Content Strategy (CS) as a topic has gained significant recognition and momentum, but that doesn't mean all stakeholders get it, nor that they will buy-in to your CS-driven priorities. Here are 7 road-tested tips on how to make that happen more successfully.

The What exactly is Content Strategy? question continues to enjoy lively debate in the blogosphere and in niche listservs. Nevertheless, most of us clearly agree that we need to think about content in a methodical and strategic way, using planning and processes to create and maintain its value.

Needs More Evident Than Execution

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Web writer, marketing officer, IT freak or UX designer -- we all know our users are coming to our sites for content. And we’d better be prepared to plan, create, deliver and maintain our content so that our users keep coming back for more -- or successfully complete the task at hand.

You’re probably reading this article because you’re trying to decide how to introduce CS to your stakeholders -- or you’re encountering some resistance to implementing one. When you have a small website, it’s possible to create, implement and maintain a CS. But, what if you’re managing a huge website with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pages? What if your website’s content development is decentralized, like so many organizations -- so that you have very little control over content creation and deployment?

How do you:

  1. Create a content strategy for others to follow?
  2. Ensure delivery of content in a timely fashion?
  3. Implement a governance policy?

7 Tips from the Road

I was recently on vacation (Toronto and Niagara Falls) and thinking about the topic of this article -- how to convince your stakeholders to buy into content strategy. What became clear to me in the more than 1,000 miles we drove with our three kids was that planning a vacation and then making sure everyone is happy is similar to getting buy-in on CS from your stakeholders.

Seven strategies for convincing your stakeholders to buy-in to your content strategy (or how to have a successful vacation with three kids):

1) Ask for Feedback

Our kids really liked it when we involved them in the planning. From looking at the maps, to picking out where we would eat, or deciding the order of activities of the day, we got a much more positive response when they felt included.

My assumption is that you’ve talked to many of these stakeholders before you wrote the overall CS for your website, but it’s possible that you had those conversations with executive-level folks, and never heard from the people in the trenches actually producing or maintaining the content.

If so, get to know them, and well; they will make or break your success. That means meeting with them individually, or in small groups and explaining things clearly. On the other hand, if you’re running a large shop, delegate those meetings to your employees, so that every group has one point person they can contact with questions and concerns.

2) Show Them Where They're Headed

We found that if our kids saw pictures of Niagara Falls and the water park nearby, they got much more excited than when we just said, "We're heading to a hotel." Similarly, you should be prepared to demonstrate why your stakeholders should adopt the CS when you have that first meeting.

It might be worthwhile to take a wasteland part of your website (checking in with the owners of that content first) and applying the CS to those pages. Build a case study for why the CS improved certain critical scores; prove that following the CS makes it easier to create and maintain that section of the site. Then, you’ll be able to show why it makes sense to implement the CS.

3) Give ‘em Maps

Make sure you’ve given your stakeholders everything they need to be successful at following the CS. Our kids loved it when my husband showed them where we were on the GPS and in this way, we avoided the dreaded "Are we there yet?"

For you, this means making sure you have takeaways, guidelines and maps for your stakeholders to follow. You should have these materials prepared before your first meeting, and you should make sure to update them and send them out quarterly. Examples of these types of documents include a CS outline, style guide, workflow process and documentation examples.

4) Only Pack What You Need

If you’re implementing a CS with an audience who is unfamiliar with those concepts, keep it simple. I packed four bathing suits for each kid and we ended up washing the same ones in the sink after the pool and letting them dry in the sun.

Likewise, if you overload your stakeholders with too much information, you run the risk of confusing, or even yikes, alienating them. Better to focus on 3 to 5 rules or strategies you’d like them to keep in mind when producing content. Work your way up from there.

For example, suggest they try implementing the following three rules for the first three months: content for that part of the site must be published every Tuesday, it needs to follow a three-person workflow and each page must be editorially consistent with the style guide. Honestly, that’s enough for most people.

5) Share Information

Everyone likes rewards for their work. Sharing analytics and user data is one sure way to make that happen. Before you start implementing the CS, give your stakeholders an idea of where they are right now.

Let’s say you’re meeting with a certain product’s sales group who is responsible for updating their part of the website. Give them an idea of how many hits they are getting, what their conversion and bounce rates are, etc. (They should have had access to this information already, but you’re going to spell it out for them).

Clearly outline and explain the CS and their piece of it. Then tell them you’ll check in a month, three months and six months. Benchmarks are important for stakeholders, as it creates goals they are more likely to reach for.

6) Be Prepared to Answer Questions

Let’s be honest, CS is a mighty large topic and for those who are unfamiliar with it, it can seem downright unmanageable. Or, maybe you’ve been following some sort of CS in your organization for years, but no one has ever documented and legitimized it. In any case, there will be questions. Make sure you are open and available to any sorts of questions/complaints/I’m-not-doing-this concerns.

7) It’s OK to Change Your Plans

There were days during our vacation when the kids (and us) were perfectly happy to hang out at a park instead of doing the other four trillion things we had planned. And so, my final strategy advice is to remind you to recognize that change happens very s-l-o-w-l-y, and it’s totally okay if sometimes you need to change a part or, heck, even all of the CS.

At the end of the day, if it’s not working for your stakeholders, chances are, it’s not working for your users.

Wrapping Up

So, at the end of our more than 1,000 miles driven, two countries and three states, we had a really great time. Yes, there were moments of hair pulling, fighting and whining, but we bonded, created memories and learned about each other in a completely new way.

If your stakeholders feel the same way about the CS that kids feel about family vacations, you’ve been successful -- a bit of eye rolling, a bit of why are we doing this, and a lot of, "Hey, this is fun, we had a really great time, and Mom and Dad are right."

So, now it’s your time to drive. Tell us, have you ever had to convince your stakeholders to buy into a new Content Strategy? We’d love to hear what techniques you've used to make it happen. Or, if you're encountering resistance let's brainstorm and help you out.