Research, Research, Research: The Most Important Element of Content Strategy

When I first looked at the long list of deliverables that I would eventually need to complete for the content strategy of Making Music Magazine, I had no idea which element would take the longest, which element would be the hardest to find or complete, which elements would be easy or which elements were most important. There was so much information packed into 10 deliverables that I knew they’d all have importance and they would all take serious effort. There one most important thing I learned during this whole process was:

The more research you do, the better the overall content strategy will be.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as too much research. This is a lesson that every student hoping to pursue content strategy should be taught. But the most interesting thing about this project is that only two of the deliverables were researched-based, the quantitative audit and the analysis summary document. But I can honestly say that those two elements, mostly the analysis summary document, took up 80% of my time to complete. But good research makes my job easier.

The research I completed for this project was:

  • An interview with the client
  • A complete audit of the website and content
  • A complete audit of each social channel and their content
  • Monitoring online conversation around the brand using Sysomos
  • Monitoring competitor conversation and determining share of voice
  • Using Google Analytics for website insights
  • Using Facebook insights for Facebook data
  • Using Twitter analytics for Twitter insights
  • Demographic information searches

And I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. But this research made the rest of the job so much easier, and this is a great lesson going forward while I pursue a career in content strategy. The more I research, the easier my job will be.

One of the biggest challenges of this project was that in order to develop a strong content strategy and really know what’s best for a brand and its content, you really need to be an expert on the topic being covered, the brand and even the industry as a whole. I was certainly not an expert on the music magazine industry and I had never heard of Making Music Magazine and time was extremely limited. So I became as much of an expert as I could possibly have become in that amount of time and I can name more music education social media influencers than I ever thought I’d be able to. But becoming an expert and doing that research isn’t just something that makes the job easier, it’s a requirement in completing the job.

The easiest part of developing a content strategy was connecting insights to strategy. Once the research was done, there was a lot of information in place and and not much sense could be made of it. But it was a lot like a puzzle, all the pieces were there but they had yet to be put together. I grabbed those pieces and aligned them in a way that made sense. One thing to always be sure of is that you’re always connecting a strategy to both an insight and an objective. If strategy isn’t based on an insight than it’s not going to accomplish an objective.

This process was eye opening and a great exercise on how to build a content strategy. But the most important thing to come out of it for me was the value of research. If I would have been light on my research, this would have been an entirely different, more difficult experience.


Throughout this class I have been challenged to really grasp what content management really is. Now that I developed a content strategy for Mellovelo bicycle shop I can say that is much simpler then everyone makes it out to be.

There are many elements to content strategy. These elements are used to ensure success. With the use of these elements you will be able to create. Through different aspects of your end product you can really entice people to want to keep using it. Some elements to content strategy are:

  • Design
    • The design is crucial because you want to have a balance between the content on your page
  • Structure
    • The product should be structured in a way that it will be easily usable for all people
  • Layout
    • The layout should be flushed out
    • There should be a balance of colors
  • Content
    • There needs to be a balance between words, video, and pictures on the screen

These key elements provide for a good product through content strategy.

Podcasts are great because they allow for readers to hear a voice behind the work that is being read. Companies like ESPN use podcasts for their radio shows to put the voices onto behind words.


Good Marketing 

  1. Entice customers
  2. Have a product that is related to your customers
  3. Write clearly so people will understand
  4. Make sure all grammar is correct
  5. Balance pictures to text writing

Those are some marketing ideas that will ensure a great end product to the consumer. When you want a customer to keep wanting your end product you have to provide something that is usable by them day in and day out. Through all of these different aspects of content strategy I can learn different methods.


  • Make sure to analyze every part of a website
  • Visuals are a great help to understanding content
  • Be open to talking to people who you are doing content strategy for

There are many ways to do content strategy and a content strategists need to be able to understand all valuable information. I think the panel we had for our last class really helped grasp all of these ideas on the business side of things.


Whew! That Content Strategy Final Project is Done!


My content strategy final project is finally done!

Over the course of the semester, I’ve come to think of content strategy as something quite different than it initially appears. I think that’s because since I work with content all the time, and create it all the time, I believe I should have good insights into how to craft an effective online strategy.

