Sunday, November 28, 2010

Creating a Castle from Content Building Blocks

There are so many decisions that need to be made when creating content. To make that process efficient and effective, you need a system. Here's one of the easiest tricks I've found for wrestling messy content into shape: Think about all of the content-development decisions as building blocks. If you wanted to create a castle out of building blocks, you'd choose different blocks than if you wanted to build a truck. And if you wanted to build a bridge, you'd put the blocks together in a different way again. And so it is with content. You can pick and choose different elements (or building blocks) to use to create different effects, and to engage different audiences.

Trying to consider all of these elements whenever you create a new piece of content may seem daunting, but it really isn't. Your resources will dictate some choices, your audience some others. As you get used to making content decisions in this way, it builds a repeatable system that's efficient, and results in content that has both variety and consistency. The variety will keep your customers engaged and extend your reach, while the consistency will create a predictability which your customers will appreciate and learn to recognize. This reinforces your brand. You'll see patterns develop, and you'll learn that certain building blocks go together well and get good responses from your customer, and that other ones just don't.

Every company has different content requirements, but here are some of the building blocks that I typically think about. This is just a list. It's certainly not the list. Use it as a basis to brainstorm which building blocks are relevant within your organization and for your customers.

Content Goals
Stick to one primary goal for each piece of content. For example, the primary purpose of your content may be to:
  • Engage
  • Inform
  • Educate
  • Advise 
  • Persuade 
  • Inspire
Content Types
For instance, is your content essentially:
  • An opinion
  • An analysis
  • A description
  • An overview
  • A how-to
  • News
  • A story
  • Tips & tricks
  • Wayfinding
Content Source
Where does, or should, the content come from?
  • A dedicated content team
  • Marketing
  • Key contributors within your company
  • Your executives
  • Your subject matter experts
  • Your staff
  • Your customers
  • The public
Content Voice
The voice of your content should be distinct and recognizable. Even an overall corporate voice is made up of a tapestry of individual voices. So, is a specific piece of content best served by the voice of:
  • A specific individual
  • The "company" voice, and if so does the tone vary based on purpose or different customer segments?
  • Your customers
  • The public
Content Topics
These are completely driven by your business, but you'll likely have different topics that you frequently speak about relating to your areas of expertise, your customers needs and motivations, and your community actions or involvement.
Content Format
This is all about how you're communicating your content. For instance, as a:
  • Blog
  • Video
  • Webinar
  • Article
  • Image
  • Diagram
  • Interactive tool
  • Checklist
  • Interview
  • Call-to-action
  • Presentation
  • Newsletter
Content Placement
Where is this content best published and presented? It could be:

  • On your website. If so, where on your website?
  • Your blog
  • On YouTube, Facebook, or other social networking platform
  • External to your company
Content Promotion
What's the best way or ways to promote your content? Through:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Website links
  • Presentations
If this list seems overwhelming, then trim it down. Just try to think about the key decisions that are part of your content development process, and then create building blocks that you can keep coming back to. That way, you learn how to build a castle, or a truck, or a bridge, whenever you want to and your customers won't have to look at the pile of content on your site and wonder what the heck it's supposed to be.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thank you, content strategists everywhere!

Well, all of the American Thanksgiving vibes must be drifting north to Canada, because I find myself needing to take a moment to let you all know how truly grateful I am to be part of the amazing group of people who make up the content strategy field.

Earlier this year, as I was starting my business, I sought out other content strategists and asked them what it was like. What did they do, how did they get customers, what did they charge? You name it, I asked it. Everyone, including content strategists in my own town, were so welcoming and generous in sharing their knowledge and experiences. My "competitors" became my mentors and advisers.

When I showed up at my first content strategy conference last spring in Paris, I arrived knowing one person, and left knowing a whole network of content strategists from around the world. And every one of them has been open and excited to share what they know. This is also where I learned about the not-to-secret place where content strategists hang out... Twitter.

And that opened up a whole new world! In the last six months, I've found an endless supply of fantastic resources, a way to share thoughts and experiences, and I've found some real friends. The energy and enthusiasm that comes from content strategists everywhere is contagious... how can we not be thrilled about what we do when we're all so damned excited about it and each others successes!?

So, to all of you who have shared their expertise and experiences so generously, who have welcomed me so warmly into this community, who have provided such great material to feed the fire... and to all of you who have done the same for others... I thank you for making this a truly exceptional place to be.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Content strategy: Getting started in bite-sized steps

Content Strategy is fairly new and companies are still struggling to understand how to get started. They don't know what to ask for, or who to ask. They hear the buzz, but are not sure why they need a content strategy. As corporate content gets more complex, and the field of content strategy gains more exposure, executives begin to feel like they should know where to start but this only adds a layer of embarrassment to their ignorance. THIS IS NORMAL, and it's OK!

As content strategists, we frequently run across companies that really need a content strategy, but are not yet ready to commit. Sometimes it's because of lack of budget, sometimes it's because they are unsure of the value. And many times, it's just because they really don't see what all the fuss is about. But while we're all doing our best to educate our clients and the business world at large, one organization has decided to tackle this issue head on, and spread the content strategy love around. And not just around their own cozy circle of acquaintances, but around the world.

Firehead is a recruiting company that specializes in matching the right content strategy and technical communication people with the right companies. With head offices in Sweden and the UK, they've come up with a program that matches interested companies with some of the leading content strategists around the world to deliver a "Bitesized Content Strategy" specific to the company's needs. For very little cost or commitment, the content strategist will 1) inventory, 2) audit, and 3) analyze their web content and then 4) define clear next steps on how to improve the content to meet business goals. Simple, quick, easy, and effective.

I won't go into detail about the Bitesized program here, because you can read about it on Firehead's site. But I was so happy to see that somebody is actually filling this need that I wanted to share it with you. And I ask you to share Bitesized Content Strategy with businesses you know that really need a content strategy but don't know what to ask for, or who to ask.

Check out these links for more information about Firehead and their Bitesized Content Strategy program: