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Finding our content sweet spot

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The digital age demands that we shift our mindset from seeing ourselves as influencers of media channels—to owners of media channels. It requires, in other words, that we become digital publishers.

The inconvenient truth: we might be great at reactively adopting these new tools and “giving them a go”—but we haven’t yet necessarily mastered the art and science of using them at their highest value.

Doing that requires change and realignment of skills and resources.

Content strategy can be used as a major driving force for that realignment (i.e. digital transformation), introducing new ways of approaching, thinking about and working with digital publishing channels so that they’re contributing the level of value that they could and should be. I call it being “content-ready”.

Becoming a content-ready organisation is all about developing:

the right internal mindset and culture
the right skills and expertise
the right tools and technologies

When these elements come together, a brand can be thought of as hitting its "content sweet spot"—the intersection between technical, editorial, and strategic mastery that differentiates brands that excel online from those that don't seem to be able to get their acts together when it comes to strategically managing their digital communications.

In these slides, I break down those three elements in more detail and provide a road map for how an organisation can approach, ignite, and implement the changes it needs to become a content-ready organisation and hit its content sweet spot.

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Finding our content sweet spot

  1. 1. Finding our content sweet spot How organisations can change the way they think about and approach content to become more valuable digital publishers. September 2014 Joseph Phillips
  2. 2. | 2 Every time you communicate, you’re either adding value, or taking up space. - Sally Hogshead
  3. 3. | 3 Content is communication. Every time we publish content we’re either adding value—or taking up space.
  4. 4. | 4 Valuable communication sparks interactions. Interactions form connections. Connections build relationships.
  5. 5. | 5 In the end, an organisation is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. - Lou Grestner, IBM CEO
  6. 6. | 6 In today’s digital age, an organisation’s content is what carries and exchanges value more consistently and powerfully than anything else.
  7. 7. | 7 But the landscape in which that communication happens is far more complex and noisier than it ever used to be…
  8. 8. | 8 How brands used to communicate (pre-web) Paid media (advertising) Owned media (content) Earned media (PR) •Print •Radio •TV •Outdoor spaces •Media mentions (print/radio/TV) •Word of mouth •Print (brand collateral, newsletters, direct mail)
  9. 9. | 9 How brands communicate today (post-web) Paid media (advertising) Owned media (content) Earned media (PR) •Print •Radio •TV •PPC ads •Banner ads •Mobile ads •Social media ads •Native advertising •Media mentions •External blog/website coverage •Social media mentions •Word of mouth •Print •Websites •Blogs •Microsites •Social media •Forums •Email •Apps
  10. 10. | 10 So if the landscape has shifted, we need to adapt our mindset, skills, and resources to meet its needs. (Otherwise known as: digital transformation.)
  11. 11. The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that is has taken place. | 11 - George Bernard Shaw
  12. 12. The shift in mindset from influencing to owning media
  13. 13. | 13 The moment you launch a website, you’re a publisher. The moment you begin a blog, send an email, participate in social media, build a widget, even show up in search engine results… you are a publisher. - Kristina Halvorson
  14. 14. | 14 We are all (giving our best shot at being) publishers now Communications used to be about influencing and paying for media space—now it’s about owning a media space. Before the web came along, to be published was to have been chosen by an esteemed elite. If you wished to share your creations with the world at large, you needed permission. Your manuscript had to be selected by a publisher, your reporting had to be validated by a newspaper, your musical compositions had to be selected by a record company. And if a business had messages it wanted to “get out there” it needed to rely, almost exclusively, on third party publishing and media outlets to do so. It was called Advertising, Marketing, and PR. No longer. The web has empowered individuals and organisations alike to communicate directly with their audiences. And it’s been causing chaos…
  15. 15. | 15 If you want to write, here’s a blog. Write...If you want to sing or make videos, well, sure, YouTube will happily show your work to the masses...If you want to share an invention or fund a project or topple a government, the connected economy makes it easier to do that than ever before. Can you imagine it getting less open? This is just the beginning. Revolutions bring total chaos. That’s what makes them revolutionary. - Seth Godin
  16. 16. | 16 Slapping words on a page won’t ensure good communication, just as mashing your hands across a piano won’t make for a pleasant composition. - Jason Santa Maria
