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You Are Not Alone

by Kristina Halvorson on February 9th, 2010

Every time I give a content strategy workshop, there are two things I hear from participants.
The first is this:
We’re still doing content wrong in our company, and I’m really embarrassed about it.
Even if these aren’t the exact words attendees use, it’s the message they’re sending loud and clear every time they raise their hand to ask a question. “Sorry my company is so behind the curve, but…” or “I realize everyone else knows what they’re doing, but…”
Let me tell you something: There are very, very few organizations that actually have their acts together when it comes to content. Furthermore, no one knows where to start fixing their content. Tools? People? Time? Nonexistent.
If you’re sitting in a content strategy workshop, you’re an early adopter. If you’re participating in the content strategy Google Group, attending (or starting) a Meetup, planning to come to the Content Strategy Forum in Paris … you are, quite literally, a pioneer in this field.
You’re not late to the party. The conversation has only begun.
Here’s the second thing I hear:
            This is hard.
Well, HELL YES, it’s hard. You’re not going to leave a workshop or a one-hour talk and go back to your company and suddenly find yourself with funding and staff and group hugs. (If that were the case, I would charge a lot more. Booyah.)
There’s a reason content strategy is The Next Big Thing, and it’s not because it’s easy or cheap. It’s because content is a huge, pain-in-the-ass, expensive, out-of-control problem. And, as with any big messy problem, getting to a solution is going to take time. Creating a smart plan for the creation, delivery, and governance of your web content means research and reflection. Trial and error. And selling your plan to The Powers that Be—winning attention, approval, and resources—is going to take even longer.
Be. Patient.
Ask smart questions. Be brave about sharing your insights. Don’t hesitate to point out what’s broken, or how your competition is doing it better. Use SEO results (or lack thereof) and content inventories and workflow analyses and anything else you can think of to frame your content problem.
Remember: While content strategy isn’t new, the conversation is. And it’s early. Don’t be in a huge rush, and don’t lose hope. 
Patience. Persistence. A sense of humor. You’ll need them all if you want content strategy. Now, get to it.

  • Nlee

    Thanks for this post. I am just beginning my journey to convincing people we need to start with content first! I have a workshop planned this week to kick this off…I hope the response is good!

  • The dog

    It's SO HARD arguing for attention on content (text, pictures, links, tags, usergenerated, centrally produced etc) in our huge task-oriented intranet project. Intranets today must of course be task-oriented, keeping focus on value, but the focus lies on Interaction design/Information Architecture and goes no further.

    There is a lot to gain for a company making content effective and immediate understandable for the user.

    To promote that content should be a part of the SCRUM prosess – f.ex. test if the user easily understand the content and not only easily find the content – is like being a dog talking to a fish. (I really like agile/iterative methods, though.)

  • staceykinggordon

    Thanks for the post Kristina! I attended IxDA's Interaction10 this past weekend and found that every time I introduced myself as “I am a content strategist” (tentatively, of course, because it's the first time I've definitively described myself that way), heads turned, ears perked up, people asked to learn more … it is starting to happen!

  • ianalexander

    Perhaps I don't say thank you enough for the horse, cart and plow you've wielded. So, Thank you.

  • melanie75

    Ah, this post is so comforting. It's hard to avoid thinking I'm way behind the times (and so is my company) when I see smart, savvy pros like the folks at Brain Traffic.

    It's good to know that having a huge content mess on your hands is normal. Good, no. Easy, no. Normal, yes.

  • tormodguldvog

    Excellent observations, Kristina. It was a blast having you here in Oslo for Software 2010. I think we all feel the pressure of endless piles of smelly content, and no clear mandates to get it sorted (unless we take it upon ourselves to do it) (because we're either slaves, or stupid, or both). Or because we're passionate about wen content and usability, perhaps.

    I always tell the people I train that they really know most of what they need. Yeah, they may feel outclassed in their own organization – but who else is any better at setting rules for content than the folks who want to do something about it? Just do it, and do it anyway you like. Then we wrap your ideas into concepts we dig out of the Red Book.

  • http://aaronhoos.com/ Aaron Hoos

    “Patience. Persistence. A sense of humor.” Good advice for even more than just content strategy! Entrepreneurs and professionals could use that tattooed on the insides of their eyelids.

  • sindrew

    First of all, thanks for a great workshop in Oslo, you're norwegian was… surprising(ly good).
    I'm in a situation now where I'm trying to get the org. to take content seriously, sadly our web-editor and crew are pretty far down the foodchain (as with so many of your examples.), so right now elevating their status seems like job number one. *stop rant*

    Anyway. Just thank you very much for expanding my arsenal of arguments!

  • dhutson

    We're beginning our content strategy development process with Brain Traffic this week and I'm looking forward to it. Nice to know we're ahead of the curve, but it doesn't surprise me. Developing content for any communication channel has always been a challenge because most people just don't get it. It's about the right content for the right audience, done the right way. Seems simple but apparently it isn't.

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