5 ways digital strategy can drive excellence in collaborative content

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We're an ownership society moving quickly toward a collaborative economy—and nowhere is that pain more evident than in the creation and curation of online content. Previously sacrosanct lines are …

We're an ownership society moving quickly toward a collaborative economy—and nowhere is that pain more evident than in the creation and curation of online content. Previously sacrosanct lines are being blurred, and organizations must shift to support emerging user needs. Hear how Harvard's CDO and team have crafted a digital strategy to advance content optimized for a newly social, mobile, and video-obsessed world.

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  • Good morning.
    Thank you to the organizers of this terrific event, and thanks to all of you who having enjoyed last night’s festivities made it here to an 8:30 am talk.
  • Kristina referred to strategy as magic and awesome. Meaning, like when it’s used to mean just about nothing. So I wanted to differentiate this as actually magic and awesome since it’s an approach tied to business goals, not a 50 page pdf document that lives out its lonely life on a server..
  • So, first, who am I – and why am I here today?
    I started my career in editorial publishing. Back then we had authors and copy, and content was an adjective with emphasis on the final syllable.
    Moved into project management, marketing, and technology. Was able to do this in a few different countries, and to get into something called “electronic mail” in the early 90s. And then, the internet, which was first static web pages, and then database backed web sites, and then web services, and then all manner of mobile/social madness – and now thinking about all that PLUS digital beyond the screen. It’s been a wild and busy ride.
    Someone who has worked in both client, agency, and software company roles. Have been lucky enough to spend the last four years at Harvard, working on digital strategy for a 377 year old institution with both history and innovation baked into its DNA.
  • So, before we get into the whole five things bit, I’d like to set the stage. What the hell is a digital strategy? Here’s how we define it.
    <walk through>
    Have you been tasked with creating your own organization’s digital strategy? There’s a good smashing magazine article that came out last summer about writing a digital strategy – their focus was on priorities, policies, and people.
    I like that framing, and want to make a point of applying that framing to a backdrop of a shifting landscape. The landscape is shifting not only tactically, in terms of tools and technologies, but culturally in terms of who has ownership of publishing. The consumerization of IT has drastically affected the tools we use in the workplace – as people’s personal technology got better, they refused to settle for enterprise system mediocrity. Similarly, the rise of collaborative and transparent publishing practices, from comments on facebook to co-creation via google docs to event attendance metadata, are part of the reason we think more collaboratively about content creation online.
  • More on this framing. So, there are a number of ways we live in this world that are changing through this lens of a collaborative economy.
    If you were born in 1950, you grew up with the idea of ownership and clean dividing lines. Many middle class people held 2-3 jobs in their lifetime, bought a car, bought a house. The ownership society with clean dividing lines was the American aspiration. Think of the iconography – the sign that you had made it was a dividing line, a white picket fence.
    Today we’re seeing a trend among millennials – who get a bad rap, but frankly I’m a big fan – toward a more collaborative economy. Why own, when you can rent? And we’re seeing it throughout adolescence and adulthood: Chegg for textbook rental; Amazon instant for your movies; Lyft for getting around; air bnb for a place to stay; rent the runway (anyone know the tagline for this? Rent the dress – own the room) for the very clothes on your back. Does anyone know the tagline for Rent the Runaway? It’s: Rent the dress – own the room It’s a shift in our 20th century thinking – sometimes the rent s from an institution, but increasing it’s peer to peer. In either case, it’s a kind of ongoing collaboration .
    I think you can draw a line between consumer behavior around lifestyle activities and how we think about digital strategy and the enterprise. We are no longer sitting in offices coming up with a strategy that is implemented top down, but creating it collaboratively with stakeholders who are traditional (CEOs, CMOs) but also non-traditional (staff, consumers). Think of it this way – before you created the canonical story of your brand, and bound and printed it. Today, you collaborate through digital strategy and content strategy to tell that story through the internet, in a vast array of owned (your domain) and leased properties (like social media). And rather than provide a canonical version, you’re providing a toolkit for your brand co-creators in an environment where everything is a remix. Core skills like messaging and positioning remain vital, but the implementation and stewardship are very different.
    We’ve moved on from command and control of a brand, to a collaborative creative model. So, this idea is the backdrop for how we craft and advance digital and content strategy at Harvard.
