Archive | Content strategy

Spreadsheets: The Content Strategist’s Best Friend

I gave two presentations at Content Marketing World in September, and one of my talks focused on planning and organizing your content work. CMW has a lot of nice sponsors, including a number of companies that make software designed to make content work easier. Or, well, that’s what these applications are supposed to do.

Here’s the thing about content technology: I’ve been in this business oh, going on 20 years now, and one of the first things you learn is that technology rarely lives up to its promise.

In many cases, I’d argue the problem is with the promises, not the technology.

Perhaps this is just the inevitable result of my reducing my expectations over the years. But I’ve seen one too many companies assume that buying or licensing amazing technology would allow them to short-cut their staff and get even better results than people could create. And amazing technology, poorly staffed, is pretty crappy.

There are several kinds of content technology. There’s actual publishing technology, like the WordPress platform I’m writing on right now, and publishing systems that go all the way up to enterprise level. Applications like Microsoft Word serve as a creation platform for words that end up in many other formats eventually [though — strangely to me — Word often ends up being the publishing technology as well, since the Word document is often what gets distributed].

But there’s another type of technology as well, and that’s what’s got me thinking tonight, and what I talked about at CMW, as well. Content project management applications — now you see a lot of social media management applications here too, some of which also combine publishing and project management for social media — are supposed to help us get it all organized.

I’ve tried a number of these. There may be one that works for you. But inevitably, I’ve found that content project management software and applications aren’t flexible enough to meet my needs. There’s always a new application out there, and I’ll keep trying them. But when my team is handling a content project, we’re usually using a spreadsheet.

If you are collaborating, use Google Docs to share a spreadsheet where everyone can edit in real time without ruining each other’s work. If you’re working alone, use Pages, Excel, Google — whatever’s convenient for you.

0

Two Lessons From Sandy

First, my hopes and prayers for safety to all those on the East Coast right now. Twitter’s honestly pretty terrifying tonight as Hurricane Sandy has come ashore.

Two things I’ve seen today that bear sharing.

    1. First, if you think your industry is too boring to use social media, I refer you to the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Flickr feed. The account has nearly 3000 photos — they’re taking and sharing pictures of everyday events involving the transit service. Today, those photos included ones like these:
      033Assistant Station Master Cory Harris locked the main entrance to Grand Central Terminal, at 42nd Street and Park Avenue, after the last train departed at 7:10 p.m. on Sunday, October 28. Grand Central closed in advance of Hurricane Sandy.

      09. 2 Broadway in Storm Prep

      Sandbags outside Broadway station

      You never know when the everyday will become extraordinary. Start today so you’ll be ready when it happens.

    2. Second, STOP SCHEDULING YOUR TWEETS. I used to say that scheduling was OK as long as you monitored it, and you were managing your stream in times of national emergency. But clearly, may of you aren’t actually managing your auto-tweets. Those in the US, especially the Eastern US, who are auto-tweeting about anything but Hurricane Sandy tonight look like idiots.

Thanks, rant over.

0

The Problem With Health Literacy

At Creek Content, we spend most of our days deep in the world of health care. We work with clients in highly regulated, complex industries, and for the most part, that means we’re working in health care. A fundamental issue for the health care industry is the idea of “health literacy.”

Health literacy is the idea of not just “literacy” — which we tend to think of as the ability to read and comprehend written material — but also includes computational abilities related to health-care self-management. It means, you can find, evaluate, understand and act upon the information you need to manage your own health successfully. It includes the ability to understand your doctor’s instructions, the ability to navigate the insurance and payment systems, and lots more.

Health literacy is a pretty new term, and it’s been the subject of a number of research efforts in the past 20 years. There’s a lot of information now being created to help health-care providers better communicate with their patients, and all of that is for the good.

However, as we work with clients and content [in the United States], I see a fundamental perspective flaw in the way health literacy is often discussed. Usually the message is, your patients are health illiterate, so you must a. educate them or b. dumb down your info. To an extent, I will agree to the factual truth of the first part of that assumption: the U.S. population is not as literate as we might assume. Angela Colter has done some great work not only researching how people with low levels of literacy search, but also bringing together some critical statistics that everyone in public communications should understand. If you work with the general public, about half your audience has low literacy skills.

And in the health care arena, we see a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over these issues — understandably, to a degree. As a society, our health care knowledge has advanced rapidly in the past 100 years. Cutting-edge research is often incredibly specialized, conducted by researchers with years of post-graduate training. It’s not easy to explain that to the rest of us — the majority of the population without multiple advanced degrees in health topics.

