Tag Archives | Content strategy

When you need content strategy: Content hack-a-matic

I spend a decent amount of time explaining to people in the web industry when they need content strategy. [Answer: on every project, of course.]

And so I thought I’d put together a few situations that arise in real life….those times when you really need your friendly neighborhood content strategist on speed dial. Here’s the first:

You’re trying to unwind your hacked-together “content management system” and implement a real CMS. Sure, you started off with good intentions. Your site structure made a lot of sense when you first built it….a few years ago. And ever since then, when you’ve added something new, you discovered the content system/blog software/hacked-together pieces-parts can’t quite handle it….so you’ve just added on some new software or technology or something to make it work. Perhaps your site itself actually looks good. But it’s gotten to the point where you’re terrified to even look at the site, because you know you can’t hack anything else onto it, and simple text changes eat up your day.

First, if you’re in this situation, you’re not alone. Many, many other organizations’ websites suffer from the same problem. But if you’re ready to figure out how to make content maintenance easier, get a content strategist to help.

What a content strategist can do for you:

  • Audit your content to figure out what you have
  • Determine the types of content you have
  • Determine the kind of information [metadata] you need to have for each content type
  • Recommend how to use this info to set up a system that will make your content work for you
  • Craft or improve a content workflow that fits your organization
  • Help you find and migrate to a tool that makes all this possible and automates manual tasks
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My BarCamp Nashville session: Content Strategy…Or Else

Here’s the promo I just added to the BarCamp Nashville site:

Content strategy’s quite the buzzword these days. But what does it really mean? Does incorporating content strategy mean your web projects are going to be shiny and glorious? [Don’t we all hope!] Or that they’ll be more expensive, take longer, and get more complex? [No!]

Content strategy is the underpinning of a sound web project, and chances are, you’re doing some of it already. Learn the pieces/parts of content strategy in this session, from business goals to audits to information architecture to content retirement planning.

You’ll leave knowing how to be more intentional about your content. You’ll know how to prevent the train wreck that derails many a web project. And you’ll have all the lowdown on the latest web buzzword.

Please sign up now—it will be a great way to learn about how content strategy can improve your web projects.

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How to hire a content strategist: It’s about trust

If you’re considering hiring a content strategy vendor, or a content strategist for your staff, I’d recommend you start by reading Rahel Anne Bailie’s recent posts:

Bailie gives a really nice picture of what you should expect from a content strategist.

I’ve just got another thought to throw out there. There’s no certification for content strategy. No “professional content strategist” exam to take. No college courses. Basically, you say you’re working in content strategy, and voila, you are!

And I think that makes a lot of people nervous. I get it.

But here’s the thing. I’m thinking about all the people that I hire who are certified. Licensed. Bonded. Insured. People who have official, professional credentials.

In no case, ever in my life, have I asked to see those credentials. Now, maybe I’m just a naive consumer. But I think you’ve got to hire a content strategist for the same reasons I’m hiring those other people:

  • They make you believe they understand your problem.
  • They inspire your trust in their abilities to address the problem.
  • They sell you on the value of their services.

That’s it. It comes down to trust for hiring a plumber, an accountant and a content strategist.

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College for content strategists

I had to laugh when reading DJ Francispost listing blog ideas for content strategists. Right about halfway through was the question I get more and more often:

How did your college degree prepare you for your content strategy job, especially since it’s highly likely you did not major in content strategy? What path would you recommend to future strategists?

Now, I’ve worked in web content and digital media for the vast majority of my career, but it seems that only recently I’ve begun to get this question. And it really mystifies me.

People, when I went to college, we didn’t even use email.

So no, I didn’t major in content strategy.

But I did spend a lot of my time in and outside the classroom preparing for this career, albeit inadvertently.

Hands-on experience
I was the editor of the student newspaper at Vanderbilt in 1992. It was some of the best professional training I’ve had, right up to the present day. I had to motivate and manage about 100 volunteers total [we had no paid staffers], make a whole lot of quick decisions with imperfect, incomplete information, and I basically spent an entire year making mistake after mistake.

It’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done.

It’s just downright embarrassing to compare the papers we put out in January with the ones we did in the second half of the year. Learn by doing.

So that definitely prepared me for a lot of the editorial experiences I’ve built on ever since. By the mid-1990s, I was knee-deep in web content, and from the beginning, the transition from print felt like drinking from a firehose. [There’s a subject for another post for you….]

Your perspective matters
I do think something else from college really did prepare me for this career, though. Vanderbilt gives students a broad, liberal arts education, even if you have a specialized major like engineering. I was a European History major, but it could have been anything, I think. I learned how to think. I continue to use the critical thinking skills I learned in college every single day.