  • So back in the day – and people actually ate this stuff in the 1970s I think – there were nice clear divisions of responsibilities. Who owns the brand? Who has the right to speak publicly about it? Who owns the words and who owns the image? Who owns editorial and who owns production?
    We lived in a world of clear divisions like the sections separating the mystery meat from that appetizing vegetable medley.
  • Today, we’re in a fusion situation, people. There is chocolate in your peanut butter, and peanut butter in your chocolate. This is the world of blurred lines we live in. It’s much more difficult to separate editorial from production, which is why so many people create blobs in their CMS rather than enable chunks.
    Today, it’s a lot harder to parse out who owns what but ultimately, in my opinion at least, the process is far more delicious.
  • So, onto the 5 ways that digital strategy can set you up for success in this messy collaborative content world.
    This is where the blurred lines result in either collaboration or competition – so, pick the right players.
    At Harvard we have an editorial team that reports through communications and writes the Harvard Gazette and shoots multimedia and takes photographs. We have an alumni team that writes stories and produces a wide range of events with associated content and stewards alumni and donor relationships through a rnage of information products. We serve faculty who do the most important work ofthe University, and share that scholarship online. We collaborate on how the content appears through social.
    It’s hard to find the right people to survive in a blurred lines environment. Sometimes the title for the person who’s the main convener or connector is content strategist – for this role these are essential. Arguably these traits are useful across a broader digital strategy team. Here are three traits in particular that we look for:
    People who love it, eat their own dog food
    People who bring varied perspectives, earned from experience
    People who can handle uncertainty, and act with agility
  • And, as we all learned from Kristina’s most excellent keynote yesterday, this is EXACTLY what they should look like. Look, they are using technology, and the white guy is again smack dab in the middle!
  • Here are some quick proof points in the dog food category: First, we look for people who are wholly comfortable and establish an online identity in this digital world. Age can sometimes be a proxy, but not always. Good examples of identity management are strong presences on linkedin, or about.me, or one’s own domain.
    Next, we look for people who are skilled consumers of online media. That doesn’t mean someone who reads their Facebook news feed every ten minutes. It means someone with smart filters for consumption: listening to relevant content through digital delivery from podcasts to twitter follows
    We are also looking for curators: people who find and select relevant content to share with others. This is not a search for maniacal retweeters – don’t be that guy. But people who have an area of interest and are able to cull through and broadcast relevant resources associated with that interest.
    Finally, we look for creators – people who participate in creating original content to share. This doesn’t mean an aspiring content strategist is sentenced to a 2,000 word blog post every Monday. It means there’s an inherent advantage to being able to come up with, articulate –whether that’s through words or pictures or video in a tweet or a slideshare, and knowing how to disseminate it appropriately.
    Not everyone will do everything to the same degree. But it’s hard to build a team of capable collaborators without a shared understanding on content success.
  • A second trait we look for is people with a range of experience. I particularly value experience in the software industry -- in a digital environment, it’s helpful to have people who are accustomed to a culture of shipping. That means getting stuff out the door in a time limited way, and dealing with the inevitable bug aftermath when the product is in the field. It’s a culture of delivery, and tends to cultivate both accountability and often team members with thicker skins.
    Also, you want people who have worn multiple hats in a digital project environment. This might mean they have worked on the agency side, where theyve had to juggle priorities and manage a high workload, while maximizing their creativity and developing varied skills. This might also mean they’ve worked on the client side, working to manage a brand or product digitally, while getting stakeholders aligned and cutting through red tape.
  • On the point of wearing multiple hats – if you build a team of people who have varied experience, you can eventually visualize the benefit in a heterogeneous network.
    LinkedIn has this terrific feature that allows you to map your connections. I’m there in the middle – starting clockwise:
    The green is startup/innovation communities
    The blue is agency
    The orange is software firm
    The blue is more traditional consulting
    The pink is higher ed
    Organizations are a lot more porous than they were 20 years ago. Who you consider your colleague can include a pretty broad swath of people. And unlike 20 years ago, those contacts travel with you more, and are much more findable without the intermediary of an institution.
  • Finally, we look for committed communicators, not ping pong players. Beware what I think of as organizational ping pong -- a bias toward getting the little ball over the little net, and not focusing on a result.
