Whew! That Content Strategy Final Project is Done!

Whew!

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 Wired.com

Image: Brewbooks via flickr; from Wired.com

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.

TMI.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

#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!

zero2

“Zero-ed out” – What it means-thefreedictionary.com

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!

The What, How and Wow! of Excellent WebSite Content

There’s an old saying, “variety is the spice of life,” and when it comes to online content, there are many wonderful varieties to call upon to enliven and spice up a web site.

spicesContent forms other than copy blocks (words) can be used liberally on a web site, but must be be done in appropriate ways. The content must make sense, be relevant, and prove useful to web users.

As textbook author Kristina Halvorson writes in Content Strategy for the Web, a user wants “the content he needs, when and where he needs it.”

Textbook author/@halvorson via Twitter.com

Author/@halvorson via Twitter.com

The purpose of any content that’s added should help users do what they came to do, she says: gather information, make a decision, get help, or share relevant content.”

Five Great Samples – in Just One Site

In that context, one of the most effective users of content that I’ve seen is on the web site for Professor R. David Lankes at the School of Information Studies.

R. David Lankes/via Twitter.com

R. David Lankes/via Twitter.com

He has just debuted a new website, and it is attractive, clean, highly interactive, and very informative, entertaining, and useful. Lankes, known for his “New Librarianship” research and for his blog, “Virtual Blog, Real Dave,” engages consumers and allows them to interact in many different ways because of the variety of content he posts on his site.

Aside from great design, pretty photos, and intriguing words, Lankes’ uses truly meet the criteria of interesting, informative, relevant, and entertaining content. Take a look at these samples of his range:

Other References

PR Daily, from Ragan Communications, has an excellent list of “17 kinds of content people love to share” (hint: lists is one of them).

Professional-looking photos are of utmost importance for organizations that have the budget to produce them. However, small organizations or individuals who don’t have a significant amount to spend in that area can still obtain useful, relevant, interesting shots to include on the site (including by making them themselves, as I’ve done here for some.) Jennifer Kyrnin shares her ideas for using your own photos here.

As far as the range of content types you can use, Dr. Mani Sivasubramanian of SitePoint provides an excellent description and list of them, including some you may not typically consider.

Evaluate Each Piece

Content should not be added in just for its own sake, however. A few key things to remember when you’re thinking of adding content: first of all, is what is its purpose?

As content expert Halvorson writes, “every piece of content needs a job.” She says these jobs can consist of content that is meant to “persuade, inform, validate, instruct, or entertain.”

Her company’s web site, Brain Traffic, provides excellent advice and reading.

The key lessons to be learned about sprinkling “spicy” content into your website include the ability to prioritize your content, as Halvorson writes, in “Content Strategy For The Web“:

  • Requirements (legal or otherwise)
  • Reach (what are the audiences)
  • Relevance (importance and interest to users)
  • Richness (how valuable or unique it is)
  • Revenue ( how the content is likely to affect “site revenue-generating activities

Have you got some favorite examples of how content can enrich web presentations? Send us your thoughts and your example links here – we’d love to see them!

 

 

Content Strategy: Are You Taking It Down To The ‘Nitty Gritty’?

The #ContentStratClass of September 15 discussed elements of content strategy and the importance of narrowing that discussion down to the lowest denominators. These include thinking about the core reasons you want to communicate with customers, the basic messages you want to convey to your users and customers, and even getting right down to the “nitty gritty” of why you or your company or institution are even doing all of this communication to begin with.

The idea of a “concept strategy” sounds like a high-level intellectual exercise. What I found through our readings and class discussion is that the more you can break that task down to the core level, and look at the most basic elements of your interests, intents, and reasons, the better it is apt to help you streamline a sound, reflective, true, and useful set of guidelines on which to base an overall content strategy and plan.

Three Basic Questions

As Margot Bloomstein, our textbook author, noted in her slideshare, you must ask yourself key questions when starting on the path of defining a brand content strategy. These aren’t the highbrow concepts you might expect. They really boil right down to basics. “Do you know what you need to communicate?,” for example, she asks.

cardsorting exercise, Margot Bloomstein,

Cardsorting Exercise, The Secrets of Brand-Driven Content Strategy/Margot Bloomstein/Appropriate Inc.

Bloomstein introduces a cardsorting exercise to help organizations decide three key components of their message architecture–the goals and hierarchy they want to express in all their communications—and to help refine their messaging. These are:

  • Who we are
  • Who we’re not
  • Who we’d like to be

Defining Goals

In working to create a content strategy, you’ve got to determine your main goals. You can ask yourself, ‘Are you communicating to drive sales? Engage consumers? Persuade users?’

As necessary as defining goals for communication are defining core target audiences. You may have one or two initial ones; or you may have several. As an example, co-instructor Kelly Lux pointed out the different audiences the iSchool at SU has: prospective students; current students; alumni; friends of the school; donors.