Good Work, But Hard Stuff

Maybe I do; but I seem to have to really work hard at it. I can say that content strategy doesn’t come easily for me. I think it’s one of those “lowest common denominator” things. Content strategy is pared down. It’s expression of thought in its simplest and unadorned forms. It’s streamlined and unencumbered look at what a site is (the analysis) where it wants to go (the objectives) and how it’s going to get there (the strategic steps). I know that in my head, but somehow my thinking (or maybe my overthinking) clouds the plain view, and makes it more complex of a situation.

Brewbooks./flickr - via

Image: Brewbooks via flickr; from

AC vs DC Wiring?

I think some of my difficulty in paring things down to the basics—or the “nitty gritty” as someone else called it in a blog post for this course—is due to the way I’m wired mentally.


Too many ideas.

Too much information.

I get excited about a project and get all kinds of ideas at once. So while I was supposed to be focused on an online strategy for the Erie Canal Brewing company, I kept getting lots of other great ideas popping into my head –flooding in, actually.These just weren’t content types and ideas (some were).

  • They were great visuals
  • New graphic looks
  • Ideas for Mule mascots
  • Added ways to engage more community partners.
  • They built on the owner’s already-great themes for connecting the business to the community, to the customer, and to the products they produce.

Forest For The Trees

That’s where things start to clog up for me – a “forest for the trees” problem, you might say. I know strategy is different from tactics, and how that’s so. I know marketing is different from concepts, but they’re also related.

notesThen I have trouble sorting – putting the right things in the right buckets. You might say I’m mentally organizationally challenged.

growlersI tend to want to capture everything. Of course, all those ideas can be turned into great content. (But after the strategy, the foundation of it all, has been established).

Mules, mule history, mule exhibits, mule songs, and on and on…ideas that can be content types and content ideas — all great inspiration for components of content. But where’s the strategy gone to, in and amongst all those thoughts?

That’s been my struggle as I’ve tried to boil down all the info I gleaned from my client interview, along with the site analytics, social channel assessment, competitor analysis, and best practices reminders from our books.

There’s a Plan in There

Regardless, I think I worked through it and came out with a plan. Luckily, I recall that our book, “Content Strategy for the Web,” authors Halvorson and Rach write, “There are no hard and fast rules for what a core strategy looks like.”

content bookWhether mine is an excellent and executable strategy, we’ll find out!

Thanks, Jenn and Kelly, for another great course! You have a knack for taking what seems like “in the wild blue yonder” and bringing it down to earth. Our lessons have been interesting, engaging, but never easy. The course has presented challenge. It’s made me change much of my way of thinking about content.

Although I’m feeling like a bit of a mushed-together mess right now from the mind-numbingness of a marathon weekend of finishing my project, those things seem just like what a good, rigorous graduate-school course should do!






A Guide to Creating Your First Content Strategy

Developing a content strategy from scratch is no small feat. It takes quite a lot of time, effort, and thought to create a cohesive and effective strategy. But it’s certainly worth it.

Once you’ve determined that content creation is the best strategy to achieve your business and communication goals, it’s time to dive into all the deliverables of a content strategy. But here’s where the stress sets in. There are so many! Where do you start? Which ones need help from the whole team? And how do you know when you’re done?

Content Strategy Deliverables

Photo by dwonderwall via Flickr CC.

Let’s start with what needs to be created as a part of your content strategy. Here’s the deliverables most organizations will need to develop. This could change depending on the size of the organization and team, and the budget and scope behind the content strategy.

  • Quantitative Inventory
  • Qualitative Website Audit
  • Analysis Summary Document
  • Core Strategy
  • Topic Map
  • Workflow Diagram
  • Editorial Calendar
  • Content Evaluation
  • Content Guidelines

But now comes the actual work. I’ve just completed my first content strategy plan for a local travel agency. Yes! Through this experience (and my struggles and successes), I’ve come away with 3 takeaways to help complete your first content strategy without a hitch.

