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Content Management

Content Strategy (Part 1)

Content is king! Probably we’ve heard this phrase quite a lot in the last months or even within the last couple of years – can’t be more than three years because 2009 was the year when the definition was originally coined.  For me, it was actually around six or seven months ago, after downloading the September 2011 edition of .NET Magazine.

It was quite a story actually. In reading the magazine from start to finish, I first read this article called Content Value from Gary Marshall. In it, the author tries to explain the nonsense of the coined phrase “content is king” by referencing how independent authors – articles, books, music – can’t make a living out from their work and how the technology platforms – Amazon, Apple – makes the most out of the work from the first. Kind of make sense right? The digital world has commoditized some industries - like Publishing and Entertainment for instance - by making it so easy for creative people to make their own work and cut loose the intermediaries needed to publish their work. However, the end of the chain is still needed in order to reach mass audience, and there’s where the big players with state of the art platforms (technology) fit it and make the big bucks out of the cumulative gain of each author.

Being an IT person, I was more than pleased with the focus given to the “technology” in this article – kind of a round won by the platform vs. the specific industry. I’m a Computer Systems Engineer with a Master Degree in IT Management and a second one in Organization Management. To tell you the truth, I’ve always been more attracted to the IT side of my field of study, so sometimes I can be biased, but the one thing I never fail to recognize is that technology just provides the means to an end. As IT consultants, we should never be blindsided about the latest & greatest gadgets, applications, web sites, etc., if they don’t fulfill the purposes they were created for.

Back to my story, I continued to flip the pages of the magazine and just after a couple of advertisements – those big full pages ads – I read the following “Clients are requesting content strategy because their websites have become such a mess” (Halvorson, .NET Magazine, September 2011, Page 38). The article was now all about the importance of content. Then came an article on creating the Perfect Style Guide from Steve Fisher – which is actually one of the steps in creating a content strategy – and the rest is history.  I went on to buy Kristina Halvorson’s book titled Content Strategy for the Web, read three or four books more, watch every video training on the topic I crossed with on the Web, and now I tweet articles I find interesting once every week through my @lbolado Twitter handle. This is actually my first full-featured post about Content Strategy and I hope you find this subject as exciting as I have.

What is Content Strategy?

Previously, I mentioned that the definition of “Content Strategy” was coined in 2009, but we’ve been doing it way back in the past. The term actually comes from the Printing Industry and if we ask a senior editor from any newspaper or magazine, he or she will tell us something like: it encompasses processes like planning, creation, edition, and reviewing – among others - along which content follows from it’s inception to its publication; in other words, the content’s lifecycle.

Is not that different in the digital world actually, but it seems that everyone was so focused on designing the best designs that the content was neglected as a second class citizen – remember the Lorem Ipsum text template to fill while creating web sites? We always thought that content needed to fit the design’s purpose, while it should be the other way around. Then again, we cared about creating a “content strategy” when we were up to our necks in content, which made our websites incredibly difficult to navigate (or as Kristina Halvorson mentions, once our websites were a mess) and hence possibly losing our visitors because they weren’t finding what they expected in a quick and easy way.

Kristina Halvorson and Karen McGrane took this great opportunity for Content Strategy and decided to organize a pre-conference event within the IA (Information Architecture) Summit in 2009 – for those interested in this year IA Summit, look at The IA Summit, April 3-7, 2013. Enough to say that it was a huge venue including big players in the IA and Digital Marketing Industries, where the following definition was officially coined.

“Content Strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content” (Bloomstein, Content Strategy at Work, Morgan Kaufmann, 2012).

The Importance of Content Strategy

With more and more people connecting to the Internet (in the US alone, the total minutes spent on mobile and PC increased from 430.4 billion minutes to 520.1 billion for a 21% change in the July 2011 to July 2012 timeframe, according to the Nielsen Social Media Report 2012, and it’s just going to continue growing because the introduction of new devices with connectivity capabilities such as TVs, watches, among others) the need to engage with our visitors is even more critical. As of the moment, the objective organizations should have on top of their lists is to retain existing viewers, and engage more, which is short of easy if we have no direction from a content perspective.

In order to demonstrate the importance for a Content Strategy, I’m going to support my comments on several authors – and I invite you to read all of these posts which will open your eyes in case you’re still wondering if it makes sense to invest in developing such a strategy, considering of course is not cheap, nor easy.

