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 blog.sumall.com.

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.

4 Tips for Becoming a Content Strategist

Despite the fact that content strategy has been around for many years, content strategist positions have recently become a highly sought after job as the phrase ‘content strategy’ continues to garner buzz across industries.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, what’s content strategy? The Content Strategy Consortium defines content strategy as “the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.” So, as a content strategist, you’d likely have some hand in the organization’s online messaging and branding, information architecture, editorial strategy and writing, search engine optimization, metadata strategy, content management and channel distribution strategies.

Does this sound like something you’d love? If so, let’s keep going.Content Strategy Panel

Based on a panel between Margot Bloomstein, author of Content Strategy at Work and founder of Appropriate, Inc.; Georgy Cohen, Associate Creative Director, content strategy at OHO Interactive and co-founder of Meet Content LLC; and Niketa Patel, Managing Director of Rebel Media Lab; there were 4 recurring themes that would help anyone seeking to become a content strategist.

 

Tip for becoming a content strategist

1. You must love (and be good at) problem solving. Content strategy’s purpose is to solve a business problem. Depending on the needs of an organization and the business goals they have, your role as a content strategist will look differently. Margot regularly solves business problems through style, tone, and different content types, and Georgy explained the importance of asking the right questions and acting like a journalist so you can fully grasp the business problems at hand.

Tip for becoming a content strategist

2. You need to be able to synthesize information and create order out of chaos. You may not be the one writing daily public-facing content, however, there’s certainly a lot you’ll need to write. Once you determine how content strategy can be used to solve a business problem, Georgy explained how it’s up to you to synthesize the information and convey it to your team as well as your clients. Some common content strategy deliverables include a message map, editorial strategy, style guide, workflow diagrams and much more. All of these require a strong writing ability to convey the proper strategy.

Tip for becoming a content strategist

3. You’ve got to have an open mind and be hungry for new challenges. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to land your dream job right away, so you’ll need to be open to other positions. Margot’s advice is to take a position at an agency and learn from those who have been in the industry for a while. You should work with several clients from different industries so you can see how content strategy differs depending on the business problems at hand. After you have quite a bit of varied work under your belt, perhaps you may be interested in consulting. If that’s the case, make sure you’re well networked as Georgy mentioned that it’s likely the only way you’ll earn work once you first get started.

Tip for becoming a content strategist

4. You’ve got to network and reach out to those within the industry. People are very well networked within content strategy. This means you need to be as well. Fortunately, people within the industry are incredibly friendly and most are happy to give advice and point you in the right direction. Niketa explained that she got to where she was today through her network. Her biggest advice to someone seeking a position in content strategy is to be open to meeting new people and to be the person at the table with the ideas. You won’t make it very far within the industry being a wallflower.

These are by no means a fool-proof or full list of how you could become a content strategist, but these 4 tips are certainly a good start. Now it’s up to you to take the first step.

Are you a content strategist? What advice would you give to someone seeking a position in content strategy?

 

Publishing is Hard: Make it Easier on Yourself

You’ve thrown yourself into the exciting industry of content marketing and social media. Hooray! But wait, that means you’re also now a publisher since publishing content is a big part of your new daily responsibilities. And here’s a secret for you—if you didn’t realize it yet, you soon will.

Publishing is hard.

Consistently creating quality, effective content takes a whole lot of work. And this work certainly doesn’t end after you click ‘publish.’ But no worries, it’s time to make it easier on yourself—starting now.

Content Creation

Keeping up with your content creation needs is tough. Photo: Dawolf, Flickr CC

Plan, Then Plan Some More

The more time spent on creating a cohesive content strategy for your web content in the beginning, the easier the entire process will be for you. Don’t forget to include the following elements into your planning. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list but is an excellent way to get started. Be sure to write all this down into a content strategy guide for yourself, as you’ll want to refer to it regularly!

  • Messaging
  • Brand tone and voice
  • Target audience and personas
  • Keywords
  • Distribution channels
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Metadata

Create an Editorial Workflow for You and Your Team

Now that you’ve got a pretty good sense of what your content will be about, who it’s for, and how you’re going to get it to them, it’s time to create some procedures, policies, and a workflow. This will help you to gain momentum and keep up with the complexities of frequently publishing content.

