Every time you communicate, you’re either adding value—or taking up space.
– Sally Hogshead
Good communication is and always has been critical to the success of any business or non-profit organisation.
Valuable communication is what sparks interaction, interaction is what leads to meaningful connections—and meaningful connections are what fuels lasting relationships.
But over the past couple of decades, the way that organisations communicate with their audience has shifted. Big time.
The shift from influencing to owning media
Before the internet, the make-up of an average organisation’s communications strategy was mostly comprised of advertising and PR. In other words, mass communication was something that ‘the gatekeepers’—media companies, newspapers, publishing houses, and so on—controlled.
As an organisation, your ability to communicate, connect and build relationships with the audience you sought, largely depended on these gatekeepers. In contrast, the influence of owned media—content you published yourself—was negligible.
Then, the internet came along.
In other words: communications used to be about influencing and paying for media space. Now it’s about owning media space.
The barrier to sharing information directly with the people you seek to serve (rather than via an intermediary) has never been lower. Publishing content requires little more than access to an internet connection.
So what we publish on our websites, blogs, apps, social media, and any other digital communications channel we own, has the potential to:
- solve problems
- support completion of useful tasks
- drive conversion on sales, donations, membership sign-ups, or whatever else the word ‘success’ means for your business or non-profit
Everyone has the potential to do these things. But doing them, however, is quite another thing.
The thing is, the internet is a loud place. For every piece of information gold, there’s a cacophony of white noise. In order to stand out, to resonate through the white noise, what you publish needs to be well considered, on-note, and relevant to even stand a chance.
Every time we publish content online, we’re either adding value—or adding to the noise.
That’s where content strategy comes in. Content strategy supports organisations to cut down on pushing out content that’s just taking up space (i.e. crap) and publish more content that adds value.
Less crap, more quality — more value-adding results for your organisation. What could be more straightforward?
Except, here’s the thing: it’s difficult.
Publishing content is easy—becoming a publisher isn’t
Slapping words on a page won’t ensure good communication, just as mashing your hands across a piano won’t make for a pleasant composition.
– Jason Santa Maria
A website is basically a digital printing press. But merely owning a printing press doesn’t instantly make any of us good publishers. No more than buying myself a pair of fancy racing skis makes me a world-class slalom racer overnight (though that would be cool).
No, to become a good publisher of relevant, useable, useful content, you’ve got to work hard at it. Because if an organisation hasn’t armed itself up with the publishing mindset, resources, and skills required to populate their digital channels with the right content, at the right time, in the right format, to get the results they need them to achieve?
Well then, we end up creating more mess than value.
Which is exactly what so many brands wind up doing: diving head-first into new digital tools with too much emphasis on aesthetics and technical build requirements, and too little emphasis on their substance.
But if we’ve only kitted ourselves out with the gear—but not the appropriate mindset, skills, and resources to make the most of it, then we end up with…
Mess. Garbage. Crap.
Symptoms of content mess
- Masses of content spewed out, create-and-fling style, across multiple platforms without stepping back to consider the big picture.
- Inaccurate, outdated, and irrelevant content that undermines the organisation’s authority and integrity of their subject matter expertise.
- Jargon-laden content that attempts to tell, sell, and ask—rather than to show, explain and solve problems.
- Content that is difficult for users to find, navigate, and understand—meaning by default, that the organisation is difficult to find, navigate and understand.
- Content that lacks clear ownership and accountability (making it more likely for masses of content to be spewed out, create-and-fling style).
Technology has made it breathtakingly easy for anybody to create content and distribute it to thousands of people. Unfortunately, nobody told those creators what it takes to create good content, so we’re stuck wading through a deluge of drivel.
– Josh Bernoff
Too often, content for digital platforms is treated as another technical commodity: something to be loaded up and plugged into the design at the last moment. Rather than being respected as the valuable communications asset that it is.
And so… this is where content strategy comes in.
Enter content strategy
Content strategy has an essential role to play in helping teams to understand how to get the most out of their (still fairly new-fangled) online publishing platforms, so that they’re actually contributing the value to their target audiences and business goals that they need to.
Content strategy helps us our organisations to:
- bring order to create-and-fling content chaos and create joined-up publishing efforts
- understand who our content is for, the needs our content needs to address, and the problems it needs to solve
- craft consistent, accurate and engaging content that gets results
- organise and design content so that it’s easy to find, use and understand
Bottom line: if you regularly publish content across any public-facing digital channels… you’re going to need a content strategy for that.
So… what is content strategy?
The elements that something is comprised of. On the web, content describes text, images, audio, and video.
A coherent framework of analyses and decisions over what to do (and what not to do) to best achieve a desired outcome.
So based on that, here’s my take on how to understand what content strategy is and involves:
Content strategy: a short definition
Content strategy defines how an organisation’s content is going to support its business goals.
Content strategy: a longer definition
Content strategy is the framework of analyses, decisions, and tools an organisation uses to determine how content will support its business goals — including what content to create and for whom, what user needs it will support, where and how it will get published, and who internally will manage and maintain it.
Conclusion: content strategy helps us to publish less crap
- The digital age has fundamentally altered how brands communicate with their audiences.
- Specifically, we’re now able to freely publish content online to our own media such as websites, blogs, email, social media, and all that jazz.
- However, publishing quality, value-adding content that gets results is, it turns out, really difficult.
- Without the right planning, expertise, and tools in place, it’s all too easy to spew out masses of crap.
- Content strategy can be thought of as a framework of analyses, decisions, and tools to determine how content will support your business goals — including what content to create and for whom, what user needs it will support, where and how it gets published, and who internally will manage and maintain it.
- Or in plain terms: content strategy guides us to publish less crap, and more value-adding information that gets results.