1. If you’re not the owner or an employee of the company, spend lots of quality time with them.

The more time spent at the company learning from the employees, determining their processes, and understanding their daily responsibilities, the easier the entire process will be for you. There are countless decisions you as a content strategist need to make that will affect the way the company works and runs part of their business. While anyone can make these decisions, they’ll likely only be useful and successful if you’re fully immersed in their company.

Immerse yourself within the company

Photo by dwonderwall via Flickr CC.

2. The first content strategy will be the most difficult and time-consuming. It gets easier!

This sounds obvious–I know. However, it’s not only because you’re going to get better at developing content strategies and will gain more knowledge throughout the process. But it’s because you’re going to develop lots of templates and guides the first time around that will likely only need to be edited for the following strategies. It takes quite a lot of time to create an editorial calendar or an analytics tracking spreadsheet. Good news, now you have them ready to go. Just swap out the content and maybe add/subtract a couple columns to customize it to fit specific business goals.

3. Schedule time for edits and then more edits before you deem it complete.

I know how it goes. You finish the workflow diagram on a Monday and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. That deliverable is done. However, on Wednesday you begin working on the content guidelines. You’re developing an exceptional set of organizational policies for the company. That is, until you realize you’re now contradicting what you set forth in the workflow diagram on Monday.

A content strategy needs to be seen as a work in progress until it’s been delivered to the company, they’ve been implementing it, and it has been successful. So until that point comes, be flexible. Things will change often, so make sure you schedule some buffer time for this.

Allow time for edits

Photo by Wiertz via Flickr CC.

Content strategies differ greatly from one to the next. Or at least they should since companies are all different and have varying business and communication goals. Due to this, developing a content strategy is never going to be a breeze in the park. Though, I’m certain that by implementing the 3 tips above, your first strategy will be slightly less stressful than mine and hopefully very successful.

Are you a seasoned content strategist? If so, what other tips can you give to someone just starting out?

One Week As Class Moderator

I just finished my week as moderator and it was quite a bit more difficult than I had expected. Before the week had begun, I created a list of articles that I had planned to share over the course of the week. However, as the week progressed, I scratched my list and looked for more content that would hopefully hit a nerve amongst the other students in hopes of greater engagement. Participation and engagement felt low most of the week, which felt frustrating, but there was a good group of regular contributors to the community throughout the week.

Despite some difficulty starting conversations, I still enjoyed the assignment. It caused me to look at content a bit differently. Each morning, as I was looking for something I felt was worthy of sharing with the class, I had to think about what conversations could be started from the piece of content. Was it a cut and dry piece to which no one could add much insight? Or did the content raise some questions in which I could bring to the class? It made me recognize the importance of writing to engage rather than just inform or tell.

Some of the major points from the topics and questions that were raised during my week include:

  • whether or not 6 characters for a hashtag is ideal for optimal engagement
  • a unique way to spur user-generated content for your brand—will it work?
  • knowing when a blog just doesn’t make sense for your content strategy
  • earning yourself a free beer for engaging with a company—would this type of campaign work well in the US?
Ideal Character Length for Online Content

SumAll and Buffer share the ideal character length for nearly everything online. Photo via

Some of the posts left questions unanswered. I think that since there aren’t many students regularly involved in the discussions each week, having a new post each day made it difficult to start worthwhile conversations surrounding a previous topic. Having additional opinions and insights from other students would’ve better helped the rest of us to come to some conclusions each day. Overall, I believe that this assignment provided a good glimpse into some responsibilities of creating and curating content that most people wouldn’t expect.

So Many Elements, So Little Time

Who would have thought a few weeks ago that I’d have any idea about content strategy? On top of that, I had absolutely no clue how many facets there were to it. This blog will concentrate on some of the people behind the scenes of content strategy and their individual roles in making it all happen.

So much of what we do is group work and it can be challenging at times. The folks I’ve listed below all need to collaborate and work well together but unlike some other industries, they have incredibly small amounts of time to produce and execute their work.

  • User Experience
  • Design
  • Information Architecture
  • Copywriting
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Marketing
  • Business stakeholders

User Experience

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.17.48 PM

This work is so freaking cool. Mostly it’s research to figure out people’s behaviors and motivation. User-Centered Design is what drives this research. It ranges from basic interviews and surveys to first click testing and prototypes. This type work can be very impactful on design and content based on the results.