Developing an editorial calendar (Contently has an incredible guide to creating one), a customized content management system (CMS), and your newly developed content strategy guide is going to be what sets you apart from everyone else.

An editorial calendar will keep you and your team focused on creating the right content, for the right people, at the right time. And a CMS customized with page and post templates for your specific needs is a tool that will keep you and your team publishing efficiently. Margot Bloomstein, author of Content Strategy at Work, says it best. “Above all, make it easy for your internal users to produce, publish, and manage great content.”

Kanban Wall For Content

A workflow strategy will get you and your team regularly producing content. Photo: DeanoPower, Flickr CC

Don’t Publish Your Content in Just One Place

Most organizations don’t need to create content for only one channel; that’d be too easy. They have to share their content across several platforms in order to effectively reach their audience. If this is you (and I’m sure it is) make sure you’re not publishing your content in just one place. Instead, take your topic for a blog post and rework it to fit across other appropriate channels as well.

Can that blog post work well on the main website? Should it be a microsite? Or what about a digital magazine, email newsletter, podcast, video series, webinar, ebook, or infographic? And don’t forget about your social channels! You’ll be surprised how much additional content you can create when you’re thinking creatively about its form. Fortunately, Hubspot has lots of ideas for not letting your content go to waste, which is definitely worth checking out.

Like I said, publishing is hard. But the above strategies to plan a cohesive content strategy and develop a workflow will surely help you to create content more regularly and efficiently.

Do you have any strategies to add? What helps make your life as a content manager oh-so-much easier?

4 Steps to a Killer Blog Post

4 Steps to a Killer Blog Post

You’ve got this awesome idea for a blog post, right? Now all you have to do is write and publish the post then you’re going to get thousands of views and incredible engagement. Man, I wish it was that easy.

Actually, there’s quite a bit that goes into a blog post and it’s not just about the writing. It all revolves around having an excellent content strategy.

 

1. Develop Your Organization’s Content Strategy

First thing first. You need to make sure your content strategy for your organization, company, or personal blog is good to go. According to Margot Bloomstein, “content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content” (2012). Oh, and while developing your strategy, make sure you’re addressing the following:

  • Creation: What will it consist of? Why? Where will it come from? Who will be in charge?
  • Delivery: Where will your new content go? How are you going to post and share this with your users?
  • Governance: How are you going to update your content and keep it fresh? How are you going to evaluate its effectiveness?

2. Design Your Website to be Easy on the Eyes

The best content you’ve ever created is worthless if no one spends time on your site. So make sure your website is easy on the eyes and easily navigable. A mess of unrelated advertising, too many colors, and too many links (just to name a few) can easily distract the reader and get him or her lost within your site. When that happens they’re going to quickly click away. And no one wants that.

Great Blog Web Design

Keep it clean and easily navigable to keep your readers interested.

3. Write an Easily Scannable, Highly Engaging Blog Post

Yes, a well-written blog post is still critical for success. This is going to be what keeps your readers coming back for more. When writing a post, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Keep it short and scannable. Because we’re all short on time.
  • Mix up your content a bit. Words are awesome, but don’t forget about video, photos, graphics, polls, podcasts and more.
  • Keep it engaging. Pose a question or call-to-action (CTA) at the end of your post.

4. Follow-Up With Your Blog Post

Lastly, your new piece of content that you just published needs a bit of help to push it over the top. The proper distribution, search engine optimization (SEO), and following up with some analytics will ensure that you’re getting the most out of your posts. Come back to your content regularly and actively engage with those who post comments on the article and your social profiles. You can also refurbish any of your content that isn’t time sensitive. If that lengthy article you posted 6 months ago can easily be turned into a sweet graphic or video that can easily be consumed and shared, why wouldn’t you do it?

Share Blog Post on Social Networks

Great content will want be shared—make it easy for the user to do.

This will surely get you on your way to writing a killer blog post. Each of the 4 steps must all work together and none can stand alone. Start by focusing on your content strategy and when in doubt, always refer back to it. This will help to ensure you’re creating useful and usable content for your users that’ll stand out among the rest.

Think you have it down? What other steps do you take to create a killer blog post?