Here’s my problem, though. A lot of the discussion in the realm of health literacy has to do with how we educate patients — how do we make them health literate. And that’s exactly wrong-headed to me. Think about this: Do car manufacturers bemoan the fact that fewer Americans than ever repair their own cars, or could even explain how an internal combustion engine works? Do you see phone companies complaining that we don’t understand the realities of managing complex data networks? Nope — they’ve just figured out how to make us as expert as we need to be to successfully use their products.

Health care is different than buying a car, but we shouldn’t need an advanced degree to manage our own health. If that’s the standard, we might as well give up now. Traditionally, the health care industry has viewed itself [with good reason] as an expert whom we should consult for the right answers. What I think the industry is learning is, that that approach isn’t very effective. If  we all want to be healthier, we have to learn how to communicate better — with each other.

Let me be clear — I think Americans should be more literate, health literate and otherwise. But that’s a systemic educational and cultural issue that I don’t think we can ask the health care industry, or patients alone, to solve. Most importantly, we’re doing patients a disservice by suggesting to each other [and sometimes to patients themselves] that they aren’t literate. That’s blaming the victim, to my mind. No one sets out to be less than fully literate.

Instead, I’d prefer to frame the health literacy issue as a health communication issue. How do we create health communications in forms that are easy for our patients [of all education levels] to understand? How do we carefully structure provider-patient interactions in a way that makes it easy for us to communicate clearly and honestly? How do we make the doctor-patient relationship feel like a partnership?

These things are happening in health care, but not nearly enough. When we figure out how to make health care information accessible to all our patients, then we’ll have done a good day’s work.

0

Join Me at the Nashville Marketing Association Website Smackdown, Feb. 16

I have to confess that though I’ve been a member [even a board member!] of the Nashville chapter of the American Marketing Association for several years, I’ve never before made it to the NAMA Website Smackdown. But I have heard tell. And people, you do NOT want to miss this.

They’ve made sure I’ll clear my calendar this year by putting me on the panel of expert website reviewers. I’ll be covering content issues. Other esteemed panelists:

You don’t HAVE to submit your website to be critiqued, but this is a really cheap site evaluation!

Can’t wait to see you there, so register today!

0

The Long Tail vs. Content Strategy

I’ve been mulling this idea for a long time. Seth Godin’s post this week on the economic and creative implications of the long tail got me thinking about it again. [Here’s the link to Chris Anderson’s original long tail post if you need a long tail primer.]

My question is, are long tail and content strategy antithetical? Long tail tells us that [start with the easy one, books] for every book, there’s an audience, and massive online retailing as created by Amazon — and print-on-demand technology — and social media to spread ideas — and — and — now gives any book an audience, no matter how obscure the topic. The long tail allows the elimination of the tremendous overhead that was a requirement of creating a book from the time of the monks hand-scribing them in medieval times until, well, about 10-15 years ago.

The temptation is to say that books are now commoditized, as indicated by the price drop of many books, particularly all-digital ones. You already know my bias — there’s no way I’ll argue that content is a commodity. So what IS going on?

I believe the price difference between a hard-bound, deckle-edged novel and a quick-to-download digital novel really is about the production price difference. And the difference between a major publisher’s digital novel and a self-published novel is about the elimination of the marketing and editorial overhead. Sometimes you get what you pay for, but sometimes, you’re just paying for the extra stuff [nice paper, expensive cover illustration and jacket photo, editorial authority, marketing budget, lengthy book tour] because they don’t offer you the option to buy the book without it.

All those extras cost money, and we’re now discovering that many of the extras can be eliminated or handled a different way.

So we’re left with the content.

And to me, the entire premise of the long tail dovetails right into content strategy here. Once you get down to the content itself, the long tail is all about matching the perfect content with the perfect audience. Content strategy has a similar mission. It’s about finding the right audience, the right content, and the right processes to keep those matched. You know the standard definition from Kristina Halvorson:

Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

It’s not useful if it’s not exactly what you need, when you need it. The long tail and content strategy depend on each other.

You’re not responsible for creating the whole long tail — in fact, you’ll be better off if you don’t try. You ARE responsible for figuring out who your audience is and giving them what they really need. Take your little chunk of the really long tail, and make those people happy. That’s when you’ll win.

 

 

 

7

Finding a Home for Content Strategy in Your Org

We work with both large and small organizations, but many of them are struggling with finding a “home” for content strategy and management.

Non-media organizations have not traditionally considered themselves to be publishers, and that’s part of the challenge here. Whoever started using content may feel some ownership of the project, but often, it doesn’t have an executive sponsor. When content comes from the ground up, it may be very effective, but we see a lot of skeptical c-level execs. They challenge content people to demonstrate ROI according to traditional measurements.

