What’s in Your Content Strategy Toolkit?

Book Review:
The Content Strategy Toolkit:
Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right

By Meghan Casey

New Riders; Peachpit Press, 235 pages

Content Strategy Toolkit Book CoverIt’s a good season for content strategy tools. A coalition of content strategists including Noreen Compton, Paula Land, and Kevin P. Nichols just published The Content Strategy Alliance Tools and Templates: A Best Practices Handbook. With a practical focus on guidelines and documentation, the handbook presents more than 40 tools for content strategy projects, and I’ll review it in a future post.

Earlier this summer, the content strategy tools season began with Meghan Casey’s Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right. Casey is a lead content strategist at Brain Traffic, Kristina Halvorson’s content strategy consulting firm. It comes as no surprise that Casey approaches content strategy from a consultant’s viewpoint, but content strategists embedded in enterprises will also find plenty of valuable insights and useful tools in this essential content strategy resource.

What might be surprising about this book is how long it takes to get to the nitty-gritty content strategy stuff. I passed the book to a colleague, and, glancing at the table of contents, she said, “She doesn’t even get to content strategy until chapter eight.” That’s when Casey presents information about the inventories and mapping that many people think of as content strategy. Of course those tasks are critical, but Casey is smart enough to know that a number of other steps need to happen before that work can be effective or even happen at all.

That’s why Casey begins her book with two chapters about getting the money and organizational agreement to begin the content strategy project in the first place. Even within a big company, the content project sometimes begins as just a notion about how to make some content improvements. Casey provides guidance into how we can guess at what can be improved, quickly test our hypothesis with an audit and/or user testing, and then document the areas for improvement, which we are advised to call opportunities, not problems.

But solving those problems, er, opportunities, takes resources. How do we talk to the money people to get budget and buy-in? Many content strategists may not have the business-budget background, so Casey spells out a straightforward way of turning a discussion of opportunities into budget. Yes, math; she goes there. But in just a few pages, she shows how even the most number-phobic content person can document business risks and compare them to rewards. These are the kind of numbers and discussions that can get content strategy efforts funded.

Even before the content strategist can dig in to deliver on the promise of rewards, additional organizational communication and negotiation needs to happen. Casey explains that we need to identify stakeholders, especially the ones who can derail a project. We then need to get them all involved and communicate with them throughout the project.

Sounds like project management, doesn’t it? If you’re in a larger organization with a department of skilled project managers, then some of these steps might be their job. If not, Casey explains, then you need to play an active role in running the project and communicating about it.

Other steps Casey describes are sometimes product management or research tasks. This emphasizes how collaborative content strategy needs to be.

Regardless of who does the work, Casey offers guidelines for how it can be done. The tools you can download with the book are a sound start for accomplishing necessary content tasks and moving the project along.

One of the highlights of the book for me was the chapter on content design, which Casey defines in a section entitled “What I Mean by Content Design”:

The names, deliverables, and artifacts for this phase in digital projects vary. I’m sure you’ve heard terms such as information architecture (IA), sitemap, wireframe, template, content type, content model, structured content, page outline, component library, and so on. I like to wrap all these items and more into the umbrella term content design.

This is a term that is gaining prominence in the user experience design community, and some content strategy professionals have even renamed themselves content designers. The terms Casey lists in that paragraph are certainly becoming expected of more content strategists.

Casey breaks content design into four areas:

  • Prioritization: Determining what content is most important for users (and for the business too)
  • Organization: Developing a sitemap and taxonomy so users can find the content they want
  • Presentation: Using a core model and content modeling to detail how content will be presented
  • Specifications: Detailing what content appears on each page or screen
Sample Content Strategy Toolkit Template
A content prioritization template from The Content Strategy Toolkit.

Many of the content strategists I know are deeply involved in these steps. I know I am. It was helpful to hear some of our thoughts reflected and refined in this chapter, and I’m looking forward to putting the tools Casey presents here to work.

Other content folks will probably have other favorite chapters and tools, depending on their interests and the needs of the projects they’re working on. I’m sure that’s why many content strategists will be keeping this book near their desk, for guidance about how to get content done at almost any stage of a content strategy project – from initial budget to product launch and into the governance that happens after.

This book might not be a definitive toolkit. There will always be some projects that have unique problems (opportunities?) that require a unique approach or deliverable. Casey herself admits that the spreadsheets and presentations and Word docs she offers will often have to be tailored to your clients and companies. But Casey does present thoughtful, business-tested methods, tips, and templates that are a great foundation for any content strategist – knowledge we all should have in our toolkit.

Questions and Lists for Managing Content Strategy

Book Review:
Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide

By Kevin P. Nichols

XML Press, The Content Wrangler Content Strategy Series, 138 pages

Full disclosure: I’ve been meaning to review this book for some time, but I’ve been too busy with my own enterprise content strategy projects. My efforts would have gone smoother if I had read this book first.

Enterprise Content Strategy Book CoverWith Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide, Kevin P. Nichols turns his years of leading content strategy teams and projects into practical, detailed advice. Nichols is the author (with Donald Chestnut) of UX Strategy for Dummies, and for more than five years he served as director and global practice lead for content strategy at SapientNitro. At numerous events and conferences, Nichols has shared his experience and interest in topics such as omnichannel and performance-driven content strategy.

Nichols has been practicing and perfecting his craft for years, and he crams a great amount of content expertise into this deceptively small book. The page count is small, but the content strategy ideas are plentiful. Nichols likes lists, and he packs his book with sequences of questions and considerations that content strategists need to ask and be aware of, whether they work in a large enterprise or a small agency.

