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How to Design Your Content Strategy

Here’s our follow-up post from Bob Le Drew, responding to questions that arose during his Think Tank Webinar on content strategy.  View the archive here.


Content strategy is something that isn’t revolutionary – it’s not rocket science. But it is also important. As associations and NFPs move to embrace social media, they frequently find themselves in a situation where rather than be searching for content, they can be inundated in content.

The basic elements of a content strategy are the same as any communications strategy with some elements of a communications audit on top.

In short:

  1. Assess your situation — figure out where you are in terms of existing content and your human and financial resources.
  2. Build a spreadsheet of the content you have to share online. Triage it in terms of its ease of conversion for web use and its importance.
  3. Identify your goals, your tactics, and your evaluation and measurement plan.
  4. Work through the administrative processes. Who’s responsible for content creation? Who’s assigned to what? What are your organization’s policies and guidelines for content creation.
  5. Create and convert content that’s STRONG. Don’t get so focused on production that quality suffers, but at the same time, you don’t want to revise everything to death.
  6. Have a plan in place to promote your content.
  7. Have a measurement plan in place at the BEGINNING of the process so you can effectively assess your success and also demonstrate your impact to your superiors and other stakeholders.

Questions from the webinar:

Should there be a step [in planning stage] for identifying what content is meaningful? 

The triage process is important. There are lots of tools you can use, some free. You can ask your stakeholders what they need. Look at e-mail questions that come in. Use website “heatmapping.” And use your own judgement — if you are able to think like an “outsider.”

What if your website is overloaded with content? How do you determine what’s necessary for the website, versus sent as an as-needed basis as questions come in? (We have an internal website for affiliate staff, but it is overloaded with tools and resources for them. Any advice on how to prioritize content?)

Again, the triage process is important. Look at the site’s activity, use the web stats (you do HAVE web stats coming in, right?). Heatmaps. Figure out what they’re using. Mae it prominent. what they’re not using but is sitll necessary can be relegated to an internal page, a library, or some other place. The key is to bring your audience into the process. They know what they need. Listen to them.

How much is too much?  We struggle with deciding what isn’t useful for members down the line. 

There are great sites like Jakob Nielsen’s that have tons of usablity research you can draw on. Without getting into your specific situation, you want people to have immediate access to the content they need most and most often. If you’re providing advocacy for animal shelters, you want draft letters to lawmakers, background sheets, and the other things that your members will need to take action right up front. Ask the users. Or if you can think like a user, ask yourself.

(related) How do you navigate the politics when analytics show that something’s not useful?

If you have stats on your side, that’s helpful. We people who care about content and messages and communication frequently get criticized for not having numbers. But if you can show that a given piece of content is “underperforming” – that nobody knows and/or cares about it – and you can back the assertion up with hard numbers from surveys, Google Analytics, or other studies, you can turn the situation from an “I’m right! No, I am!” to a “the numbers tell us this isn’t a high priority for users.”

How do you balance your own content with sharing of others’ content? We know there’s the 80/20 rule, but does that actually work well in your experience?

I’m not a giant fan of rules as anything more than guidelines. Sometimes there just may not be content from others to share on a given day or week, so what do you do? Much better, in my opinion, to focus on sharing QUALITY content. Set up listening posts using tools like Google Reader or social media management dashboards like Hootsuite or Jugnoo, then share the best and most appropriate content from people you trust and respect.

Do goals need to be measurable? Seems like a lot of content goals are soft, like “raise awareness” or “tell the story” or “create a more human voice”

It might seem to be hard to measure a goal like “create a more human voice.” But you could, theoretically, come up with measures like sentence length, word length, and the like. Most people don’t use “prestidigitation” – they say “magic.”

More often, however, I think goals that aren’t measurable aren’t soft — they’re BAD GOALS. Raise awareness? Of what? By who? How aware are they now? How will you measure that? Rather than a fuzzy goal which can’t be measured, why not:

“We will increase the mention of our organization in people’s FB posts by 10% between now and fiscal year end, from approximately 50 mentions to 55.” Or “We will increase the number of sites linking to ours by 20% in the next 4 months.”

What’s the difference between content strategy and content marketing?

Content marketing is a specific use of content. Content strategy is the set of principles and plans that underlie all of the uses of your content. Marketing has an implication that there is a “sale” at the end of the process, which isn’t necessarily the case in the association market. But I think that you can think of a membership, a partnership, or any number of other actions taken after you share content in some way with a stakeholder as a “sale.”

But to me you shouldn’t be “marketing” your content without first having done some thinking about the strategy behind this. Otherwise you’re like a ship without a compass.

What’s more important…policy or process?

Wow. That’s a philosophical question. My gut reaction is that the two complement each other. You need policy to inform process. You need some principle behind what you’re doing to guide how you’re doing it. Process is the operational aspect of it, while policy is the principled side. The two have their impacts on different areas of content strategy and development, I think.


Read more on our Think Tank Summer Series below and access the archives here.

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