Here’s how we look at this challenge:
There are definitely some business metrics that some organizations can apply to content. But for many orgs, the challenge is akin to measuring the result of positive employee attitudes on the bottom line — it’s not simple. Neither is the answer to, Who’s responsible?

In most non-media organizations, you will find a natural home for content in marketing or product development/management. In many orgs, those are the same department, but in tech-oriented companies in particular, we see those being treated separately.

It’s natural to assume that the content technology plays a hand in determining the answer: Are we talking about printed content? That’s marketing! Or, all our content is digital — so that’s the IT folks! But then you can end up with non-product experts in charge of your content — less than ideal.

However, we’ll also argue that product experts aren’t always the best content experts, either. Depending on your industry, a product expert might be a lawyer, a physician, an engineer — none of whose core curricula included “communicating effectively with the public via print, digital and in-person methods.”

So here’s our bias at Creek Content.

  • First, your organization must acknowledge that content isn’t a commodity. Good content, used effectively, is always a business asset. If you don’t believe that, don’t bother with the rest of the question.
  • Once you believe that great content is your business asset, figuring out who should run the content program is easier. In our experience, the answer is usually “a business-minded communicator who works collaboratively with product, marketing and tech staff and vendors.” Your answer will vary depending on your organization and industry, but those are the broad skills that your content strategists and managers need.
0

I’m Going to Stop You Before You FAQ Again

Just ran across a conversation about FAQs in the Google Group for content strategy. [If you’re interested in CS, you need to join this group! Lots of great ideas.] This conversation popped up at a great time for me — I’ve been pondering FAQs for a few weeks now, and here’s what I know:

FAQs started — decades ago — as a vehicle to help discussion forums clean out the clutter. New forum users often showed up with the same questions that long-time users had asked before, and it got repetitive to answer the same questions over and over again, so many forums set up a list of questions that were frequently asked, along with the definitive answers.

I remember very clearly when I first used an FAQ page on a regular website. It was the mid-to-late 1990s, and we were so cutting edge. It was a real inside baseball joke — we had to explain to our client what an FAQ even was, and they still couldn’t figure out why we needed one.

It turns out, we were both right. We were right — FAQs slowly started popping up everywhere over the next few years, until you wouldn’t even think of building a website without one — and our client was right, because FAQs just don’t make sense on a text-based website with a content management system and programming scheme that have any level of sophistication.

Why FAQs are a bad idea for your website:

  • FAQs are rarely well written. It takes a lot of talent and time to write well from the contorted perspective of an FAQ. Are you asking the questions in your customer’s voice? Are you answering them in yours? Or both in your voice? At what point do you give up and just start throwing pronouns around willy-nilly? If you’re like most FAQ writers we’ve seen, that happens pretty early in the process and the results show it.
  • FAQs don’t actually help customers. The construct of an FAQ — couch your help copy in the kinds of questions a customer might ask, if you let them call you — actually makes it more difficult for your customer to get an answer. When people are seeking information online, they’re skimming for keywords that describe their issue. You’ve surrounded their keywords [change password] with a bunch of extraneous copy [How do I change my password?]. Stack that simple question up with 2-3 dozen more “helpful” questions, and people can’t find a thing.
  • FAQs don’t live at the point of sale. Your customer needs help figuring out how to add a photo over on the profile page, not from an FAQ page that’s a link in the footer. FAQs aren’t in context, and your customers are more likely to give up and leave your site than they are to search around…and around…and around to find the answer.
  • FAQs don’t fix your sucky website. When you use FAQs on a website, they become an ineffective panacea for every problem with the interface and the content. People abandoning their shopping carts? Slap a couple more FAQs up there. Landing page not working well? Must need more FAQs.

What to do instead of using FAQs:

  • Fix your website. This is the hardest answer, but the best one. If something’s not working on your website, make it work.
  • Use in-context help. This often will require development, but putting help in-context makes a big difference. Add a little question mark or the word “Help” linking to a pop-up window with the tip right on the page where the problem happens. [Bonus: A good use of a pop-up window!]
  • If all else fails, create a topical help directory. If you can’t do the development or don’t have a system that supports in-context help, at the very least, throw out your FAQ and rewrite the information as a topical help directory that customers can easily scan and navigate. You eliminate perspective issues and your information is much clearer to your customer. Similarly, if your customers come to you with a wide variety of expertise, you may have to hit the largest group in terms of usability — and some people will need more help. Make it easy for them to get it.