Kelly Lux - 9/15 class – You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpYpc5em3-U&feature=youtu.be

Kelly lux on 9/15 calss – You Tube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpYpc5em3-U&feature=youtu.be

Lux said these need to be ranked in priority to decide which audiences–thus which communications efforts—are the most important. The way to do this is to determine what those audiences are doing for you, she said. In the case of the iSchool, prospective students are at the top of the list of critical audiences. That’s because they are the future customers of the school–the “new business” in need of being developed.

Shaping Personas

Creating personas are also a key element of a content strategy. Developing these help you guide and shape the tone, voice and the messaging of your content. Personas create “images” of your audience members, helping you address specific target groups for communications.

For the iSchool at SU, for example, personas might include: international graduate students; doctoral students; undergraduate students; distance MSLIS students; certificate program consumers; alumni of the early iSchool; recent alumni; mid-career library professionals.

Hierarchy of Messages

Another essential element of creating content strategies are developing the hierarchy of messages (message architecture). There are three or more levels of messaging needing to be defined, as discussed by co-instructors Lux and Jenn Pedde:

  • Primary messages – or what you want everyone who views your content to know about you; how you are distinguished
  • Secondary messages – these support your primary messages and provide differentiators
  • Details – the content which helps you provide proof of your higher=level statements.
  • Together, they tell the brand story and help provide a picture of what you create content around.

So as complex sounding as the idea of a content strategy development may be, it really begins at the most basic levels: thinking about what you want to say, how you want to appear to others, who you are talking to, and how you want to distinguish and different yourself. Those are basic questions–but not necessarily simple ones to answer.

Have you had to undertake content strategy planning for your organization? Did you know where to start and how to get everyone thinking about the most basic questions? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

 

My Whirlwind Week as an Interim Content Director

The School of Information Studies is known for innovative immersion experiences. Students can tour Silicon Valley tech firms, scout New York City startups, and take in global IT operations in Europe and Asia. As an iSchool student, I’ve never done an immersion trip, but I have had my own “immersion experience.” This week, I filled in as the interim content director for the iSchool’s official blog and its social accounts.

I’m a communications specialist for the iSchool. That entails writing for the web site and alumni magazine, and in the past year, filling in for the Information Space executive editor.

infospace photo

Information Space, official blog of the iSchool at SU

Usually, I’ve done that for a day or two at most. This time, I filled Kelly Lux’s shoes for a week, while she took a vacation free from online and social media responsibilities.

Because my “immersion” coincided with the start of #ContentStratClass, that’s informed my lessons (and provided good material).

Kelly Lux via Twitter.com

Kelly Lux via Twitter.com

It’s been a whirlwind of a week! Here’s why (and what I did as the fill-in InfoSpace editor and iSchool community manager):

  • Reviewed 14 student-contributed posts, for formatting, grammar, spelling, accuracy (I felt a little like the way Yvonne Lyons described her blogging work, here)
  • I had to assess: was the content exciting? lackluster? Was it a “sea of gray”? Were links included? (The guidelines Lyons provides were a big help!)
  • Assessed topic timeliness–gauging which ones to use each day
  • Reviewed photo captioning/citations
  • Sourced photos for bloggers who had none in their posts
  • Un-did the inadvertent “published” status of some of the authors
  • Worked with IT to insert a blog poll
  • Researched a photo copyright use issue (so not to be a bad example of copyright violation).

I also tried to be a supportive presence for these new bloggers, by:

Information Space - editing on my computer

Information Space – editing on my computer

  • Helping brand-new bloggers learn the ins and outs of WordPress
  • Responding to questions on the Facebook group and email
  • Enhancing a featured photo by designing a Canva photo frame
  • (Hopefully) providing some fill-in as a supportive editor

 

And as for the social content, I managed to:

My Canva background featured with the GoPro Fetch photo

My Canva background featured with the GoPro Fetch photo

I estimate that all of this was probably the work of several content team members (content editor, photo editor, graphic artist, social content curator).

But really, how many places (except the big-league guys) ever really operate with optimal staffing?

The InfoSpace blog is an important tool in the iSchool’s marketing and image visibility. As Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute, notes:

“Blogs are so popular because they are the optimal choice for your content marketing hub – acting as content chameleons that combine the strength of social media with old-fashioned print-publishing functionality.”

 So…as the end result, I discovered:

  • The week was fun!
  • I learned a lot about being a content curator and director
  • I gained new insights about new bloggers, and know which elements to highlight in the info session to be developed for new bloggers
  • I discovered what I like and don’t like about that kind of role on an ongoing basis.

It was a great opportunity overall, and I’m honored that I was trusted with this significant responsibility!

Have you ever had charge of a blog? How did you manage all the necessary components? Leave your comments here!