    How can you spot a ping pong player? In the workplace, they are people who are apt to say:
    “I got it done -- I sent an email.” While I do love me some millennials, this is one word of caution. Your job is not to send the email, it is to get the result. Sitting behind a screen is safe and comfortable, and can give you the illusion of checking off your todos in Evernote without delivering a result.
    Get up, and get out of your chair. I am someone who generally loathes the phone and rarely checks a voicemail. If you want tor each me, text me. However, if you are on a team responsible for content delivery in this new blurred lines environment, sometimes you have to get up or pick up the phone to get the result. That’s what differentiates a committed communicator.
  • So, back to the 5 big things. #2: what’s the next aspect of a digital strategy to support content creation and dissemination?
  • Increasingly, smart publishers work from a COPE model – Karen McGrane often uses the example of leading organizations like NPR who invest in correctly constructed content you create once and publish everywhere.
    COPE is a recognition that we’ve invested in separating content from presentation enough to serve it up discretely in places where people want to consume it. It means we’ve made every effort to chunk content, provide clean metadata, and let it thrive in different environments.
    Remember back to the part where out goal was to make Harvard relatable and relevant. We publish content where people are, in a form that matches the way they want to consume it.
  • Increasingly, how they want to consume it is more mobile and social. This is our native mobile app – more of a campus application – and an example of how the content pulls in the right metadata for the Twitter feed.
    Let me pause on mobile for a moment here. Harvard Gazette traffic in 2013 to date is 27% mobile – that’s up from 1% in 2009. And in 2013 alone, we’ve been accessed by more than 1,200 different mobile devices and operating systems. Bespoke for each is clearly a nonstarter. Recently we’ve turned the way we present websites and concepts on its head. When project teams or environments deliver creative concepts, we want to see the mobile first, not relegated to the last five minutes of an hour long creative pitch.
  • COPE talks about content you are pushing out with an explicit recognition of lack of control – you are not dictating to your audience, you are collaborating with them to meet their content consumption needs .
    I also want to address a second point, for those of you who work in the enterprise. That could be a university with lots of schools, which is many of you, but could also apply to a large publisher, with lots of imprints or a large management consultancy, with lots of vertical practice areas.
    In any large organization full of knowledge workers, with the tools for self publishing readily available – your job as a digital content leader can expand to find ways to bring that content together. We would all like to live in a world with a perfectly designed enterprise wide CMS, with consistent metadata and religious usage, sitting above a meticulously tagged digital asset management system. Right after I find that, I am getting my unicorn.
    Don’t let great be the enemy of good. Here’s the Harvard home page, where we pull in content via RSS from around the University. There are many other ways we try to pull together distributed assets. This syndication pulls in distributed assets with as much related metadata as is feasible, and relies on the foundational idea of COPE for distribution.
  • Here’s my third tip to fuel content collaboration. Make your CMS users the least unhappy they can be. Happy is too high a bar to shoot for, in a world in which we’re competing for web publishing ease of use with Facebook and Twitter. But there are ways to improve the content creation and publishing experience
  • Brand matters. Make people feel at home in their environment.
    Next, start with an analysis of existing workflow and tasks to be completed. Use a combination of reported behaviors through 1:1 interviews, but for best results, as the ads say, spend some time observing how people actually work. Any CMS comes with biases toward desired workflows baked into the technology. Make sure what your users need is supported and not turned on its head by admin interface defaults.
    This example is from Drupal, but we’re relatively platform agnostic. Start with what the system offers, but make sure the navigation and filtering and sorting reflect user needs. Particularly in sites like the Harvard Gazette with a high and frequent publishing volume, eliminating a few clicks can go a long way.
  • Help your users keep the visual clutter to a minimum. First, customize the dashboard – now we’re in Wordpress – for the frequent use cases needs of your admin users.
    Then, beyond building the best interface you can, be sure to walk your site admins through the custom and existing features. Don’t assume that you can train once and walk away, and keep an eye on shifting user behaviors. For larger installations, consider analytics reporting on backend use – this might help surface unexpected dead ends of klugey workaround.
  • There are many parts to measurement and analytics.
    First, there’s the upfront work to enable measurement, which is defining the business goals and creating tagging schema to support those goals .
    Next there’s the regular work of pulling the data and creating a baseline understanding.
