Everything you need to do content strategy
Many people we train have never seen or worked on a content strategy. So here's an example.
When we run our workshops, we take organisations through a series of exercises to get them to a point where they can start working towards a good strategy. Of course, if we work with an organisation, we plan the strategy with them, and help them to execute it.
In either case, we’ve found it useful to show a fictitious example of a content strategy. That way, people know what they are aiming for.
A few caveats, before we dive in
We often use 2 main types of strategy: one for selling content strategy into an organisation and one for organisations with a more mature editorial model that just need the strategy itself.
This is a hybrid document.
We're basing this example primarily on type one: content strategy with sell. We use this when we want to show the reason and purpose of the content strategy, as well as the detail. We generally use it when we are providing an organisation with a strategy for the first time.
The second version we use - the one for more editorially mature orgs - has the same headings, just less detail of current processes and why the changes are happening.
This is a fictitious example of content strategy
I have totally made this up and it is a summary. It’s just to give you an idea of some of the headings and what we may include in those sections. Every strategy we do is very, very different but this, hopefully, will give you an idea.
A note on square brackets
If a word or phrase is in square brackets [like this], it means this is a note to you, dear reader, or that it's meant to be a link. As this is a fictitious example, there is nothing to actually link to.
[Insert company name] Content Strategy
Publishing sits across many business units in our organisation and we are all publishing to 32 different sites. As set out in our [CEO’s mid-march vision statement], we will be moving all content to 1 website by December 2018.
As we move to one website, we want to provide our customers with a coherent, consistent message. To do this, we will be working to this content strategy, our [style guide] and our [brand guidelines].
Purpose of a content strategy
[note: this is where I use Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s model. Properly accredited obviously].
- the core – the aspiration of all our communications,
- governance – who is responsible and accountable for our content,
- workflow – how content gets from inception to publication and iteration,
- substance – the crux of what we are communicating,
- structure – what we are publishing where.
A good content strategy means our team is:
We know who is responsible for each step of the content production process and will have data to make quick decisions.
We are empowered to take action based on data and pre-defined processes.
A digital content strategy is always evolving to take advantage of changes in technology and user behaviour.
A good content strategy means our users are:
- only served high-quality, trustworthy, user-centred content,
- more likely to trust our content and your brand,
- on their way to becoming our brand champions.
This is the foundation of all that we publish. A strong core can:
- give focus to an our communications,
- help to keep content discussions to an effective minimum,
- give users the reassurance of consistent messaging,
- empower teams to be comfortable and confident in taking content decisions.
A weak core can result in:
- conflicting focus, which delivers poor user experience,
- scope creep, meaning unnecessary content is published – this is not cost-effective,
- team conflict – this is bad for morale and efficiency.
In a workshop held in January 2017, the publishing team created this core statement:
We will provide content that only we can provide, evidenced by audience need and consistent across all channels.
[note: as an example, GOV.UK’s original core was: “To make government information accessible to anyone interested enough to read it.” It later changed to: “People should be able to understand and act on GOV.UK information, not just be able to read it.”
You need to be able to reject content on your core. I find it is the benchmark. You can go into more detail in your content strategy (see below) but the core needs to be something people can recite, understand and act on. It’s not an airy-fairy mission statement that means nothing to anyone outside of the exec board.
It’s empowerment for your content teams to not publish as well as keep them on track to publish quality content.]
Content we can provide
All content we publish has to be at least 80% unique to our company. If someone else is doing it better, we will not duplicate for search rankings. Instead, we will focus on the value we can add.
Evidenced by user need
We will publish what our audience wants and expects from us. Data and evidence for this is held on the [z drive: comms/digital/evidence].
Consistent across all channels
We will use consistent language and messaging across all our channels (on- and offline) based on the user stories held on the [P drive: comms/digital/evidence/stories.]
Each business unit in the Fictional Lovely Company, works to a different workflow. As we are all moving to one website, we'll have one content management system and so we'll also have one workflow system.
Workflow inside the content management system will now be:
- content editor,
- subject matter expert fact checks the content,
- second eyes,
‘Second eyes’ is where a senior person in the central editorial team will check the content for style and brand adherence.
When all content is published, a review and archive date must be included.
[note: this is where we’d put diagrams of the workflow process. As the selling content strategy type, we would include how much it costs to produce content in the organisation and how efficiencies would be made. We might also include role descriptions if we’ve created a whole new team for an org.]
[note: this is where we put who is responsible for what.]
Content stops being timely, accurate and engaging when approval takes a long time or content is designed by multiple people.
Our current model is:
Manager commissions desired content > author writes > expert input > brand approval > marketing approval > legal approval > amends > author > publish
We will be working to agile content practices (talk to your manager for more details) so we will no longer have this process.
