In the last couple of years the idea of Content Strategy for the Web has started to gain traction and achieve some prominence. People responsible for the text and images on web sites are fed up with being the last people to know what’s going on, and then being given very little time to create useful and effective content. They are fed up with having to compete against commoditised writing shops, often in developing countries, which claim to produce ‘SEO-enabled copy’ at less than rock bottom prices. The message that Content Strategists are trying to put across is that the web doesn’t have content – the web is content. In this presentation David Farbey will argue that the frustrations felt by web content strategists are also felt by technical communications and e-learning specialists, and in fact, by everyone who is interested in producing effective communications in a corporate environment. He examines how the answers that Content Strategists are adopting can be used to great effect by other writers and editors in an organisation, and how bringing content developers and content publishers together not only encourages re-use and cost savings, but can create better and more effective copy.
Although I work for Medidata, this presentation is my own work
Content Strategy (CS) is an emerging field and one of its leading practitioners is Rahel Anne Bailie.In this definition almost every word or phrase is a keyword that needs to be thought about:“repeatable system” “governs”“management”“life cycle”Unifying theme is that CS is a process, not an event or a goal.
CS brings together expertise and experience from a variety of disciplines, some of which are shown in this diagram by Rahel Anne Bailie. CS makes use of technology, but it isn’t itself a technology or a tool.Above all, CS is a process – a repeatable system which involves analysis, production, and management as well as publication. It has been called “product management for content”
I’m drawing to a conclusion now and I want to make my case for the value of content as an asset, which deserves to be planned for, managed anad maintained – and not just added at the last minute
Many of the issues discussed by Rockley in her book are still relevant such as the problems posed by “Information Silos” [different people preparing the same information independently of each other]However the main influence of Rockley is in the are of tools and technologiesRockley assumed that you knew what content you already had, and that all your content was already high quality, relevant to your users, and effective in terms of your corporate goals. All you needed to do was organise it, and to borrow a term from database design, “normalise” it [remove duplication by re-using common elements].In contrast, CS does not assume any of these things, but asks about where your content is, wand whether it is relevant, and if it is effective.
Recent trends in TC have been around tools and technology very much in line with the ideas of building business efficiencies in the ways that Rockley and others have suggested.
It’s about thinking, and planning and considering, and as JM said, knowing where you want to go before you start
Some organisations think that buying some expensive content management system will solve the “content question” without thinking about the issues that CS raises.Remember Kristina Halvorson’s rather unflattering view of what a CM system does, I the absence of a CS:- Wall-E, the trash compactor robot took random undifferentiated and uncontrolled trash, and transformed it into uniformly sized, neatly packaged and interchangeable units of…trash.Recently, on A List Apart, Jonathan Kahn: buying a CMS to resolve content problems is like going on holiday to save a marriage
So what is it that a Content Strategy does for an organisation?Rachel Lovingersummarises CS:“To make content that’s relevant to people, we choose the words and sentence structures that will best contribute to achieving our communication goals. The voice should be based on a deep understanding of the intentions of the content creators, as well as the needs of the content consumers. This approach can be captured in an editorial styleguide providing guidelines and examples that will help others craft content and messages in a similar voice.”So, as in other types of communication, understanding audience needs is critical.“To make content more useful to machines, we structure it and define standard elements so that the content can be used and reused dynamically. We write taxonomies and add metadata so that the content can be identified more easily. We create relationships between content so that it has more context and can support a variety of complex functions.”http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/content-strategy-the“To make content more efficient to produce, we evaluate and recommend solutions for creating, enhancing, organizing, and using content, including content management systems, metadata tools, search engines, and faceted navigation applications. We establish business rules and workflows that will optimize the use of these tools and systems.”“To make content comprehensive, we determine content requirements for a site, inventory existing content, identify gaps, evaluate possible sources for additional material, and manage the process of getting that content into production.”http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/content-strategy-the
There are lots of myths about content management. It is our job, as members of the technical communication community, to debunk those myths. Here are two of the most significant ones.The first myth is that content already exists – somewhere in your organisation, all the content you could possibly need for your knowledge management programme, or your website has already been written. It’s there, it doesn’t need any rewriting, you can just use it – once you find it.
Here is another content management myth. This is a commonly envisaged content development process. According to Kristina Halvorson, most people think content development is easy and straightforward. And therefore shouldn’t take much time.
People are surprised to find out that the real content development life cycle is a lot more complicated, and takes a little bit more time.Developing content is still one of the easier aspects of devloping a CS, despite this large number of steps - but you need a CS to make sure you have time and people and resources to get this done.
