Every website, intranet, CMS-selection or social media campaign should be supported by a content strategy. Doing a web project without a content strategy is nothing more than pushing the 'I feel lucky!' button.

Defining a content strategy is essential, quite easy and actually fun to do. You can have a set of strategies in one day that give you enough work for a year. I'll explain a bit further why content strategies are essential. But let's concentrate on the easy part first.

Defining a Content Strategy

If you consider content as a form of communication -- and that's exactly what it is -- then a content strategy makes clear which content has to be communicated at a certain moment with a specific persona.

Bob Boiko -- author of 'The Content Management Bible' and 'Laughing at the CIO' -- taught me the 'golden formula' of a content strategy:

‘By exchanging [ content ] with [ target group ] we reach [ goal or business driver ], because [ personal motivation ].’

All the 'blanks' in this formula must be as specific as possible. So:

  • 'Content' shouldn't be ‘information about the product’, but ‘monthly savings in energy costs’.
  • The target group is not ‘the customer’, but for example ‘a young single mother with an average income’.
  • A business driver could be ‘an increase of contract renewals by 12 percent‘. This leads to the goal of 'making profit'.

The 'personal motivation' cannot be missed in a content strategy. What is (in) the interest of your persona? In other words: concentrate on the 'What's in it for me?'. Put yourself in your persona's shoes and discover what her personal motivation is.

From Tactics to Communication Means

Another important part of your content strategy are the tactics. How are you going to make sure this young mother reads about these monthly energy savings? What is the best moment to share this information? Who will she trust and would giving her the opportunity to share her experiences with others make her more receptive to the message?

Once you have defined strong tactics, you can concentrate on the communication means. Ask yourself if a website is the single possible option. Perhaps your persona is more likely to talk about cost savings in some social network. But is she on Facebook or another network? Does she chat within this social network using her computer or her mobile phone? Most of the time your content strategy uses a mix of communications means. Find your balance.

Make it Measurable

Talking about balance: it is essential to measure the success of your content strategy. Make your business drivers measurable using key performance indicators (KPI's). Decide in advance which instruments you will use to measure the effect. Perform baseline research, measure again after executing the strategy. Analyze the results and decide if the content strategy actually helped you reach your goals. Use your analysis to improve your strategy or the quality of your communications mix.

Be warned. Don't start with too many strategies at the same time. A full content strategy can take a lot of time and resources, especially since you have to monitor and measure each content strategy very carefully. You don't want to stop performing and measuring a strategy halfway because it was too much to handle. The average organization can deal with a maximum of seven strategies in one year, so make your choice!

Tools, No Fools

Talking about making choices: without a content strategy, selecting a content management tool (for WCM, search, ECM, social media, analytics or any other content discipline) makes no sense at all. Every single content strategy leads to specific 'requirements' the tool has to cover. Once these are clear, you can start selecting a tool. And no time sooner than that!

By the way, a Web CMS, analytics tool or social media tool can help you measure the effect of your content strategy. Take this into account when selecting and implementing your tools.

The Importance of a Content Strategy

In my opinion everything in your content organization -- the content management, the content governance, the content tooling, you name it -- should be based on a content strategy. Why? Well, because your content strategy is a translation of your business goals and business processes. They are literally the 'raison d'être' of your organization.

EH_Business_process.jpg

It's not a coincidence that I put the business process in the center of the content management lifecycle. Everything in this lifecycle -- from planning to evaluating content -- has a direct link with the business process. If what you do in your content management lifecycle has no alignment with a business process, stop doing it!

I think most of us have felt the recent financial crisis. We must all realize the times are behind us when we received budgets for our web projects without much trouble. I would say this is a blessing in disguise, really. Because now we have to prove our added value. With a successful content strategy. Management of any organization is always willing to invest in successful business opportunities. Prove that your content strategy will make your organization reach its goals and get yourself a listening ear from your management.

The Fun Part

What I learned over the years is that defining content strategies as a team is a lot of fun. In the beginning the effort seems hard. Sometimes people resist against 'yet another mission vision session'. But by using the 'golden content strategy formula' that Bob Boiko taught me, I saw a change in people's attitude. They felt empowered by it, and they soon realized that they were in charge of the content management business after all. Seeing a change like that has given me a lot of joy in what I do.

There's more to say about the Planning phase in the content management lifecycle: information architecture, interaction design are only two of them. I will go deeper into these issues in my next article. That is, if you like what I wrote so far. Please send me your comments and your own opinions about content strategy. I'd like to share and learn.

CM Lifecycle Poster

You can download the CM Lifecycle Poster at www.hartmangids.nl/downloads
http://www.hartmangids.nl/wp-content/uploads/CM-Lifecycle_A4-EN.pdf (A4 format poster)
http://www.hartmangids.nl/wp-content/uploads/CM-Lifecycle_A3-EN.pdf (A3 format poster)

Your Homework Starts Now

DO try this at home today!

Follow these steps to a successful content strategy:

  1. Organize a session with your project team and stakeholders.
  2. Define some content strategies in 3 or 4 groups.
  3. Let each group present its content strategy.
  4. Finalize the best content strategies.
  5. Communicate plan and realize these content strategies.
  6. Measure the results and communicate them within the organization
  7. Tweak your existing content strategies or define new strategies.