  17. 17. | 17 Publishing content is easy. Becoming a publisher is not. The digital age demands that we shift our mindset from seeing ourselves as influencers of media channels—to owners of media channels. It requires, in other words, that we become digital publishers. The inconvenient truth: we might be great at reactively adopting these new tools and “giving them a go”—but we haven’t yet necessarily mastered the art of extracting the greatest possible value from them. Publishing content online is as easy as having access to an internet connection. The barrier for entry has never been lower. It's easy enough to simply add to the online noise—but to cut through it, to resonate, is a whole different matter. People say that “content is king”. But if no one cares about the content you produce —if no one sees, hears or values your content —it’s nobody’s king. It’s just white noise. If we’re not adding value through our web content, we may as well be conversing with an inanimate object—a waste of time and effort (and a little bit insane).
  18. 18. Driven by the need to keep up with the sheer pace of change, we’ve flung ourselves head-first into the new digital environment… | 18
  19. 19. …but if we’ve only kitted ourselves out with the gear—and not the appropriate skills to thrive in that environment… | 19
  20. 20. | 20 … then we end up creating more of a mess than we do value.
  21. 21. | 21 Symptoms of content mess Masses of content spewed out “create and fling” style, across multiple platforms, without stepping back to evaluate the bigger picture. Inaccurate, outdated or irrelevant content that undermines the organisation’s integrity, authority and subject expertise. Content lacking clear ownership and accountability over its ongoing maintenance and governance—a constant risk to brand reputation. Jargon-laden content that attempts to tell, sell and ask, rather than to show, explain and add value — scaring away prospects averse to “old-school” advertising. Content that is difficult for users to find, use and understand, meaning that, by default, our organisation is difficult to find, use, or understand.
  22. 22. | 22 Too often, we treat our web content as a technical commodity. Something that gets loaded up and “plugged in” to the design at the last moment…
  23. 23. | 23 …rather than respecting it as the valuable, fragile communications asset that it is.
  24. 24. | 24 But changing how an entire organisation thinks about and treats content is difficult.
  25. 25. People would often rather stick to the environment they’ve been used to, rather than stepping out into the unknown. | 25
  26. 26. | 26 So we’re on a journey… Courtesy of Intentional Design
  27. 27. | 27 It’s time to face up to the challenge and tackle the journey, head-on…
  28. 28. Becoming content-ready Step one: evolving our mindset, skills, and resources
  29. 29. | 29 Build right mindset and culture. Build right skills and expertise. Build right tools and technologies.
  30. 30. Becoming content-ready is making your organisation fit for purpose to meet the needs of the digital media landscape. | 30 It’s future proofing your organisation from becoming an irrelevance in the digital age.
  31. 31. | 31 It’s about understanding what great content is Great content fascinates with a compelling message and purpose tied to a specific organisation objective. It creates and adds value. Great content is targeted at a specific audience, directly informed by their needs and interests. It is user led. Great content is consistent, accurate, and engaging. It is subject to editorial expertise and quality control. Great content is easy to find, use and understand. It is accessible and adapted for experiencing on the web.
  32. 32. | 32 It’s about understanding what great content can achieve Organisation… Goals Brand reputation Expertise Solutions Audience… Needs Desires Questions Problems Content
  33. 33. | 33 It’s about understanding how complex managing content is Plan Govern Publish Create
  34. 34. | 34 And how much effort and expertise lies behind everything that goes online Plan Create Revise Publish Test Approve
  35. 35. | 35 Hitting the sweet spot When a world-class tennis player strikes the ball right in the centre of their racquet’s sweet-spot, releasing the ball at an unstoppable velocity, it’s not down to luck. It’s the result of countless hours of tireless training, mental preparation, and talent applied at their absolute optimum and in total harmony. Just as an elite sportsperson doesn’t achieve greatness without constantly fine-tuning every possible aspect of their game, an organisation doesn’t become a great digital publishing channel on account of simply possessing the tools to publish. Great content doesn’t “just happen”. If you wish to truly add value, rather than merely take up space, you need to do more than show up and hope for the best. It’s about striking the perfect balance of skills, expertise, and resources. It’s about having more than just the right tools. It’s knowing how to use them.
  36. 36. The three elements of web content excellence
  37. 37. | 37 The content sweet spot Strategically aware Editorially expert Web wise
  38. 38. | 38 Each element contributes specific value-adding outcomes Web wise Ensures content is: findable accessible usable manageable scalable Editorially expert Ensures content is: accurate concise compelling memorable actionable Strategically aware Ensures content is: targeted relevant expert influential value-adding
  39. 39. | 39 Each element contributes specific pieces of work that support great content Web wise CMS build Wireframes Information Architecture design Metadata plan SEO strategy Accessibility policy Editorially expert Web style guide Tone of voice guidance Web editorial calendar Page templates Staff web editorial meetings Strategically aware Messaging hierarchy Audience hierarchy Audits and analysis User research/feedback Staff web strategy group Staff training/resources
  40. 40. | 40 And those pieces of work require specific roles and expertise Web wise Web developers Web designers CMS developers UX people SEO people Editorially expert Writers Editors Subject matter experts Chief Editor Content managers Strategically aware Senior management Brand strategists Marketing and PR Project managers Users
