What Is Your Content Strategy?

Pen on paper

In working with government agencies to improve and refine their digital marketing and communications efforts, what I find is that everyone is primarily interested in the channel – Is that up on the Web site? Did you tweet that out? Did you send a text message on that?

Don’t get me wrong, the channel you use is critically important, but more important is the actual content you provide.

The problem is that most government agencies don’t have a strategy for their content that ensures that the content is valuable and meets both their needs and their constituents needs. In most cases, what they have is some sort of glorified industrial-like production process where you have to churn out so many pieces per week. It doesn’t matter if it is part of an overall strategy, or if it is tied to a primary theme, or if the message is appropriate for the channel. What is important is how many tweets/blog posts/new visitors/etc. that you got last week/month/quarter.

This is a short-sited approach. The focus should be on are you providing value to your constituents. How do you provide value? By ensuring that you provide good content.

What Is Content?

Before I get into a discussion about content strategy, let’s be clear on what content is. Essentially, everything you produce is content. Text on a Web site? Obviously. How about the pictures I post? A picture is worth a thousand words, so yes. A blog post? Yes. A tweet on twitter or your wall on Facebook? Yep. A video or a podcast? Yes, those too.

Everything you produce that you put out there for consumption by the public and your clients is content. When done well, good content is a piece of art. What it takes to create that art is another story.

Developing good content is difficult. Why? Because good content takes time – time to do the research, develop the storyline, fill in the details, create the appropriate visual aids, and get everything posted. Good content is also messy – things don’t always work out as you expect like a key interview canceling. Good content can be political – I have experienced an Assistant Secretary editing and wordsmithing content that she knew nothing about just so it fit the current party line. The best way to avoid or at least contain all of this extraneous crap is by putting a content strategy in place.

What Is A Content Strategy?

So now that we have a clear (or very hazy, depending on how you look at it) definition of content, what is a content strategy and how do you put any sort of boundary around it?

Let’s start with what a content strategy is not. People have provided me with style guides, business cases, business plans, an excel spreadsheet, the results of a user survey, and some amorphous philosophical BS all pulled out of drawers or off of shelves when I ask to look at their content strategy. Though useful documents, after you blow the dust off of them, a vast majority of them do not qualify as content strategies.

A content strategy is a plan to obtain a desired end result through defining the process for the creation, distribution, and governance of content that is useful, usable, and desirable. Make sense? Let’s break it down a bit into some buckets. A good content strategy:

  • Defines the desired end state. What is it you want you content to accomplish? Is it educating the public about current health practices or about changes in the tax laws? What ever the desired end state is, define who wants the content, how they will use it, and how that accomplishes your mission.
  • Explains how content is created. This is where the plan covers process for creating the content. This is less about who and more about how. It also includes any guidelines about the creation of content such the use of data, style guides, development of graphics, etc. Also include any editing and review process that is employed.
  • Covers how content is distributed. This is not a list of technologies or channels, but more guidelines on what types of content are appropriate for different channels.
  • Discusses how content is governed. The governance section in a content strategy focuses primarily on the who – who is tasked with creating the content, who is responsible for editing, who is responsible for posting, who manages the content management system, and who is responsible for the overall strategy.

A content strategy should also include other relevant information that ties the development of content back to the overall business purpose such as information on content management, business rules, key themes and messages, metadata frameworks, taxonomies, security classification policies, SEO/SEM principals and guidelines, sources of content, style guides, topics to include and topics to avoid, and workflows.

There is no one right table of contents for a content strategy. Include what is relevant to you and your organization and leave out the rest. Just make sure that it is updated on a regular basis.

How To Develop A Content Strategy

Good content strategies come in different shapes and sizes. Some of the best I have seen are as short as one page and some as large as a large binder. There is no one correct type of content strategy just as there is no one-way to develop one. But a good place to start is by asking yourself and/or your team the following questions:

  • Who are our primary and secondary audiences?
  • What are our key themes or messages to this audience?
  • What are the problems we are trying to help them solve?
  • Is our content relevant?
  • Are there any topics to include on a regular basis?
  • Are there any topics that we want to avoid?
  • What are the current sources for content?
  • Are there other sources that should be included?

These questions are just a start. Feel free to add others that are appropriate to your agency.

The Bottom Line: Want to make sure your content stays relevant to your audience? Have a content strategy to guide its development. What is in your content strategy?

*** Note: This is republished from my blog over at The Ronin Research Group ***

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