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.