Now I’m going to talk about how you “do” CSAccording to Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach. There are three key stages:Audit – “take the time to figure out what you have and whether it’s useful (to your audiences, for your project objectives) – an audit can also serve as a reference on what content lives where”Analysis – “of your objectives, assumptions, risks, andsuccess factors…what might [impact your] recommendations for content creation, delivery, and governance”Strategy – develop your strategy [next side]
Now in more detail, what doess CS involve?It means thinking about your messages, your readers and your technology.For example:What and why – brand and messaging strategy, overall structure, content types, formatsHow structured – organization, templates, page designFind – search strategies, metadata, ways to connect with audiencesFrom here to launch – detailed inventory, gap analysis, workflow process, schedules, creation strategiesWhat next – how will the site be maintained, what triggers updates/removals, who is in chargeOne strong metaphor for CS is to talk about the role of a CS as being like the role of publisher in traditional print mediaWhen you are creating content you need to think like a publisher:A publisher needs to get the paper out every day – not just on launch dayA publisher needs to get a team of writers, editors and technical staff to do the work, but the buck stops with him – he has overall responsibility to say yes or noA publisher makes sure the Policies, Standards, and Guidelines are observedAnother interesting metaphor is that of the curator of content.From the concept of the museum curator who selects the very best artefacts for an exhibitionBringing in content from other sites and sources, as well as highlighting original contentA curator also looks after and takes care of the artefacts and that’s important too – UGC is an example of content that needs looking after and “nurtured ( you might call this monitoring content – but you need to decide
The activities indicated in the that tech comms documentation life cycle may well be happening simultaneously in different “silos” ( I mean “departments”)
In my experience, TC and CS face very similar challenges
Now let’s talk about medium size businessesRapid growthAd hoc solHigh value B2B sales – long sales cycleVery unlikely that buyers are users – however both groups include technically savvy people
Agile development should be grounded in well developed user stories – a genuine understanding of what users need and want – and that sort of analysis is fundamental to an effective CS and to effective TC as well.Agile development is about self-directed teams working to very short timetables. Developing and Implementing a CS for the web or for all communications is a very huge effort and would take time. But once it was in place, having a CS would bring clear benefits
TC and CS do share a number of key concernsIt’s interesting to note that people now making their names as CS advocates and practitioners started their careers in TC.
So far there hasn’t been a Forrester or Gartner Group report on “the ROI of CS” but it’s easy to identify potential qualitative and quantitative benefits.Some changes would be to attitudes and other soft behaviours – different to though no less valuable than “countable” quantifiable savings.
Web sites as well as all business comms have the same aims, summed up very neatly by Kristina Halvorson.These aims apply to online help as much as they do to web sites – even when the inspired action is “know how to use the product more effectively”. If good online help improves customer satisfaction and customer retention, that is surely furthering a business objective.
OkTo sum up you may feel you’re out in the wilderness, but you can end up in a neat and tidy garden that the tourists will flock to see
Although I work for Medidata, this presentation is my own work
Content Strategy for Everyone! David Farbey Senior Technical Communicator Medidata Solutions Worldwide Technical Communication UK 23rd September 2010
Ann Rockley, with Pamela Kostur and Steve Manning:Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, published in 2002
Challenged “information silos” Focused on importance of content re-use Emphasised structured writing and XML-based tools Stressed potential cost savings Calculated ROI of Content Management Systems Based on Ann Rockley,Managing Enterprise Content
Reflected in trends in tech comms: Single-sourcing Modularisation (chunking) Structured writing tools (DITA) Combining a CMS and a DITA tool
management is about rules http://www.flickr.com/photos/fred_bear/251321215/
strategyis about thinking http://www.flickr.com/photos/rybczynski/2520948165/
holistic holism: the theory that parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independently of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts . "holism". Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. 22 September 2010 <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/holism?view=uk>
holism: thetheory that partsof a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independently of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts .
Content Strategy is broader than Content Management Content Management: Where is your content? When can it be reused? How can your processes be automated?
Content Strategy: What is in your content, and why? Who creates your content and who approves it? Who is responsible for your content once it is live? Content Strategy is not a software package you can buy and forget about
Make content relevant to people Make content useful for machines/systems
What content do we need to create? Why? How will the content be structured? How will users find the content? How will we get from here to launch? What’s next once the content is “out there”? Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach,Brain Traffic