February 16th 2015

Thinking about Content Strategy

All the way back in 1996, when the internet was still a precocious child, Bill Gates told us “content is king.” Since then the phrase has taken on a life of its own. It has become like a mantra, trotted out without question as its truth is held to be self-evident. There’s no denying that quality content is invaluable, but there is a danger in mistaking the journey for the destination. All great content should exist for a specific reason; it’s not enough to see it as an end in itself. Your content is valuable only in so far as it works for your business. If it doesn’t do that then it’s nothing more than clutter.

Everything you publish, whether it’s on your website, Facebook page, Twitter, in print, or elsewhere, should be created for a purpose and be answerable to pre-determined and clearly defined goals. For that to happen, we need to think about content strategy.

What is content strategy?

There’s no single universally agreed answer to this question. In fact, there are almost as many different answers as there are content strategists.

In Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data, Rachel Lovinger calls it: “the use of words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences.”

Kristina Halvorson defines it as: “Planning for the creation, delivery, and governance, of useful, usable content.”

There are plenty of other definitions we could have considered, but in essence they’re all saying the same thing. Content strategy is about planning content so that it reaches the right people, at the right time, with the right information. It’s about knowing what your customers want and tailoring your content to deliver it.

Rather than a set of activities or boxes to tick, content strategy is perhaps best considered as a mind-set that helps you determine when, how, where, and what you publish.

Why do I need a content strategy?

There’s nothing to say you must have a content strategy, but would you rather follow the general who’d planned out his campaign or the one who decided to march right ahead and hope for the best?

Way back in the Sixteenth Century, Francis Bacon coined the phrase “knowledge is power.” Needless to say, he certainly didn’t have the internet in mind, but the principle remains as true as ever in the digital age. If your content is going to work as hard as it should then you have to know your customers. Once you know what they want, what they like, and what they share, then your content can be targeted to meet the needs of the people you need to reach.

Developing a content strategy.

We know that good content doesn’t often happen by accident, so what does a content strategy need to encompass?

  • A thorough understanding of your potential customers and their needs.
  • Deciding on goals that will allow your content to meet these needs.
  • Developing a style guide to help your business speak with a single coherent voice.
  • Examining existing content and weeding out anything that doesn’t advance your goals.
  • Deciding what new content is required and how and when it will be delivered to your customers.

Of course, when we talk about content we don’t just mean the written word. Everything is content, from drawings, animations, video and audio clips, infographics, photographs, PowerPoint presentations, white papers, and even the design of your website itself. All of these things are content and they should speak with a consistent voice which is in keeping with your brands core values.

With your strategy in place, you can start creating content that’s specifically tailored to your customers’ needs. But that’s not the end of the story. As your business grows and changes, and even as innovations in digital media change the way content itself is consumed, it pays to be prepared to evaluate and amend your content strategy. It should be like a living thing which evolves and adapts to best serve your needs in the ever-changing online environment.

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