  41. 41. | 41 A greater than the sum of its parts effort. So... how do we get here? Strategically aware Editorially expert Web ready Where great content lives
  42. 42. Becoming content-ready Step two: pulling it all together with content strategy
  43. 43. | 43 Content strategy can be thought of as… A framework for how an organisation is going to plan, create, publish, and govern its content—from a technical, editorial and brand perspective. It can also be thought of as a roadmap for how an organisation is going to adapt its mindset, skills, and resources to meet the demands of the digital age.
  44. 44. Content strategy makes us more content-ready and able to meet the challenges of being a digital publisher … | 44 Strategically aware Editorially expert Web ready Where great content lives
  45. 45. | 45 Content strategy leads to the creation of great content (well, obviously) Great content fascinates with a compelling message and purpose tied to a specific organisation objective. It creates and adds value. Great content is targeted at a specific audience, directly informed by their needs and interests. It is user led and audience appropriate. Great content is consistent, accurate, and engaging. It is subject to editorial expertise and quality control. Great content is easy to find, use and understand. It is accessible and adapted for experiencing on the web.
  46. 46. | 46 Content strategy bridges the gap between our interests and our users’… Organisation… Goals Brand reputation Expertise Solutions Audience… Needs Desires Questions Problems Content
  47. 47. | 47 Content strategy allows us to totally own that pesky, messy content lifecycle Plan Govern Publish Create
  48. 48. A content strategy road map
  49. 49. | 49 Discovery Strategy forming Execution and management  Core strategy statement  Messaging hierarchy  Audiences hierarchy  Topics map  User personas and user journey maps  Governance model  Content sourcing plan  Editorial calendar  Content worksheets and templates  Publishing workflows Web style guidance  Design wireframes  Information Architecture  Content evaluation work When you’re paving the way for content strategy, you’re delivering… When you’re forming content strategy, you’re delivering… When you’re doing content strategy, you’re delivering… Content strategy road map  Audit and analysis  Staff feedback  User research  Competitor/gap analysis Leading to…  Content analysis report
  50. 50. | 50 Step one: discovery Measuring the scope of our content. Evaluating the quality of our content. Investigating the internal culture—how content is thought about and treated. Analysing how content gets created and moves through the organisation. Presenting summary of findings to key internal stakeholders and decision-makers. The discovery stage is all about figuring out where we currently stand with our content. The aim here is to uncover what’s working, what’s not, and establishing key trends, pain points and needs.
  51. 51. | 51 Step two: strategy forming Establishing: what we want our content to achieve what our content needs to say who our content is for what types of content are required where it gets published where it’s going to come from who’s in charge of what The juicy bit! Using all the insights gathered from the discovery process, we can start throwing down some markers for where we want to be. This is really where we start formalising how content is going to help us achieve our goals, meet user needs and make us, generally, more brilliant.
  52. 52. | 52 Step three: execution and management  Assigning when and how content will be produced and published.  Designing how content types will be structured and formatted.  Producing workflows for how content will move from planning, through to final approval and publishing.  Embedding consistency and quality-control, through guidelines and training.  Making sure content is supported technically and strategically, at all stages of its life cycle. Making it all happen. The tools, tactics, and people that will deliver and manage the content. It’s all about making the goals and aspirations of the strategy a reality—making your organisation more influential and helpful, through its content.
  53. 53. | 53 How content strategy builds momentum for change Beginning with a thorough discovery process can be thought of as holding up a mirror to an organisation’s digital publishing activity. The good, the bad, and (of course) the ugly. Analysing, auditing, reviewing, and evaluating things from a range of perspectives “paints a picture”—and a consensus on what that picture is telling us. Content strategy, applied in this way, makes it impossible for anyone to bury their head in the sand. It unveils the full reality of the direction an organisation’s digital presence is heading in. And if it’s not on a course that’s contributing to everyone’s goals—and users’ needs—it provides a plan of action to steer things back on track.
  54. 54. In summary
  55. 55. | 55 Unless we wish to continue with this…
  56. 56. We need to realise… • Content is communication. And communication | 56 either adds value—or takes up space. • The digital era demands that we all become our own media publishing channels. But many of us are not geared up with the right mindset, skills, and resources to do so. That’s an issue (because our future kind of depends on it). • We need to become “content-ready“, which means we need to adapt and develop our existing mindset, skills, and resources in order to hit our content sweet spot. • Applying content strategy provides a framework for unveiling urgent needs , building the case for changes required to meet those needs, and ultimately, improving the value of our brand on the web.
  57. 57. | 57 That’s it (for now). Thoughts and feedback always welcome: joseph@examinedweb.com @examinedweb

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