By Sarah O’Keefe
When you are buried under the usual uncooperative deliverables and facing impossible deadlines, it’s hard to find time for the big picture. Can you just put your head down, do your work, and ignore the “content strategy” buzz?
Content strategy may not affect your short-term goals, but it needs to be part of your long-term planning. Thinking about content strategy is the difference between asking, “How do I get this PDF formatted correctly?” and “Should we be delivering PDF to our customers?”
To begin moving toward content strategy in your organization, you need to learn about the organization and its goals. What are the goals that executives are striving to meet this quarter, this year, and in the next three years?
If you understand the overall business goals, how should content contribute to the business goals? For example, if the organization intends to increase its global market share, do you have a plan for delivering information in the needed languages? If the organization intends to break a large product into components, how will you provide the relevant information to customers? If the organization is buying up companies, what is your plan for integrating the various technical communication operations?
In addition to the big-picture questions, examine your own operations. Is your content-creation process efficient? Is the content useful to readers? Is the content accurate, up-to-date, and complete? How is the reputation of your products affected by content?
A new content strategy can change your job. Once you see content in terms of its contributions to business goals, you may end up creating different deliverables and using new tools and technologies. This means professional growth for you, which may be painful, but is probably a good idea in the long term.
In my new book, Content Strategy 101, I wrote this:
Without a content strategy, you will waste time and money with inefficient processes to create information products that do not support your business goals. Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, says that “Content is a business asset worthy of being managed.” When done poorly, technical content is a liability—it can result in damage to your reputation, lost sales, and legal problems.
You need a content strategy to ensure that you:
- Deliver the right information
- Deliver information effectively
- Engage your customers and build community
- Streamline your publishing process
- Meet legal and regulatory requirements
- Control the cost of content
In many organizations, content strategy starts with the last bullet: cost control. The advantage of starting with cost control is that you can show immediate results—more efficient content creation and localization. But cost control isn’t a very interesting strategy. A more interesting question is this: How can the content you deliver help ensure the success of the organization? Perhaps you could change how you create installation and configuration guides, which helps your technical support organization when they help customers to get started. Maybe you need to produce more attractive content because your product competes with organizations that already do so? Or maybe you can use your content to feed a product configuration tool that lets customers compare different options as they decide which product version they want?
The possibilities are endless. Once you understand the overall business goals, you can develop requirements for your content. The requirements drive the decision you make about content.
We are just getting started with content strategy in technical communication. What do you think your first step should be?
Portions excerpted from Content Strategy 101: Transform Technical Content into a Business Asset by Sarah S. O’Keefe and Alan S. Pringle, ISBN 978-0-9828118-4-9. The full text of the book is available online at www.contentstrategy101.com.
Contact Sarah via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Alyssa Fox for her review of this article.
About the Author:
Sarah O’Keefe is the founder of Scriptorium Publishing (www.scriptorium.com) and a content strategy consultant. Sarah’s focus is how to use technical content to solve business problems; she is especially interested in how new technologies can streamline publishing workflows to achieve strategic goals. Her latest book is Content Strategy 101: Transform Technical Content into a Business Asset.
Sarah speaks fluent German, is a voracious reader, and enjoys swimming, kayaking, and other water sports along with knitting and college basketball. She has strong aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.