It’s time for content strategy
Written byMelissa Rach. 14 comments
As a web professional you are in the right place to become a content strategist. And now is the right time to do it.
They say there’s a time and a place for everything. I’m not sure who they are, but I was starting to think content strategy would prove them wrong. You see, despite the fact that we have been in the ‘information age’ since 1956 and riding on the ‘information superhighway’ since 1990, content never got much respect.
These days, people (especially web people) are jumping on the content strategy bandwagon faster than hippies catching the bus to Woodstock. I know what you’re thinking — web pundits have been annoying everybody with this ‘content is king’ business for 15 years and it never mattered before. Why should you care now?
What is content strategy anyway?
Before we go too far, let’s define content and content strategy.
Content is anything that informs, instructs, or entertains people. Text, raw data, images, games, music, lectures, videos, flash widgets, a good joke, roadside signs – it’s all content.
A content strategy is a plan for creating, sharing, and governing content effectively.
Content strategy isn’t just a web thing. In fact, it’s been around for thousands of years. Content creation and sharing began when our earliest ancestors started telling each other stories. By the time the Paleolithics were painting on cave walls in Lascaux, there is evidence that content had rules. So content strategy was happening in 16,000 B.C., if not before.
Since then, the amount of content has increased exponentially with each generation. Today, more than half of the workforce in industrialized countries is paid to create or share content. Advertising people create ads, product people create spec sheets, lawyers write complicated policies that no one reads. A content strategy ensures all of the time, effort, and money invested on content is well spent.
What’s the web got to do with it?
Before the web, if your company didn’t have a good content strategy, it wasn’t a big deal. Every department or business unit created content for their own audience. Press releases were only sent to the press. The finance team gave reports to the investors behind closed doors. Consumers may have received a sales brochure and an instruction manual – but rarely at the same time. Because pieces of content weren’t seen or used together, there wasn’t a lot incentive for organizations to make content cohesive.
The internet changed all that. Online, disparate content is (literally) linked together in ways nobody expected. The press releases are right next to the investor information, which is right next to the customer information.
In addition, all of the communication channels are integrated with the web. The print brochures say ‘learn more at our web site.’ Then, at the web site you see, ‘Stay informed, follow us on Twitter.’
When done right, a corporate web site or intranet project brings all of the business units together – sometimes for the very first time. But as web veterans know, it can get ugly. Web projects expose all of the organization’s content inconsistencies, inadequacies, and inefficiencies. Fingers are pointed, politics get petty, and passions run high.
Negotiating the content minefield can be challenging. But, unless the content issues are addressed, internal teams won’t be satisfied, and more importantly, the user won’t be satisfied. And we all know, if the user ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
If web has been around for more than 15 years, why hasn’t content strategy come to prominence before now? Let’s face it. Content strategy is hard. It’s not particularly sexy either. Technology, usability, graphic design – even SEO – all sound like more fun. It’s human nature that people tried everything else first.
I like to compare the web’s evolution to a human life cycle.
The mid-nineties were the web’s childhood. Web sites were full of all sorts of toys like splash pages and flaming gifs. Big business didn’t take the web seriously, so no real substance was necessary. When we did attempt to put content online, we did what kids do – we imitated our predecessors: older forms of communication like brochures and catalogs.
Around 1999, the web entered adolescence. Like a teenager, the web industry became obsessed with what other people think (the user experience) at the expense of all else. Companies were no better. They acted like university students with their first credit cards – blowing the wad on trendy CMS systems and changing their online ‘identities’ every few months.
In 2009, the web has become a young adult. We still like to have fun and act like kids sometimes and the lessons we learned as adolescents will always be valuable. But, now it’s time to prove our mettle. We need to grow up, join the business world, and start making money. Businesses now want the web to prove ROI, and technology and design can only get us so far.
At the end of the day, the web is about sharing content. We have no alternative but to focus on content strategy. It may not be sexy but it is rewarding.
Why you should care, part one: content strategy works
Good content strategy has many benefits. But, primarily it helps organizations ensure content is useful, usable, purposeful, and profitable.
Since content strategy is a relatively new business concept, the effectiveness of content strategy hasn’t been measured very often. But there are a few famous successes.
In 1988, ‘Just do it’ started as an ad campaign but quickly turned into the core of Nike’s content ecosystem. It was on every shoebox, product label, promotional pamphlet, and web page. Whether you saw story about Michael Jordan or a job description on the Nike career page, the ‘Just do it’ message came across.
Dan Wieden, the guy behind ‘Just do it,’ explained why they chose to use content to hold the original ad campaign together.
We were doing so many [ad] spots and the look had to be different, but we felt we needed to have some cement to the thing.
Between 1988 and 1998, Nike boosted its share of U.S. athletic shoe sales from 18 percent to 43 percent. Worldwide sales increased from $877 million to $9.2 billion. (Source: Center for Applied Research)
Not bad, eh?
Why you should care, part two: you’re already a content strategist.
No matter who you are or what you do, you’re a content strategist. You probably created content before breakfast this morning – maybe you updated your Facebook status or sent a text message to a friend. Actually, you created content before you even woke up. By simply continuing to exist, the data in your medical and government records changed.
We each create, use, and publish an astonishing amount of content. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we need strategies to deal with it. We intuitively
- filter the content we share: you might tweet about your personal life, but personal hygiene, not so much.
- tailor content to our audiences: your arrested-at-16 story is legendary to your friends, but your mum has never heard it.
- choose a content delivery method for each situation: you begin to write a sarcastic email to your brother, but then choose to call him instead.
Content is one of the things that makes people human. Why is this important to your career? Every colleague you have and every client you’ll ever meet is a content strategist, too. Finally, since interactive media are primarily designed to deliver content, if someone hires you to help on an interactive project of any kind, you are part of their content strategy.
You’re welcome to stay.
As a web professional, you’re in the right place, at the right time to become a content advocate. We’ve got plenty of room here on the content strategy bandwagon. You’re welcome to stay.