  • Navigating the 3 C's of Customer Experience - Step One, Two and Three. Probably one of the best three series articles I’ve read the entire year. In this series, Ian Truscott discusses the following points – among others
    • CXM is a Strategy Not a Platform. For all of those thinking in tech platforms, sorry to disappoint you. Is not about Amazon, Apple, Drupal, Wordpress, Sitecore, Sharepoint, etc., So step back from the technology trenches and focus on what matters which is usually the “soft” topics, or the actual business. The main objective should be delivering a global strategy, three main goals – not tons of immeasurable, non-realistic, non-specific goals – and align the strategy to fulfill our customer needs.
    • Understanding the Customer, Not Counting Hits. How many times we’ve seen businesses focusing on getting visitors, only to lose them because their sites are either messy – the need for which content strategy in the web was originally coined – not prepared for, or worst of all have stale content with no value at all. It seems like appearing at the very top in the Google Search Results has become the main objective for a lot of companies, and thus have been heavily investing in SEO efforts. That’s not bad at all; after all it’s great to be blessed by Google – and kudos to the people working hard to make this happen – but is worthless if our visitors spend three minutes on our sites and then leave because they can’t find answers to their needs. Worst of all is that we may never get these visitors back, even after investing in a Content Strategy.
    • The Rising Value of Content and Customers Want Information. I’m going to combine these two because customers actually want information of the highest quality. Even though I mentioned that people are spending most time online every year, that doesn’t mean that they’re doing it carelessly. People want useful and usable information at their fingertips, and if they can’t find in your websites, rest assured that they’ll go back to Google and look for something else. 
    • Omni-Channel, One Web, One Customer View of You. This is actually a good one since I can write and write about it and never stop but let’s keep it simple. How many of us have had the following miss-conception regarding mobile web design – mobile means less? And the real question would be on why? As of today, we have mobile devices that are as capable as desktops/laptops we had seven years ago (I can’t remember when I heard that current iPads have the same processing capabilities as a PowerBook G4). So why would we limit or change the view our customers would experience on different contexts? Actually, a very good approach when developing our content strategy is to start from the mobile context so we can focus on what’s really important for our site to contain. Besides considering contexts as part of our content strategy definition, is also important to determine our presence in different social media networks. After all, a very important word in defining a strategy is consistency, and we definitively want to provide the same view across all channels.
  • Ian Truscott: 2013 Belongs to the Content Professional. Even though the title references the same author who wrote the previous article, this was actually written by Barb Mosher Zinck. The reason why I want to highlight this post is because it mentions that now that 2012 passed as the year for User Experience, is now the turn for the Content Professional – or the Strategist.  The field of UX is not far apart from the Content Strategy one; actually the conversation to coin the term back in 2009 started from the IA and UX fields. The person in charge of delivering the Content Strategy usually works together with Brand Managers, Web Editors, Information Architects, SEO and Metadata Experts in making sure things get done from a content-wise perspective.  I personally think that what the title is trying to highlight is that as of 2012, all of the technological pieces – Web CMS, Web Design, User Experience - have reach their point of maturation; is now time to address content and be 100% sure that this is treated as a first class citizen across the Web.
Stay tuned for my next article where I will introduce some recommendations to start defining a Content Strategy.

References

Bloomstein Margot (January 2012); Content Strategy at Work: Real World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project; Morgan Kaufmann

Halvorson Kristina, Rach Melissa (February 2012); Content Strategy for the Web (2nd Edition); New Riders

Halvorson Kristina; Interview; September 2011; .NET Magazine; Issue 219; Page 38

Marshall Gary; Content Value; September 2011; .NET Magazine; Issue 219; Page 21

Ingegneri Katie; 8 Digital Content Creation Mistakes – and How to Avoid Them; http://www.skyword.com/blog/8-digital-content-creation-mistakes-and-how-to-avoid-them; Retrieved on February 24, 2013

Mosher Zinck Barb; Ian Truscott: 2013 Belongs to the Content Professional; http://www.cmswire.com/cms/customer-experience/ian-truscott-2013-belongs-to-the-content-professional-019294.php; Retrieved on February 24, 2013

Truscott Ian; Navigating the 3 C’s of Customer Experience – Step One: The Customer; http://www.cmswire.com/cms/customer-experience/navigating-the-3-cs-of-customer-experience-step-one-the-customer-019008.php; Retrieved on February 24, 2013


Lauro B.

Director of Engineering at Inflection Point and head of one of our largest accounts, Lauro has 15 years of experience on the industry. He has a B.S. in Computer Science (ITESM, 2001), an M.S. in Information Technology Management (ITESM, 2004), and Executive Master in Technology and Industrial Organizations Management (EOI Business School, 2009), a PMP Certification and experience throughout several technologies; all of this makes it really interesting to read what he has in mind.



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