Getting into this field
If I were giving advice to someone today hoping to get into this field, I guess the best thing I could say would be: Start managing content. As much as you can. And read as much as you can about how the field of content strategy is developing. There’s a lot of great work going on, trying to quantify the strategies that make for compelling websites. But it’s still early days, and we need more people to dive in and help to carry the banner for content strategy.

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The first Nashville Content Strategy Meetup!

OK, I’m excited to announce that we’re planning the first Nashville Content Strategy Meetup.

Mark your calendars now for:

Thursday, July 15
5:30-7p
Miro District

If you’re actively working in content strategy, curious about the topic, or just a person who enjoys a fun time with interesting people, this is the event for you.

We’ll talk about how we’d like the meetup to go from here. Several other cities have content strategy meetups, and some of them are very informal affairs, and others are structured learning events. We can do whatever we like with this group!

Please RSVP today on our meetup page.

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Let’s start a content strategy meetup in Nashville

Content strategy is still emerging as a discipline, but I know a lot of people working on it here in the Nashville area. Several other cities have created successful content strategy meetups, and I’d love to help create one here in Nashville.

For some ideas about what a content strategy group might do, look at the Atlanta group’s recent programming.

I’ve also posted a call on Digital Nashville. Please email me [laura at creekmoreconsulting dot com] and let me know if you’re interested. We’ll aim to get something going this summer!

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Managing ownership of content: Print vs. web

I’m not above taking a free handout — and so when Kristina Halvorson helpfully posted some questions she’d been asked at a recent forum and asked those of us in the content strategy community to tackle one, I viewed it as a great gift. [Thanks, Kristina!]

How can content strategy begin to resolve ownership issues between print content creators and web content editors?

Unless you’ve been lucky enough to build only new web properties in brand new organizations, you’ve faced this issue. I spent years in the publishing industry, and so this hit home for me. It’s not unique to publishing, though: Most organizations that have been around a while and that do any sort of marketing are creating printed materials. And even today, many folks’ first instinct is to say, “Take that [press release, brochure, magazine article, ad from the newspaper] and put it on our website.”

But here’s the key point: No one ever says, “Take that [brilliant Flash demo, interactive chart, quick checklist, photo slideshow from the convention] off our website and print it.”

That would be a stupid thing to say, wouldn’t it? Great web content is optimized for the web, and it’s not cost-conscious to try to re-purpose it — it just doesn’t make any sense.

So if your organization is struggling with who “owns” the content — and you’re not alone — try to reframe the discussion.

  • Figure out who owns the information. This is important. Someone needs to be responsible for collecting and managing the information, and they need to share it with everyone who needs it.
  • Designate the person[s] who manages the print interpretation of the information.
  • Designate the person[s] who manages the web interpretation of the information.

In a small organization, all three of those roles might be filled by the same person. But in many organizations, the first role is distinct from the latter two. And the larger you get, the more likely the print and web content management is handled separately.

Regardless, it’s critical for the entire group to interact. But we should all recognize that slapping articles from a newsletter onto the website does nothing more than create an archive. If that’s all you want, super. If you want web content, you have to craft content that fits the medium.

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Creating real value: The art of content strategy

I’ve mentioned the cult of action here before. I don’t know if it’s a uniquely modern challenge, but I do know that today’s technology makes it easy to fall into: Your phone syncs with your calendar with your email with your note program with your SharePoint with your brain. You put a task into the system at any point, and it will bedevil you until you complete it. Once you’ve made the decision to “task” something, you’re almost guaranteed to complete it. And in the current business mindset, this is all for the good.

So it is with trepidation that I bring up the particular way that my own profession is damaged by the cult of action. Over the past 2-3 years, digital media has really begun to recognize content strategy and management as a discipline as significant as programming and design. It’s not universally recognized yet, but it’s getting more than lip service in many quarters today.

I think the positive side to this is huge. The mental shift we’re making in thinking about “content strategy and management” instead of about “copy” means that we’re focusing on the business goals of the web property. We’re naming the metrics by which we’ll measure our efforts. We’re making success more likely.

But I think we have not yet escaped the mindset that content is a box to check off of our to-do list. If one piece of content is just as good as another, we aren’t yet employing a strategic mindset.

To make truly strategic decisions — and to take truly strategic actions — about content, we have to view content as a cornerstone in building relationships with our customers. There’s a lot about it that we can measure, and even complete and check off the list. But we can’t transform a human relationship into a series of checkboxes. There’s still an art to content, and as we continue to develop the discipline of content strategy, we must value the art as well as the action.

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