Language like ‘sign off’ and ‘approval’ automatically states we do not trust our own content teams; that they are required to get permission to do their jobs. We value our content designers so these words and actions are not used in our process.
Our new model is:
- Author goes through discovery.
- Works with a single expert to share research and create user stories.
- Author creates appropriate content with appropriate user research.
- Expert/author review.
- Review based on user experience and iteration.
Discovery will show if there’s an existing user story and related content that will negate the need to produce more content.
[note: this is where we list the formats that the organisation has, what success is and what the review cycle is.]
Format: short answer
The purpose of this page is to get an answer to a user in under 20 seconds. There is an onward journey if necessary for more detailed information.
Success is: a high bounce rate. Users should be on this page for 20 seconds or less
Failure is: High dwell time.
KPI for short answers are:
- 80% single-visit users
- 80% users do not scroll past first subheading
- 80% dwell time of under 20 seconds
Review period: every 6 months.
[note: this is where your channel strategy sits or is linked to]
Each new section of content to be produced will go through a discovery phase.
All content produced will adhere to a user story held [p drive: content/userstories]
When content is produced, the user journeys will be shared with the social media team. Then, the appropriate content can be shown at appropriate times.
Twitter will be used for:
- 1:1 engagement,
- dealing with negative comments,
- sharing stories,
[note: this is where we add success metrics for each format or type or post on each channel.]
- response to 100% of all enquiries within 4 hours,
- reach of 3000 users in first hour of all campaigns.
- any of the success criteria not met.
[note: wanted to highlight this because if you have really good success criteria, you may not need to actually document failure. It’s just the opposite to success. However, sometimes, you need to list all failure points too because they are tricky.]
Facebook will be used for:
- longer posts,
- sharing video,
- streaming live events,
- targeting older users.
- response to 100% of all enquiries within 4 hours,
- 5000 viewers on any live events.
- 3% negative comments on any post,
- less than 20% views by people under 20 years old.
In case of failure, remove the post and share learning with the team at the next crit.
[note: it is so important to face failure head on. Share it. Sort it. No point ignoring it. Like leaving the dirty washing up in the sink, it’ll just make everything stink until you sort it out.]
Rebuttals and negative press
We will respond to negative comments by:
- making sure we understand the issue,
- giving a quick and accurate response,
- helping to clarify facts,
- passing on complaint contact details.
We never respond to:
- abusive communications,
- any communication that includes swearing.
Our tone is helpful and calm. Always.
If anything appears in the national newspapers, contact the head of PR, [Jenny McJennison].
Each part of our content strategy comes from a business goal and digital goal.
[note: many orgs don’t have these. In our workshops, we have to create them but this is one of the most valuable exercises for managers]
Goal 1: Double organic reach by 2018
[note: internal audience and management speak: I sometimes use this so management are sure we have understood what they are saying but as I move through the document, the language changes]
Our digital vision says: “We will double our reach by 2018 so that The Fictional Lovely Company will move to become a household name ”
[Growth in our sector is increasing at 18% per year] (link to relevant information for evidence).
The business plan set out at the [CEO’s meeting of December 19th 2015], said we will surpass this target and double our organic reach by 2018.
Digital will help this goal by:
- running discovery on our Big Lovely Products One and Two to define our digital offer,
- writing all content in Area One and Two to user needs and improving the user experience,
- running a cross-business-unit session in March to look at all comms going out this year (off- and online). Agreement to be complete by April 13th,
- hiring 2 more social media managers by April 30th.
Goal 2: Increase income
Our digital vision says:
“We will increase digital fundraising income and introduce new digital fundraising routes to complement our existing products”
Digital will help this goal by:
- designing and testing customer journeys for donations and funding by June 30th,
- increasing social media budget by £50,000 to increase social media presence,
- having monthly brainstorming sessions to think creatively about how to increase income.
[note: All business needs and how digital will help should be tangible. The more percentages, numbers, dates and actions you can put down, the better.
This section goes on until all goals have been defined. The purpose is that anyone publishing content should know why they are publishing. Each piece of content should be worth the money it takes to create it.]
The strategy continues with all the digital goals, how they will be met and what success or failure is.
We may also include or link to:
- comms plan,
- editorial calendar,
- org chart,
- useful relevant contacts,
- what to do in an emergency.
Our theory is, if you give a good content strategy, brand guidelines and style guide to your content designer, you should be able to leave them alone to create really great content. Your content designers should feel:
- they don’t have to get permission to do their jobs,
- confident they are publishing what they should to help the business,
- that they can limit any reputational damage, if necessary.
Like I said, this is a rough outline of one of the ways we do it. If you have other examples, please share them with us on Twitter. Let’s get better at this together.