Finally, if you’re running a discussion forum — by all means, use an FAQ. Everyone hates seeing that same question asked by new users every week.

 

2

Planning Now for a #contentstrategy SXSW 2012

Well, it’s that time again — time that all the web-nerds penciled in our calendars months ago: The SXSW Panel Picker is open for voting!

If you’ve never been to the all-things-web-digital-music-and-film that is SXSW in Austin each March, I’m not sure where to begin. Last year I remember hearing that there were more than 25,000 attendees at just the Interactive part of the festival, making it the largest part of the event. SXSW pitches itself as uniquely focused on the creative side of the web, and I think there’s something to that. But there’s something for EVERYONE there, no matter your discipline.

In that vein, let me give you a little pitch for my discipline, content strategy.

Over the past few years, the SXSW sessions focusing on content have grown in number, and in my judgment, in quality as well. This year, there are a number of great-looking content sessions proposed in the Panel Picker, but we need your help. About 3600 sessions were proposed total this year, and they’ll take 500. The odds aren’t good for any one session, so content needs your votes and comments to shine strong at the conference.

Here are the ones I’ve specifically voted for. I’d value your thoughts and votes on my own proposal, but also on others that interest you. [You do have to create an account — free! — and sign in to vote. Speaking as someone who spent some time developing just my own proposal, I really appreciate your input!]

First, my proposed session:
Content Structure: Frame It Right, Make It Work
I’m planning to talk about content structure, metadata and information architecture — and how to use structure to make your processes more efficient and your copy easier to manage. I’d love your votes and comments!

Other sessions that got my thumbs-up today: 

Margot Bloomstein’s proposed session: Contextually Relevant Content Strategy
Margot is a smart, smart woman. I’ve heard her speak more than once and I’ve followed her thoughts online for some time. When she’s talking content strategy, it’s good stuff.

Panel moderated by Kristina Halvorson, with Joe Gollner, Erin Kissane, Mark McCormick and Karen McGrane: Rude Awakening: Content Strategy Is Super Hard
Amen. Some great names in the discipline gather to talk through the thorny questions.

Jeff Pfaller’s proposed session: Understanding Digital Content and Human Behavior
Optimizing your content for humans.

Amy Thibodeau’s panel: Copy Matters: Content Strategy for the Interface
Man, do we need this.

Once and Future King: Can Syndication Save Content?
I’ve spent large parts of the past couple of years trying to convince publishers that syndication is a revenue stream, to no avail. I’d been content to let the industry die, but sounds like this panel will try again to convince them. Bravo!

0

Content Strategy: It’s About the Mindset

My talk Friday to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s interactive SIG really underlined to me that content strategy is at least as much a mindset as it is a set of tools. We had a number of experienced web professionals in the room — from design, strategy, content, programming backgrounds — and the questions and comments really focused on two areas:

  • What do you put into a content inventory?
  • Whoa. This is a new way of thinking about things.

I find that as a group, content strategists are obsessed with how other CSers do inventories and audits. We are looking for the Holy Grail. We want there to be a single solution that answers all questions. I did my first, honest-to-God, inventory-for-the-sake-of-inventory about 6 years ago, and I’ve done countless ones since. And no two have ever been the same. Sure, I always start with URL and headline, but each one has been different, based on what we’re evaluating.

It goes back to the principle we work on at Creekmore Consulting: Content comes second, because your business goal has to come first. Give me your business goal, and then we can start talking about what your inventory should look like.

And that gets us right back to the mindset, doesn’t it? Content strategy helps you put the business goal first, and it lets the rest of your work flow down from that. We choose the tools, the technology and yes, even the content, based on your business needs.

0

Laura Creekmore speaking at Nashville Chamber 8/5/2011

Update, 8/6/2011: If you wanted to see the slides from my talk on content strategy and marketing yesterday, they’re now available on SlideShare.

I’m really excited about an upcoming event — I’m speaking to the Nashville Chamber’s interactive shared interest group on Friday, Aug. 5.

Here’s the description:

Content Strategy: A Framework for Marketing Success

Content strategy is a framework to help you make better decisions about managing content as a business asset.

Great writing is an art, but business realities demand that we standardize and structure our content for maximum effectiveness. Content strategy gives you the tools to spend your marketing time and money well, whether you’re working on your website, a software product or designing a social media campaign. This session will explain how content strategy can improve your marketing results, and it will walk you step by step through the content strategy framework, giving you ideas to improve your work today.

The event is open to all Nashville Chamber members. Hope you can join us.

 

1

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes