Meghan Casey’s Tips For Time-Stretched Content Managers

Meghan Casey

Meghan Casey, author of “The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right.”

Don’t look now, but there’s a great new content strategy guide for content professionals in higher ed. Meghan Casey, lead content strategist at Brain Traffic, authored a practical guide for getting on track with content strategy: “The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right.”

As her book just hit bookstores, we asked Meghan if she’d share some of her content strategy tips for our higher ed friends — particularly those with limited time and resources for making content succeed at their institution.

Where do I start with content strategy? What do I need to think about first?

The most important thing to think about is that content efforts must tie to business objectives and be grounded in the realities of the business environment. Before you go anywhere near a tactical idea, understand the business side of things. One of those business things is who you’re trying to reach or influence be it prospective students, current students, parents of prospective students, parents of current students, alumni, prospective faculty and staff, current faculty and staff … you get the idea. Once you know who the priority audiences are, get to know them. Like really know them by analyzing their behaviors and understanding their needs.

From there, you can figure out the key things to focus on that benefit your organization and your users. Do those things really well. Put your focus there.

What are some simple things content managers can do to better understand content problems and make improvements?

One of my favorite tools to understand problems with content is a user test I learned about from Pete Gale at gov.uk. It’s a perfect tool for educational institutions because your target audience is right there on-campus.

Ask some students or faculty or staff (depending on the page) to read a page of content that you’ve printed for them. With the page, give them a green highlighter and a pink highlighter. Ask them to highlight in green the words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs that made them feel confident (or another adjective that makes sense for the content they are reviewing). Conversely, have them highlight in pink the stuff that made them uneasy (or another adjective that makes sense). After they’ve read the page and filled it with highlights, ask them a few questions to understand their perceptions.

If you do this with five users, you’ll have a pretty good sense of where your content is falling down. And you’ll have pieces of paper to communicate that to your stakeholders.

What types of content guides or tools can be developed to help time-stretched content managers to do their work?

Short cheat sheets can do wonders. Or simple websites they can easily access while they are working. I’m a huge fan of www.voiceandtone.com, which is a style guide Kate Kiefer Lee at MailChimp developed for their field of freelance writers. It covers tips for writing for different content types and scenarios based on the user’s likely frame of mind. It’s brilliant.

How can I make the case for content strategy? How can I get people to care?

I’d start with formulating some hypotheses about why you’re content is problematic. And then, try to put some data behind how those problems affect your organization.

It’s that data that will help you get buy-in from the budget holders and stakeholders for doing content work. When you put it in terms of something like: "Our application page does not contain the information potential students or their parents need to feel confident starting the application process. 75% of users who get to this page abandon it," the decision-makers can’t help but listen.

Governance is a hard concept to wrap your brain around. What’s the best way you know to explain what it means for digital content and how to approach it?

Governance really comes down to saying no to things that don’t make sense and educating stakeholders about what does make sense. To do that, you need to give people actual authority to use your strategy to say no, even if it means saying no to the board of regents or the president of the college.

Authority comes in a couple forms. There’s strategic authority, which relates mostly to what content you’ll produce, where you’ll publish or share it, and why you’re doing it. Then, there’s day-to-day implementation authority, which often comes down to things like, "I need my slideshow from the ice cream social on the home page of the website for three weeks."

The people to whom you’ve delegated authority need to 1) know they have it, and 2) get to actually use it.

If you’d like to really dig into the topic of content governance, check out Meghan’s Confab Higher Ed 2015 workshop: Content governance: The politics of getting things done.

Your Content Challenges

What is your biggest challenge with tackling content strategy at your institution? Is it a question of time and resources or is training and expertise? Or, maybe it’s a challenge fostering that cultural support for content governance? We’d love to hear about it and maybe share some thoughts on ways to approach those challenges.

We’re giving away a free copy of Meghan’s book, “The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right,” courtesy of Brain Traffic! Just leave a comment below sharing your biggest content challenge. (Also, feel free to share your own tips or success stories!) On Thursday, July 2, we’ll pick a name at random a give one lucky person a sweet addition to his or her summer reading list.