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.28.28 PM

The design for your project is incredibly important and giving the designer a clear understanding of what the vision is for the project is the key. The designer needs to know the who/why/what/when/how in order to produce that integral piece of the puzzle.

Information Architecture

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.33.54 PM

Information Architecture provides the backbone to the project. It gives the project structure and form that no other piece can do but of course they all need to intersect to truly come to life. Seems to me that IA needs to use the user experience data to create a highly functioning product.


Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.39.38 PM

So it’s probably horrible to admit that I didn’t even know exactly what a copywriter did until earlier today? Well, there, I admitted it. So the learning outcomes for this blog is now I know, woo hoo! Copywriting is the execution of ideas; content strategy is their organization and measurement. Seems like these jobs can blend together at times but also need to be separate to have great success.

Search Engine Optimization

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.48.58 PM

So I didn’t have time to read everything out there on SEO and I’m getting the feeling like there could be a whole college degree created around the topic.  SEO is all about hits and visibility.  How many people can you get to your product.  It’s just like in the old days when companies would try tricks like AAAAAA Moving Company just so they would be the first listing in the ole phone book.


Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 4.12.15 PM

The marketing piece to the puzzle is there to support the content and to push it out there for all to see.  Content is always most important but if it’s not marketed well, you’re sunk!

Overall, each area needs a strong team or at least one person’s focus to be successful.  I can’t see where you can cut out any of these areas at all.  What kills me is how I didn’t know anything about all these huge fields that are out there until I started this class.


Two Reasons to Use a Content Calendar

Content can be overwhelming. There’s typically a lot of it, if a content manager is doing his or her job correctly, and it’s consistently being pushed out to the masses. When developing a content strategy, a lot of elements are involved like meta data, message architecture, keyword strategy and some sort of plan to attack search engine optimization. When just starting out, an element of a content strategy that is sometimes overlooked is a content calendar, also occasionally referred to as an editorial calendar.

Here are two reasons why a content calendar is a must for every content strategy:

1. It keeps you organized:

With so much content flowing in and out, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of it all if not for a content calendar. This is exceedingly helpful when there are multiple people contributing content. If it’s a blog with multiple bloggers, the content will be coming in from all over the place and it can’t just be published as soon as it comes in. A content strategist must make sure there’s an equal amount content coming out daily. There can’t be 10 posts on one day and none the next. All of this is far easier to keep track of when there’s a content calendar keeping track of these things all in one place. Many content management systems, like WordPress, have a function like this built right in. This is most likely because these services realize the extreme importance of a content calendar.



2. It’s easier to keep strategy aligned:

Keeping the content strategy on track is extremely important because when brands sway away from their strategy, they often lose track of their brand voice as consistency, as well. A content calendar lays out your content and allows you to place it and distribute it in ways that make sense and will contribute to the message you’re trying to get across before you don’t have the ability to control it anymore. What I mean by that is, if you’re just pushing out content that you think aligns well with your brand message, you can’t identify any potential problems until all the content is already out there. With a content calendar, it’s easy to have foresight before the content is published to be sure the message you’re sending is strong and effective.

Content calendars can be helpful for a variety of different mediums, whether it be social media content, blog content, or any other types of content.

Two Questions to Ask When No One is Talking

via Google+

via Google+

Last week, I took over the reins of the Google+ Community to moderate the class discussion about content strategy. Some posts generated discussion and others didn’t, and it got me thinking about people who moderate professionally. Every day, community managers and moderators post content, measure engagement, interact with commenters and then do it all over again. There have to be certain times when a piece of content is posted and no one responds. When posting so much content daily, not everything is going to be successful. A moderator shouldn’t see this as a failure but they should take the opportunity to identify why the post didn’t perform well.

Here are two questions a moderator should ask when no one is talking:

1. Am I targeting the right audience?

Whether it be the entire content strategy or one particular post, it’s important to know if the content being produced is focused on the right audience. Before you even create the social media account or platform you’re moderating, you know what audience you’re targeting. Make sure you know how they use social media and more importantly, how they best like to consume content. Certain audiences can be extremely particular with the types of content they like. Some groups love photos but hate videos, others prefer links, so it’s important to know and cater to these preferences.

