst and process for developing the playbook and infographic.

Q. How did you decide on an infographic as a way to represent the framework?

Joe: JESS3 specializes in information design and data visualization, and has created other highly successful infographics for folks like Brian Solis. We’re working with JESS3 on a number of projects, and I happened to show Leslie what I was thinking through around my position. She suggested the grid. The visual connective tissue between data and knowledge is an infographic. That’s why people are so enticed by The Content Grid – to a certain extent, they can read into it but it’s also clear that it’s rooted in data.

Leslie: We all grew up with pictures; they’re a critical element in the learning process. JESS3 is always looking for ways to encourage visual learning and storytelling. Infographics can be an effective way to organize information.

Q. Are the sizes of the circles meaningful? For example, white papers and email are much larger than widgets and how-to videos. Same goes for Facebook vs flickr.

Joe: The size doesn’t correspond to the scope of the channel but instead to how far along the spectrum that channel reaches. For example, the blog circle is enormous and reaches further along the axis because it’s both highly centralized and decentralized. It’s centralized in that the person posting is the owner, but it’s decentralized in that a successful blog has multiple voices throughout the organization.

Q. In Eloqua’s blog post introducing the grid, you said that “the ‘D’ symbol indicates “rich data” (versus “rich media”), meaning, which distribution channels provide deeper insight into who is consuming the content. Why is this important and how does Eloqua make use of this data?

Leslie: There are lots of tools available – for example, Google Analytics to see when people drop off your site, which keywords are used, etc. – that can help you plan and optimize content. But there’s no universal dashboard pulling in the same type of insights across all platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. And there’s no universal metric so there’s a disparity in how marketers measure content consumption and impact. Yet marketers need to review their analytics regularly as it informs what they should produce next.

Joe: We discovered if we put video in PR, the press release gets viewed 500% more than it would otherwise. So we know something transactional. Now we’re focused on figuring out what we know about the people clicking on the video. For the first time, I have a standing meeting with the Head of Web Analytics to better understand what’s behind the numbers and use this data to inform the content we create and the sequence for releasing the content. My role has started overlapping with PR, content marketing, and the web.

Q. Joe, how do you and other Eloqua employees use the content grid?

Joe: This infographic wasn’t planned – it came about as I was figuring out what the role of Director of Content would look like in a perfect world. The framework is functional and practical but also aspirational. We distributed it as soon as it was complete, and have just begun to employ it throughout the organization. One way we’ll use it is to help us as we create ongoing content. We’re not going to look at content as one-dimensional information. You’ll see print material married to online materials, and video embedded into content, for example.

Q. The Social Media Playbook covers 10 platforms. Which of these does Eloqua use and how did you decide on best channels for your company?

Joe: Our involvement in various social media channels is still maturing. Just like the readers of our playbook, we’re working through this. There are channels we’re not and won’t get involved in because they don’t make sense for us.

Leslie: I’ve worked with a number of organizations over the past six years around social media and brand management online. Many produce guidelines on what not to do, but more and more people want to know what they can do. This playbook is meant to serve the role a coach would assume in coming up with plays for the team.

Q. Leslie, what is your process for creating an infographic?

Leslie: Once you’re inspired, you need to figure out what will be communicated in the graphic. It can be challenging to figure out how to make a big pile of data visually pleasing. But when you’re getting started, it doesn’t have to be pretty. First you just need to create a wireframe or blueprint that shows how all the data is all related. Anyone can draw circles and lines to show how elements are related. Joe mocked up The Content Grid in PowerPoint after drawing it on a napkin.

The exercise of showing connections is critical because it becomes the roadmap that launches us to figure out color and graphics. For The Content Grid, we tried many shapes. We like to use size, color, and position to denote importance and relationships.

We combined all of that with the blueprint and worked on color comps, which we presented to Joe. Some worked well, and some were too complicated or too muted. Because we want this to be a one-page standalone, we’re at the maximum capacity now with graphics and a legend.

Q. Leslie, what are suggestions for making information more accessible through good design?

Leslie: Remember that PowerPoint is a delivery mechanism, not design software. It’s important to get Adobe software such as Illustrator and PhotoShop and send your folks to workshops. Once you create the design in these sophisticated tools, you can move it to PDF, Word, or PowerPoint.

Also, follow data visualization blogs, such as Flowing Data and information aesthetics, which cover campaigns and techniques and spotlight great visualizations. Read GOOD magazine and Fast Company, which features an infographic of the day on its blog.

Go to workshops, especially ones offered by Edward Tufte, noted for his books on information design. He’ll take you on a journey starting with the earliest mapmakers to his recent endeavor helping President Obama create a visualization on tracking individual stimulus projects around the country.

Q. eBooks are still pretty new to many companies. What are suggestions for easing the process of developing an eBook?

Leslie: You need to consider basic layout – whimsical elements and elements that carry from page to page. Combining humor and design is also a win.

Joe: For this project, I pulled in people from throughout the organization to develop the content. As far as selecting a design partner – be rigorous in your selection criteria and then trust the partner you choose. To say JESS3 made the design aesthetically pleasing would be shortchanging them. They were an essential ingredient in this project.

Q. Joe, you’ve received a lot of valuable feedback about the grid on your blog post. When are you planning to release v2.0?

Joe: I thought the infographic would be conversation starter and it has been, but what surprised me is that the conversation has been incredibly slanted in its favor. I think the success comes from two places: 1) it’s visually beautiful thanks to JESS3 and 2) it captures what entire industries are struggling to articulate – what content marketing is and why it matters. Another reason why this visual works is that it helps distinguishes content type and channel. It awakens people to the difference between message and medium. And it’s inviting.

The social channels are triggering back-channel conversations. There have been over 500 Tweets about The Content Grid and Leslie and I have been exchanging emails with those providing feedback.

Pride of authorship is the kiss of death. Even though all of the feedback we’re getting might not be reflected in v2.0, we are open to hearing everyone’s thoughts. You need to create content and set it free, or else you’ll kill it.

We’ll be regrouping in the fall of 2010 for version 2.0. Stay tuned.