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About Rick Allen and Georgy Cohen

Rick Allen has worked in higher education for over twelve years, helping to shape web communications and content strategy. As principal of ePublish Media, a web publishing consultancy in Boston, Mass., Rick works with knowledge-centric organizations to create and sustain effective web content.

Georgy Cohen is associate creative director, content strategy, at OHO Interactive, a digital agency based in the Boston area. Previously, she worked in content roles at Tufts University, Suffolk University, and her independent consultancy to higher ed, Crosstown Digital Communications.

Comments

  1. Great article! I can’t wait to read the book. My biggest content challenge is getting in front of our researchers applying for grants and promising web components that do not make sense or aren’t sustainable for our 1-person web team (me). It’s improving as I build trust and educate about the importance of content and governance, but establishing that internal expectation and process has been slower than I would like.

  2. Looks like a wonderful and very helpful book. My new title is content manager, so this fits my needs beautifully. My biggest challenge is similar to Cathy’s, which is educating our campus community on the importance of creating relevant and engaging content. I love the tool using the pink and green highlighters.

  3. I have so many content-related struggles that it is hard to pick my biggest! Certainly a top struggle is the sheer volume of content I’m in charge of. Content contributors are incredibly quick to create what they think is necessary content, but hardly every remember to remove content when it is no longer timely, relevant, or accurate. If I had to guess, I’d say about 30-40% of our website has not been reviewed in the past 2-3 years. Another huge struggle for me is wrangling some sort of consistency out of departments and programs. I’m helping to develop a style guide this summer, and we will be undergoing a redesign process in the next year, so hopefully that will help with getting standards in place that everyone agrees to follow!

  4. Lisa H. says:

    I struggle with balancing all my responsibilities. Since I wear all the hats (design, content creation, site creation & support), it is hard to be an expert in any one area. It’s also hard to keep my eyes on each moving part. I would love to implement more governance policy since this would help distribute some of my work, but find I don’t know where to start with it.

  5. My biggest challenge when it comes to developing, creating and managing content is time. Like most universities and colleges, we have a decentralized management process for our website and it’s been challenging to try and educate individuals on how to best create and organize content when it is not their primary job responsibility or even something they are comfortable with doing.

  6. My biggest challenge is persuading others that their audience does not care about what they want to promote as content–particularly not the way they want to promote it. It is difficult to attract students to a scholarly event, and if the event is indeed academic in tone, then it just won’t have mass appeal. However, that event could be reconfigured to be intriguing and energizing, which would then be easier to promote to students.

  7. My biggest challenge is ensuring that a bunch of really smart, highly educated content creators in higher-ed write for the web consistently and with quality. Either that big blank WYSIWYG is paralyzing, or that write too formally, or they publish (like, an event) with just a sentence, or the insert pixelated images, or don’t. Some of this can be solved by customizing the CMS, but the real challenge is just making them care. It’s not in their job description to write for the web, but all content is pretty much digital-first now – it just hasn’t clicked.

  8. Erin Martin says:

    My biggest challenge is legacy content, dealing with it. Making a plan for it. Also, getting higher ups to believe that content strategy and the web is actually important.

  9. I share many of the struggles others have mentioned. Another big one is constantly battling against bright shiny object syndrome. Despite our lack of Web design/development time and talent (or resources to hire these skills ongoingly), I regularly receive requests to build something just like Bigger College X rather than developing solid content that’s within our means and that meets the informational needs our customers are looking for.

    • Hi Jeff — Oh, yes. BSO (Bright Shiny Object) Syndrome is a good one. Or, rather, a bad one. It seems easy to copy others’ success — or perceived success — but there’s no such thing as a cut-and-paste content strategy. It takes work to create content that is appropriate and relevant and useful. Just because a BSO works for one school doesn’t mean it will work for another.

      Also, we are happy to announce that you are the winner of the copy of “The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right,” by Meghan Casey — courtesy of Brain Traffic! Please contact us so we can get your contact info and get you your book. Congrats!

  10. Really useful article. The biggest challenge we face managing web content in higher education is that we have allowed too many people to have web editing rights. Just because somebody is a highly literate faculty member, it does not mean that they know how to write content for the web. We have too many people who are not hired as content officers writing web content at our organisation. We are bringing in a new content strategy and web governance procedures to tackle this. Meghan’s book would help us too!

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