The next step is to go through either the post or all of your recent content to see if you’re targeting it in the way you intend to. After doing something for a while, it’s not always easy to take a step back and examine your own work. But, it’s extremely necessary.


2. Am I talking about the right things?

If you’re a blog about science, don’t post about literature unless you have a fantastic way to relate back to science. There’s a reason people come and comment, it’s because they love or are experts in a certain subject. They don’t come to find out more about other subjects. So if you answer “yes” to question 1, this might be the problem.

Some groups that require moderation talk about some very specific topics. This summer, I moderated a group that only talked about cloud-based technology solutions for small businesses. They didn’t want to talk about mobile solutions for small businesses or social media solutions for small business, only solutions related to cloud-based technology. The big issues is that there’s not always fresh content to talk about, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to be inactive. It’s important to give the audience the content related to the subject they are interested in and keep the conversation going when the conversation isn’t necessarily fresh.

#ContentStratClass Moderation Week – A Pleasant Surprise!

I have to admit that I had some initial trepidation about, but was pleasantly surprised by the experience of moderating a week in #ContentStratClass.

That sense of pleasant surprise is not because I’m skeptical by nature (thank the news business for that)!

It’s not because I’m naïve enough to think my posts were so wonderful that classmates would clamor to respond and contribute to them.

It’s because I’ve had some less-than-satisfying moderation experiences in prior Syracuse University classes, and I know how hard a job online community moderation truly is.

You can do your research, come up with great content, post it enthusiastically and engagingly, and still get a lukewarm–or worse, “zeroed out” reception from your community. And despite your best efforts, much of that situation can be totally out of your control!


“Zero-ed out” – What it

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case for me during my #ContentStratClass moderation week (Oct. 19-26). So, I was back to my happy state of class-participation satisfaction.

As directed, I introduced myself and began discussion on Sunday, October 19:

My first Moderation Week post - 10/20

My first Moderation Week post – 10/20


On Monday, October 20, I posted what I thought was a pretty interesting point of discussion…and was very surprised and pleased to have some immediate response! (Thank you, thank you, Melissa Lowery and Ben Glidden!)

To boot, I found out quite to my surprise that both Melissa and Ben have had agency experience (something we had in common).

Feeling buoyed, I continued the  discussion…delving deeper into my classmates’ thoughts on the topic. To my (relief) and further happy experience, I elicited some more responses, and took advantage of the situation to continue to engage my audience.

moder wk 2Then, after the mid-week point (HumpDay fatigue, maybe?) I saw responses taper off.

To offset that, I posted another piece, this time including an illustration of a sample process for content strategy operations, the topic of our weekly readings. I thought the imagery I found (even though it was a simplified process) might help me attract some added response from other class members who had yet to comment.

The week went fairly quickly, and because I had a family health situation going on ( my mom in the hospital), that made it a bit more difficult for me to check in, but I think that I persevered regardless of those circumstances.

oct 26I have a lot of admiration for community managers. From this experience, plus my previous ones in #CMgrClass, plus watching the work and process that goes into our instructors’ (Jenn Pedde and Kelly Lux) weekly online Twitter chat, #CmgrChat, I know how hard it is to engage people online and to keep communities of aligned interests active and engaged.

There are a jillion reasons why people can’t engage: disinterest, busy-ness, a heavy workload, personal issues, and the whatnot and diffused perspectives of 21st Century Life.

Still, a content strategist and planner or a community manager needs to keep trying to find ways to keep putting out the kind of information that will snag some attention and elicit some response–and importantly, provide some real value–to those you (hope/believe/pray) are still following you.

I’m very grateful to those who took the time to respond to me during my moderation week, for it truly made the experience gratifying.

I’ve been cognizant of how difficult it is to elicit response, so when I’ve been able, I’ve tried to be an active participant in others’ online moderation weeks.

In particular, the week after mine, I made a special effort to respond right away on the first day, to help another classmate benefit from the positive momentum that comes when someone responds to you online, and you make a connection, despite your lack of face-to-face interaction.

