Content Strategy – Kristina Halvorson Q & A

Ahh, the power and mystery of naming things . . .

Content strategy identifies how content will help achieve your business objectives. It informs how organisations create, deliver and govern or take care of their content, online and beyond. It helps people move from thinking about content ‘launch’ to content ‘life cycle’, allowing them to create a plan to manage that content over time.

Content Strategy – Washington, DC June 2012 meets to hear the evolved perspective and insights—while eating lush refreshments—of Kristina Halvorson, founder and CEO of Brain Traffic, and a primary definer and defender of "content strategy".

Since Content Strategy DC were early practitioners of content strategy, and early Halvorson readers, we didn’t want a presentation. Instead, we asked Kristina to solve our thorniest content problems.

These questions and answers are not verbatim from our time but should communicate the essense of Kristina's advice if not the effervescence and humor of her conversational style.

How do you see content strategy interacting with knowledge management?

Boundaries for content strategy are real fuzzy. Data and information can be very important to some people to the exclusion of all else.

Content strategy includes the content components, the structure and taxonomy, and the people side, the work flow and framework. These can't be separated. They all need clear objectives. When any area or schema changes, the meaning and value of that influences all other parts.

How do you think web developers should work content strategy into their thinking when building a site?

In other words, How can we keep content out of the end of the project? If it’s left to the end, content will “blow up” the project. The key—the real power of content strategy—is insuring that the right questions about content get asked up front.

People have lots of assumptions: We already have it, we just need a copywriter to edit what we have because it’s already so good, we can just use post-it notes for now . . .

The voice and tone of content and design should inform each other. Whoever is an early actor in the development needs to be pulled in. Ask that person the content questions as soon as possible. That will help them see they need to include you and maybe even be a content advocate. If you need to know what kinds of questions, there are lists of questions in the book.

When the strategic elements are in place, the rest is content planning.

How do you convince people the labor that follows the strategic planning, whether writers or directors, people always underestimate the time needed.

Get people to understand the difference between copy writing and content creation. Use images or analogies. Ask them about tagging, tools for presentation, source content, existing inventories, message hierarchy, evaluation of content, and who will maintain it? This will people understand that, “Oh, this won’t be so fast.”

Helping people understand that they are the ones who will have to care for the content immediately prompts them to reduce scope.

“What’s the problem with old?” – What do we say to clients who want to keep everything?

We can’t convince them that not everything has infinite relevance. Rather than try to get them to understand usability practices and how this old content is in the way and negatively impacts the website, make sure that a solid, flexible taxonomy is in place so that you can properly archive the content. The content will still come up in search but not be a key component of the important, current content.

Can you speak to the differences between content strategy, content marketing and IA?

We don’t want to get hung up on where the lines are actually drawn. A content strategist can do marketing and IA.

Content marketing is custom publishing in the digital space. This doesn’t undermine its power or potential. Content marketing can be a tactic to implement content strategy.

What is scary and frustrating to me is that the way people talk about content marketing is the way people talk about social media, blogs, SEO, etc. They make these elements seem like magical, independent tactics.

Content marketing—and other tactics—need to be perceived in terms of strategy or they can’t be maintained and will lose effectiveness. Content strategy should inform content marketing. Content strategy is the guiding light for all plans for decisions, creation, organization, technology, contributor roles, for all content.

How do I help people pushing launch dates understand that we’re not ready?

If leadership doesn’t get it, they won’t get it. Your job is to say Risk and Assumption.

You have to build into your documentation plan the risks of moving forward without doing each step and explain the weaknesses in prevailing assumptions. Document it all.

When the project begins to fail, your documentation will be there. You can tactfully call those failures "gaps". If leadership still doesn’t get it, find another job. Seriously.

How do I work with the subject matter experts to help them do web writing, even make it fun?

Remember that this isn’t part of their job, it’s just been tacked on to their jobs. We can’t make it fun but we can make it easier.

People need training and on-going editorial input for about six months. Deliver forms, or page templates, to the subject experts. It’s a little like a wire frame that lays out keywords, primary, secondary objectives. Make sure someone is there to give them therapy on an on-going basis. They need encouragement. Lots of encouragement.

How do you help people get started with a project when they want to do design and technology first?

Ask them what the primary goals are for the website and what the users want. If people say they know what the users want, ask them how. That information should have been gathered and documented. Lots of organizations don’t believe in user research. Brain Traffic won’t accept clients who won’t find out what users want.

Also, find out what’s important to clients and be sure to include that in your presentations to pull them into content strategy. If a client wants "mobile" and is always asking about "mobile", make sure that you include a slide on "mobile" and always show how "mobile" will be impacted.

How do I get people to do content audits when people don’t realize they need one?

Ask lots of questions. Say, "Tell me more about that". Open avenues for insights. Consultants ask questions. Producers don’t. If clients don’t realize they need an audit, frame the questions so that they realize they can’t move forward as things are. Questions are the key to changing the conversations.

What does Plain Language mean for the richness of the language itself? How do you argue for Plain Language to people in academia?

Academics won’t want to change. They believe they need to write that way.

What we insist on depends, contextually, where the content is and what’s it’s there for. Get good metadata behind the content. Put in callout boxes with subtitle phrases that will summarize the dense content for people coming to the page.

This tolerance can’t be extended to everything because not all content should be descriptive. Context matters. Audience matters. Intent matters.

What are good sample editorial calendars?

Editorial Calendars – Look at the Brain Traffic blog. Take one of those and edit it to make it work for you.

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