4 Recent Highlights in Content Strategy Writing

For those of us in the content strategy field — which, judging by this tweet and chart, is a number growing daily — it’s been a great last few weeks for reading. Maybe the lead-up to CONFAB 2012 (which two of us at TOKY are attending) has created some extra kick in content strategists’ steps. Whatever the reason, I thought I’d briefly gather up some of our favorite recent articles on the subject.

In Tinker, Tailor, Content Strategist,” published at A List Apart, Rachel Lovinger argues that we must strive for “mastery” of our subject, since “the content strategist must advocate for content at all stages of a project.” She continues:

Upholding the content vision through an entire project is no easy task, and sometimes it means having to compromise. But we must aim to optimize each one of those elements—business goals, editorial mission, user expectations, design vision, the content production process, and technological capabilities—by having them work in concert with each other. That means keeping a lot of lines of thought going at once. It also means trying to coordinate between a bunch of different stakeholders who sometimes have conflicting needs and sometimes barely speak the same language.

In that same issue of A List Apart, Lovinger published Content Modeling: A Master Skill,” delving deeply into one of the key tools in our arsenal. Again, it’s quickly apparent that CS work is done in tight collaboration with others:

The content model both influences and is influenced by the work of several other disciplines. A content model helps clarify requirements and encourages collaboration between the designers, the developers creating the CMS, and the content creators.

After detailing each of these groups, Lovinger talks through the main elements of a content model: the assembly model (meaning how the content will get made), the content types, and the content attributes. One point I was particularly pleased to see her make — as we near the relaunch of — is that we shouldn’t think of these models as completable:

Since the content model serves different audiences, at several different stages of the project, treat it as a living document. It’s never really complete—you just stop updating it when the project is over. As such, it’s better as a working document than a finished deliverable. Over the lifecycle of a content model many people will have input, and it’s even possible that different people will own it at different stages. In most of my projects I’ve handed off the content model to either a functional analyst or developer at some point.

At the Brain Traffic blog, Meghan Casey recently published a post with this title question: Should You Complement Your Intranet With Knowledge From Employees? This is an issue I’m engaged in right now at TOKY — exploring ways to better capture, share, and archive information about the subjects we live and breathe here. Casey does well distinguishing between knowledge and actual content (how that knowledge is documented) and between employer-to-employee content and employee-to-employee content. There’s nothing revolutionary about Casey’s post, but witnessing a peer untangle and clarify some of the issues we’re all dealing with has great benefit.

Just this morning, Meet Content posted Case in Point: Content Strategy at N.C. State,” a fantastic in-depth interview with Tim Jones, executive creative director at North Carolina State University. As the post puts it, “Jones touched on editorial process, mobile, multichannel publishing, institutional buy-in for content strategy, advocating for content, embracing a strategic approach and much more.”

Indeed. It’s a long piece — with both text and audio. I liked what Jones had to say about mobile context (key on a large college campus), about establishing partnerships with his university’s media staffers (encouraging them to “not write to fill a hole, but to write to influence action and outcome”), and about his larger team’s overall process (determine the story, determine what action that story might support, then collaborate).

Two passages that struck me most from Jones’ answers:

When you manage the central homepage there is a lot of interest in the way that you make decisions about what content you choose and what you choose not to use. We learned early on that consistency in editorial judgment is really critical, and to do that we needed to put it in writing at least internally. So we had a guidebook on how we made decisions about what kind of content we were going to promote, what we were going to use where and also providing those outlets for content that wasn’t going to make the homepage cut. And that process is enlightening. You learn what your university values are, you learn what people find important, who your audiences are, and you really have to spend some time and commit to those kinds of decisions.


The other thing that has been really helpful in terms of reuse of content is a well-defined messaging architecture. I cannot say enough about that part of content strategy. Identifying your key messages, prioritizing them, and then figuring out how to tell the story of those objectives is a really key piece of content strategy. So we’ll sit down with our writing team and say, “Here is the messaging architecture in an actual document. Here is what we’re looking to do. We need some stories that fit this. Come back with ideas for stories and give me a headline, give me a short headline. Give me a Facebook teaser, and give me a question that goes with Facebook and give me an interactive element.” That’s part of our story brainstorming.

And when we keep an editorial calendar, we require all of our contributors to identify which business outcome or which bottom-line action their stories or their content is going to support. We require them to identify if it is apply, support, or contribute, and they have to identify the audiences and the targets in order for it to be included in our editorial calendar.

Okay, that’s it for the highlights, which have us seriously psyched for next week’s CONFAB 2012. You can keep us with us here and at @tokybd, where we’ll be sharing some moments from the conference. For now, it’s back to helping TOKY clients with this very subject…