    Then there’s the challenging work of reporting with the right and relevant topline observations for your audience. How can you enable the right insights rather than drown business owners in metrics? If you are looking to build shared understanding among content collaborators, this is an important step.
    Finally, the most important part – what’s the action that you take as a result of what you measure.
    The best thing about digital is also the worst thing – almost everything is potentially measurable. But what do you have the resources and bandwidth to act upon?
  • OK, so measurement can be kind of boring. But it's important. So if these other points seem daunting, you can go back to them later. Just gaze at the puppy with the ruler for a minute.
  • Here are a couple of ways we measure our own centrally held properties, like harvard.edu, the Gazette, the alumni site, and the newly launched capital campaign site. We also share analytics views with many of the schools and centers, to better understand the flow of content across the Harvard web ecosystem.
    We practice meticulous tagging in Google Analytics to take the long view, to track emerging trends like mobile and social usage over time. We assign goals to certain behaviors like subscriptions or gifts to understand both pathways and performance.
    We also keep an eye on realtime using Chartbeat. We live in a 24-7 news cycle, and experience spikes from pickups in news media, some of whom are eager to drive traffic to a story by putting Harvard in the headline, as well as dramatic spikes from social sites like Reddit or Wenxuecity. Chartbeat has alerted us to email performance issues as well as media relations opportunities – if a video is embedded in media outlet A, it may have legs with other potential placements.
  • Here are two concrete examples of analytics learnings that drove specific approaches in the July 2013 Harvard Gazette redesign.
    First is the rise of mobile, which we alluded to earlier. The rising numbers drove a great deal of attention to mobile usage. We nearly drove our development team mad with exacting requirements how the mobile view rendered, for details like placement and behavior of the social sticky bar. But that bet paid off – with time on site rising for 54 seconds to 1 minute 12 seconds.
    Secondly, we learned from the analytics that every page is your home page. Traffic to the main Gazette homepage accounted for less than 5% of all visits, which meant the time the editors were spending curating that home page and the category home pages could be spent better elsewhere. Instead we focused on souping up the story pages, which accounted for more than 60% of visits. This investment included elements like multiple images for a story and increased prominence for popular stories.
  • Measurement of social also yields concrete actions we can take. Social helps us spot emerging conversations we may choose to contribute to, and see changes in referral traffic that can help us shape our publishing strategy on these rented properties.
  • Finally, we create, aggregate and disseminate a lot of multimedia. Above are screenshots of multimedia performance on YouTube EDU, iTunes U, and SoundCloud. A specific learning was that titles really matter on platforms like YouTube. The tangible result is that we re-title some of the assets from Harvard properties to maximize SEO.
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvMgWSJgwFY&feature=share&list=PL2SOU6wwxB0syTRtslTvAzur6jQUtWiG-
    Relatable and relevant.
  • Email is the bridesmaid at the social media wedding – but remains a critical channel for many audiences, including alumni. Recently we convened a bunch of technically savvy young alumni to ask about better ways to connect and engage. They came with two pretty old tricks in the alumni relations playbook – live, in-person events and email.
    Some of the things we measure, beyond transactions, are what people are clicking on from topic to language to format.
  • So, it’s easy for different teams in an organization full of smart people, like a university, to all be operating from a playbook – but for each group to have its own playbook.
    Your best ammunition against this is a shared editorial calendar. We use Google docs – originally this was just for an annual calendar of known internal and external events, like Harvard-Yale in November and Earth Day in April.
    Today, our content strategy team has expanded that usage to even small campaigns to drive coordination across multiple websites and social accounts. This kind of shared approach gives you a framework from which to develop and coordinate content.
    Overlaid on this framework is the idea of delivering content in context, not only for the planned events in the universe but of all the serendipitous topics that emerge in this 24/7 media cycle and social/viral phenomena.
  • Here’s an example of a regular feature driven by an internal editorial calendar – a tweet of an interesting read from President Drew Faust each Sunday.
  • Driven by the time of year on the calendar
  • Or driven by real time context, like Alex Ferguson’s retirement
  • For the love of God, have some fun. Helps to have permission from on high.
  • So, here’s the recap.
    A digital strategy is both an underpinning and a roadmap, and there are lots of ways it can be useful.
    I chose to emphasize these five points because this is a room full of content strategy experts, and you face a real challenge.