So that was my experience for Moderation Week! If anyone tells you it’s an easy thing, don’t believe them! It’s hard work, it’s intellectually engaging,  a little bit challenging, and for those who care that much, it also has a degree of emotional work.

I’m happy to have had the experience again, and I’m also happy that my week turned out to be a good moderating experience!



#ContentStratClass Panel: Enlightening, Encouraging, Confirming!

Hearing from three leaders in the content strategy field about their skills, backgrounds, professional starts, and continuing work during our online Google Hangout class was a comfort and a relief.

Panelists for our last night of #ContentStratClass were respected content experts Margot Bloomstein (@mbloomstein), a content consultant who wrote our textbook, Content Strategy at Work; Georgy Cohen (@radiofreegeorgy), an independent consultant at Meet Content (@meetcontent) and a content strategist at Cambridge digital agency Oho (@ohointeractive); and Niketa Patel (@niketa), who directs the Rebel Media Lab for social publishing platform RebelMouse (@RebelMouse).

As someone who wants to become more proficient in, and take a leadership role in digital content initiatives, I was encouraged by their stories. All have varied skills that mirror my own. All three spent time in the same kinds of work that I have. None had to “build up” a huge repertoire of content field-specific work history before being able to perform well in their roles. Their content career progressions happened naturally, with their innate skills from prior design, publishing, news, and writing careers propelling and serving their capacities. Those discoveries were confidence builders for me (I think newbie nerves explains that little sense of fear).

Many Skills Apply 

Visual Information

Visual Information

For instance, as someone experienced in design/print, who’s also been a news reporter, PR strategist, marketing agency project manager, and academic web writer, I was really glad to hear how:

  • Margot used her graphic design and visual communication background to create attractive pages of quality content, taking “skills from visual communication” and moving them “into verbal communication.”
  • Georgy, who’s “been a writer forever,” and who “without realizing it, [I] became a content strategist,” found various callings in internet journalism, academic web writing and advancement, her own consultancy, as a university director of online content, then associate creative director for content strategy at a digital agency–mainly because of her writing talents
  • Niketa, who mixed print and broadcast journalism careers, was a multimedia producer, built content strategies and social communities at CBS, ABC, and CNN, and was the person her company looked to when they needed a content person. She now helps news brands define content, audiences, and platforms, and find voice and mission in social content.
Writing/Storytelling Skills

Writing/Storytelling Skills

Confidence Boosting 

Their insights gave me a boost of confidence that the skills, interests, and judgment abilities I have in common with these experts, added to what I’ve been learning in #ContentStratClass, provide a solid basis for me to step more confidently into a content strategy role. It was good to see that there was no particular “magic potion” and no defined career path required for their achievement of success! I learned other lessons from the panelists, too, and the good advice they offered our class.

Asking Questions

Georgy Cohen / via Twitter

Georgy Cohen / via Twitter

From Georgy, that “how to ask questions, and how to get answers,” something instrumental in her journalism work, is still very relevant to her work with clients, and that “those skills of being a journalist come into play.” For her, it’s not just asking the questions and getting the answers, that come into play, but also “having a sense of inquiry for the words on a page…the act of synthesizing…and the output of that.”

Taking Charge

Margot bloomsstein / via Twitter

Margot Bloomstein / via Twitter

From Margot, how alot of what makes content strategy work is “taking charge; who is going to take care of this[material] in a consistent way. That’s what content strategy asks,” she says. She also says she likes to write her way through a problem by creating a narrative arch, and that sometimes, drawing on her design and visualization background, she “diagram it and draw my way through a problem.”

Writing, Reading

From Niketa, that making time for writing–and importantly, also for reading—is essential to her content work success. Because the amount of writing she has been able to do in each job has “ebbs and flows” across her career, she believes “It’s always good to set aside time for writing”—and Niketa “actually has to calendar it so it stays a priority for me.” she says. Writing’s counterpart, reading, is also important, she says….reading all kinds of things, industry blogs, topical things, and timely things.”

NIketa Patel / via Twitter

NIketa Patel / via Twitter

It was great to hear from experts in the field who have had similar starts and similar skills as my own. The panelists provided great information, and the event was encouraging, enlightening, and confirming!