Early in the book, Nichols defines enterprise content strategy and how it “envelops all proprietary and intellectual property across an organization’s operational infrastructure.” A thorough enterprise content strategy includes every delivery method, every content interaction, and every integration point.

A content strategist in an enterprise needs to be aware of three factors, and the many processes and tools involved in each:

  • Content experience
  • Content delivery
  • Content governance

Perhaps the most powerful of these factors is governance. In the following pages, Nichols presents his content strategy project lifecycle, the nine steps that should be part of most content projects. The content project lifecycle is similar to some presentations of a product lifecycle, but at its core sits governance, the organizing, supportive force that helps keep the other steps – and the people taking those steps – moving forward.

The remainder of the project guide is organized into quick chapters that track the steps of the content strategy project lifecycle:

  • Plan
  • Assess
  • Define
  • Design
  • Build
  • Publish
  • Measure
  • Optimize
  • Govern

Throughout these chapters, Nichols offers how-to insights from someone who has clearly been in the trenches. He knows the questions to ask. He knows who you might need to collaborate with. He knows the many details that need to be considered for a thoughtful, effective strategy.

For example, in the Define Phase chapter, Nichols discusses how to create a content strategy framework after doing a thorough audit. In a sample framework, he asks many of the questions content strategists need to ask during this phase. It seems as if just answering those questions will result in a worthwhile framework.

As if. Despite the advice and encouragement, Nichols never shies away from the reality that doing content strategy in an enterprise is challenging work. It might have been nice to see more specific examples of this throughout the book, but perhaps Nichols’ agency work keeps him from sharing those too revealing case studies.

It would also be helpful to see even deeper explorations of certain topics, such as omnichannel content delivery. On that note, Nichols simply states, “I plan to continue to evolve the theme of omnichannel content strategy.” Perhaps some of that thinking can be included in a future edition of this book.

Admittedly, this book is a project guide, and Nichols acknowledges that he doesn’t intend to discuss exhaustively all the topics he raises. In many cases, he mentions other books that focus on certain topics in greater detail, such as Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper’s Managing Enterprise Content and Rahel Bailie and Noz Urbina’s Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits.

Nichols’ book deserves a place among such work. With its sharp focus on using content to achieve positive business results, this little guide is packed with enterprise-tested ideas that most content strategists can learn from and start applying now.

L.A.’s Content Strategy Meetup Drought Is Over

When I left my job in Silicon Valley to relocate to Los Angeles, I told my soon-to-be-former manager that there were no content strategy meetups in southern California. The look on her face said it all. I just as well might have told her I was moving to a land with no running water or paved streets or Wi-Fi. How could a content strategist survive in such a place?

Fortunately, the content strategy drought is over – Content Strategy Southern California holds its first meetup event today. Marlowe Sarah Beckley, Manager, Content Strategy at Sapient/Nitro, presents “How to Future Proof Your Content,” strategies for making sure content looks and performs well now and continues to be effective on whatever device or platform it will appear on in the future.

CSSC-business-card-bordered
Content Strategy Southern California is a meetup group for content strategists from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to San Diego.

Finding the Southland Content Community

As far as I can tell, content strategists or folks doing this kind of work have been active in and around Los Angeles since the Web started happening. The Los Angeles User Experience Meetup was founded in April 2007, so certainly content professionals were collaborating with design teams then. San Francisco content strategists launched their meetup in November 2009, but, except for a few small meetings and some LA UX Meetup events, southern content professionals stayed quiet.

Where were the content strategists in and around Los Angeles? Where are they now?

This past October, in coordination with Los Angeles’s Innovation Week, the LA Economic Development Council released data about the number of folks doing high-tech work in the Los Angeles region: 368,500, or about 9 percent of all Los Angeles jobs.

There’s bound to be a few content strategists in there, right? And probably more, as content strategists also work in fields that the council might not consider high-tech, such as education, advertising, and entertainment. Content Strategy Southern California exists for all of them, and for content professionals in design, marketing, media, and more.

Who Are We?

Despite the LA Economic Development Council’s report and some other research, we don’t have much data about the southland’s content strategy community. We are obviously here. Today’s meeting is sold out, and interest in our next meetings is strong. But where are we working? What are our concerns? Where are our opportunities?

If you have answers to these questions, please leave a comment and let us know. We will continue to ask these and more questions in future meetup events. After some dry years, we finally have a local venue to share our challenges, learn about better practices, and make progress together.

Content and Community Where the Sun Shines

Content Strategy Southern California is a meetup group for content strategists, designers, creators, and managers in and around Los Angeles, California. Serving content professionals from Santa Barbara to San Diego, Content Strategy Southern California operates as a platform to share the best and latest about web and mobile content.

To join this meetup group and get information about the next event, visit Content Strategy Southern California on Meetup.com.

Working in collaboration with the Los Angeles User Experience Meetup Group, Content Strategy Southern California meets regularly to bring the content and design community information and insights about content

  • Audits
  • Creation
  • Design
  • Delivery
  • Engineering
  • Governance
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Modeling
  • Planning
  • Structuring

Our community of content and design professionals comes together to discuss these topics and the emerging challenges we face. Our goal: Helping content and design professionals throughout southern California as we build and share better content for ourselves and the clients and companies we serve.

Content Strategy Southern California Launches

On Feb. 12, 2015, Content Strategy Southern California launched to create a platform for content strategists and designers in Los Angeles to share insights and information about planning, creating, designing, and managing effective digital content.

To become a part of this community and learn more about upcoming events, visit Content Strategy Southern California on Meeetup.com.