    As lines blur, and as top-down authority yields to competency-earned influence, the right tools to drive collaborative content behaviors will help you. Develop the five competencies above to offer both benefits and proof points to your colleagues. The result? Shared understanding.
  • Communicate the value what you and your content team does to colleagues and leadership. If it’s been a collaborative effort, make sure to credit the work of others. Higher ed, like all organizations, has its frustrations, but in the sea of what you can’t do, focus on what you can do and celebrate what you have done.
    If your world is anything like mine, not all projects will always go according to plan, so there are often changing requirements and fires to put out. But with a solid strategy in place, a lot will go right and often too little attention is paid to the practices that got them there. So be sure to find venues and formats to tell the story of the successes.
  • I’m going to close with a video – one we shot in house with one special budget. We have a wide range of institutions represented here, but I would venture to guess we all share one thing. Commencement. Which as you all know, stands for a beginning.
    Content strategy and digital strategy have been around, as we were reminded yesterday, less than 20 years. We all have a wonderful opportunity to work together and grow this field together. And sure there are frustrations and we all may secretly feel we’re doing it wrong, but there’s a lot of awesomeness out there to be done. So let’s be the ones to go do it. Please roll the video.


  • 1. 5 ways digital strategy can drive excellence in collaborative content Perry Hewitt November 12, 2013
  • 2. a magic and a magic and awesome awesome 5 ways  digital strategy can drive excellence in collaborative content Perry Hewitt November 12, 2013
  • 3. Linkedin visualization
  • 4.  Communicate and amplify Harvard’s mission of excellence in teaching, learning, and research while making the University and its contributions relatable and relevant in an always-on world  Enable communications and engagement approaches to live digitally, and often digital-first to enrich our constituents’ experience of Harvard
  • 5. a digital strategy in an environment of a growing collaborative economy
  • 6. photo credit: Daniel Oines
  • 7. photo credit: Marissa McClellan
  • 8. 1.Assemble the right players and set digitalready expectations
  • 9. People who love it and are seen to eat the digital dog food
  • 10. People who bring varied perspectives, earned from experience like … photo credit: chb1848, Bob Mical
  • 11. Linkedin network visualization
  • 12. People who are committed communicators, not ping pong players photo credit: Terrie
  • 13. 2.Go COPE, and aggregate + syndicate = amplify
  • 14. 3.Embrace the unsexy: over-invest in your admin UX
  • 15.  Design navigation and filtering/sorting options based on admin workflow/tasks  Build on existing CMS features where possible (here: Drupal views)
  • 16.  Create online help and surface it through the dashboard  Provide training to help admin users maximize existing CMS features. Example: these screen options can help organize the boxes on the edit page
  • 17. 4.Be relentless about measurement
  • 18. Regular and anomalous web behavior
  • 19. Mobile and tablet traffic rising Every page is a home page
  • 20. Social
  • 21. Multimedia
  • 22. https://college.harvard.edu/become-anything
  • 23.  Opens, clicks, transactions  Text vs. photo vs. video vs. graphic  Length vs. engagement
  • 24. 5.Deliver content in context powered by a shared editorial calendar
  • 25. Content scheduled per external calendar
  • 26. Content scheduled per emerging events
  • 27. 1.Assemble the right players and set digital-ready expectations 2.Go COPE, and aggregate + syndicate = amplify 3.Embrace the unsexy: over-invest in your admin UX 4.Be relentless about measurement 5.Deliver content in context, powered by a shared editorial calendar
  • 28. Still with me? photo credit: fieldsbh
  • 29. One final thought … Tell the story! Communicate the value of a digital strategy with specific proof points
  • 30. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/05/through-the-eyes-of-a-graduate-harvard-commencement-2013/
  • 31. Thank you. @perryhewitt perryhewitt.com
  • 32. Selected Resources
  • 33.  Building high-performing digital teams http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/08/how-to-build-a-highperforming/  So, you want to write a digital strategy? http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/07/18/youwant-to-write-a-digital-strategy/  Slides: Mobile is eating the world http://qz.com/145704/slides-mobile-is-eating-the-world/  Make your admin interface shine http://perryhewitt.com/5-ways-admin-interface-shine/  Resources related to the collaborative economy http://www.webstrategist.com/blog/category/collaborative-economy/