Content strategy 101, Part 3: put knowledge into action

In the third of a four-part series, Sandi Wassmer argues that it pays to plan before embarking on any project

On commencing any project, you should give full consideration to the different places your content needs to get to, and remember that it frequently needs to do so simultaneously. So if you don’t think strategically and for the different outcomes, you’ll find things coming unstuck pretty quickly.

You will need to use whatever resources you have to make this process more efficient. If you are creating a news story that needs to populate different channels, in different formats, at different times and in different languages, the way that you create, store, distribute, manage, maintain and eventually archive the different versions of a single source of content (and all of its associated files and metadata) is key.

Even if your brief says that you are only designing a website, you must nonetheless consider the different distribution channels, which can be categorised as follows:

  • Websites, web applications and mobile apps
  • Social media, blogs, news feeds and aggregators
  • Photo, video and media sharing
  • IPTV
  • Gaming l Communications

But it’s not just about redeployment: a lot of brands are using social media as the hub of their online advertising activity. Facebook campaigns that started out as extensions of website content are now becoming almost standalone, and with online video advertising increasing rapidly, and its polar opposite Twitter doing the same, delivering social media content is constantly being redefined. So even if it’s not in the brief, think about how your web content can be deployed on other channels in the future.

The proliferation of mobile apps provides a whole new set of rules. With limited real estate, and a much more task driven focus, new approaches to design have emerged – and the role that content strategy plays will become more important. Just think of the possibilities of bringing the disciplines of responsive design and content strategy together.

Defining design goals

When defining your goals, the understanding you have gained about your target audiences will be invaluable. Considering how best to align messaging with visual output will become second nature. Delving into people’s behaviour and preferences enables you to optimise design and content for better UX. Since users are now expected to find, interact with and respond to your content in a predefined way, your design goals must ensure that these expectations are consistently met.

This predefined behaviour is instigated by a call to action, which elicits user responses. This must deliver your website’s objectives – placing increasing demands on web designers. Users respond to the call to action, and user interaction is more important than ever. But the content users generate when they interact with your website (whether via a one-line comment on a blog post or an upload of a 20-minute video of their dad singing his favourite songs), and the quality of the metadata that they generate, is frequently overlooked. You, however, won’t do that – because you know how interdependent content strategy and web design really are.

If you want to include the facility for people to comment on blogs in your design, you need to think about users and their behaviour first. Should the facility be for registered users only? Should you use preset categories for tagging? Or should you allow users to define their own tags? If you open it up to users, will they run amok, or will you find great insights that result in modifications to your system of classification?

Content strategists should not be left to make such decisions without designers or developers, and you should follow suit.

Similar considerations need to be made for other user-generated content (and particularly when providing the facility for users to upload their own content), because this content will not only come with its very own family of metadata, it will also include whatever metadata your system applies or enables during the upload process. If you don’t get down to the detail of metadata when you define, scope and create your functionality, you will erode the UX and forego the opportunity for future insights. PDF downloads entitled ‘Document 1’ and photos tagged with the file number created by the user’s camera are of no use to anyone.

Take stock: content and competitors

It is crucial at this stage that before you take stock of your content, you take stock of your time. You must be realistic about how much time and energy you put into this stage, and what the benefits will be. If you do not have very sophisticated tools and you find getting information out to be very labour intensive, but a new CMS will make it a doddle, then this will have to be a consideration. Whatever tools you employ, you must assess two things simultaneously – the quantity and quality of your content and the quantity and quality of your competitors’ content.

Once all of this information has been assimilated and analysed, it is collated into a digestible report for the digital team to consider. Although it is true that too many cooks spoil the broth, getting as many different opinions as possible at this stage can be very useful. Rewards can be reaped by involving those in the digital team who aren’t directly involved in content strategy, as well as those strategic decision-makers from other areas of your organisation who aren’t involved in content delivery.

From learning to decision making to editorial strategy

The next stage is referred to as ‘editorial strategy’. If you are thinking, “Hang on a minute. Aren’t content strategy and editorial strategy the same thing?,” the short answer is ‘no’.

Editorial strategy is not about editing – in the same way that content strategy isn’t just about copy. Editorial strategy sets out how your content strategy will be implemented. This is where it all comes together, where insights and understanding, statistics and analysis are given due consideration and decisions are made. Your editorial strategy documents how your digital team will deliver, manage and maintain the best content possible.

Designing with purpose

How this will happen is dependent on any number of factors, but the intersection of design, technology and marketing is the key to successful content.

Scoping

Just as you scope a web design project, you will have to determine the resources available to deliver against your design goals and website’s objectives, whether they’re people, content assets or budget, and there will be hard decisions to make. Resources are always finite, so attention to detail at this stage is a must. Your scope will need to include details of:

  • The different distinct types of content that need to be created
  • How much of each of the different types of content is required
  • How often the different types of content will need to be updated
  • Which distribution channels will utilise the content
  • What the associated costs are

What you determine here will provide the framework for the work to come. You may be surprised at the results, because it is usually this stage that serves as a bit of a reality check. It is incredible how quickly requirements that were absolutes fall by the wayside when it becomes evident just how much work goes into getting content right. It is not that content of your time doesn’t matter; it’s just that the discipline of content strategy on the web is still in its infancy and, as with anything new, it will take time before people appreciate just how valuable content is.

The editorial calendar

The concept of the editorial calendar is not new to those who have worked in publishing, and the principles on the web are much the same. It is a way of looking at content output and determining what content needs to be delivered and when. But it’s not just a matter of plugging holes. The editorial calendar is where consideration is given to content as a whole, and the ebb and flow of how users interact and respond to it. SEO folk talk a lot about fresh content and consistency, and Google is certainly watching, so the thinking behind the timing and volume of output can be make-or-break.

A company’s address rarely changes, but it may publish news daily, blog weekly and tweet on the hour. The editorial calendar is the hub of all content creation activity once the design process is over. Fulfilling the needs to produce content will influence your design decisions.

Now that you understand the context, you can get on with the planning and implementation.

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