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Should You Complement Your Intranet With Knowledge From Employees?

by Meghan Casey

Employee intranets have traditionally been owned and managed by technology, communications, or human resources. Today, there’s a trend toward employee intranets being owned by teams responsible for internal knowledge sharing or knowledge management.

That makes a lot of sense, but it also can cause confusion. Words like “knowledge,” “knowledge sharing,” and “content” mean different things to different people. Often, the problem is that people are trying to draw a line between knowledge and content.

That conversation goes everywhere, and then, ultimately, nowhere. Why? Because content and knowledge are not comparable terms. It’s like trying to compare an apple to helium. So, where do we begin?

First, let’s define some things

All too often, we assume people know what we mean when we use certain terms. And that can get us into trouble. So, let me define what I mean when I use the terms knowledge, knowledge sharing, and content.

Knowledge is the state of knowing something. As in:

Meghan knows a lot about "The Outsiders"

Knowledge sharing refers to the act of sharing something you know with others. It happens many ways—hallway conversations, on-the-job training, seminars, etc. Sometimes it’s enabled by technology, like this:

Meghan transfers knowledge to Sean

Content is the documentation of knowledge. It is one way in which knowledge can be tangibly shared or transferred. For example:

Sean's mind is blown by Meghan's knowledge

Enough about The Outsiders. Let’s talk intranets.

The goal of most employee intranets is to transfer knowledge from the business to its employees. That happens with business-to-employee content. Sorta like this:

Employee booking corporate travel

More and more, companies are realizing the importance of enabling employees to share knowledge with each other. That employee-to-employee content can add credibility to business-to-employee content by adding context. It can also provide business benefits, like:

  • Saving human and financial resources, because employees and teams aren’t constantly “reinventing the wheel”
  • Encouraging conversations that lead to new ways of thinking and ideas that influence profitability
  • Supporting employees’ ability to collaborate with each other and draw on each other’s missteps and successes

Intranet content folks typically are responsible for the business-to-employee content on the intranet. That’s why they are the perfect people to take on the strategic integration of existing business-to-employee content with the employee-to-employee content that may exist, or could be identified and curated, throughout the company.

OK, one last example building on the scenario above:

Employee knowledge sharing intranet example

You don’t have to own it all or do it all at once

The task of integrating business-to-employee content with employee-to-employee content might seem pretty daunting, like most every content project. But, also like most every content project, getting people to collaborate and breaking the work into manageable pieces can help.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few possible first steps:

  • Determine which topics covered on your intranet could be bolstered with a perspective from employees
  • Work with your colleagues around the organization to find out who has knowledge and experience related to those topics
  • Pick a couple topics to start with and interview the employees you identified to find out how their knowledge might translate to content
  • Put some ideas together in the form of outlines or sketches and shop them around

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Posted in Content Strategy

With Content Strategy, There’s No One Right Way

by Meghan Casey

As content strategists, we help our clients and organizations make thoughtful decisions about solving content problems. And the specific content problems our clients face vary. That’s why we’ll never be able to standardize THE approach to content strategy.

You know that saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”? We don’t want to go there. So we need to build upon what has worked for similar situations, while allowing lots of room for adaptation and innovation.

I mean, if Peter Brady can adapt to change so well, we content strategists certainly can, too.

Peter Brady

Peter knows: When it's time to change, you've got to rearrange.

Image by TV Time Warp. All rights reserved.

A content strategy approach

When we give Content Strategy 101 workshops, we outline a general framework for approaching content strategy work. At a high level, there are four steps:

Step 1: Analyze and align

This is when we dig into our clients’ content ecosystem to determine what content they have, where it comes from, who’s involved in creating, publishing, and maintaining it, what challenges they encounter, etc. Some of the activities during this phase include stakeholder interviews, quantitative audits, competitor reviews, and user research. The output is a document or presentation that helps our clients get their stakeholders aligned on what problems the content strategy needs to solve.

Step 2: Define the strategic intent

This phase is when we home in on the central ideas for how the content strategy will help our clients meet their business goals. The output typically addresses implications for the four components of content strategy: substance, structure, workflow, and governance. The output at this phase can take many forms, depending on the goals, objectives, and client needs. And the goal at the end of the phase is, again, stakeholder alignment.

(For a refresher on the four components of content strategy, check out Brain Traffic’s content strategy quad.)

Step 3: Specify the substance, structure, workflow, and governance

During this phase, we detail how the content strategy comes to life. Again, the outputs depend on several factors, but can include things like content evaluation criteria, topics maps, site maps, wireframes and templates, workflow diagrams, a governance model … you get the idea.

Step 4: Implement the strategy

We don’t always help clients with this phase, but when we do it starts with a plan for getting things done and the tools necessary to do so. Depending on our role, outputs might include page tables or outlines, web copy, metadata and taxonomy schemas, and migration spreadsheets.

No holds barred

When I start a project, I try not to let past work and experiences limit how I think about the best approach to solving the client’s problems. So, how do I decide if I should skip a step, adapt an activity, or try something I’ve never tried before?

Well, it depends.

I find the answer depends on how confident I am that I can make the best recommendations possible with the information and experience I have.

Questions I consider include:

  • Is this a problem I’ve solved successfully before?
    • If yes, I’ll probably borrow from what’s worked, but look for ways to make it work even better.
    • If no, it’s an opportunity to develop something brand new that my colleagues and I can continue to build upon.
  • How familiar am I with the client and their content?
    • If I’m not very familiar, I probably want to talk to a lot of people and spend a pretty big chunk of time auditing their content.
    • If I’ve worked with the client a lot, I might already have some assumptions in mind that I can verify with the client.

The moral of the story

Having a framework to guide our content strategy endeavors is good. It helps us describe what we do and gives us a place to start.

But, it can’t be too rigid, or it will be nearly impossible to change when it no longer works. How many times have you heard a client or colleague say, “We can’t do [AWESOME IDEA THAT IS WAY BETTER THAN WHAT WE’RE DOING NOW] because we’ve always done it this way and it’s too hard to get people to change.”

Remember, just as content strategy is constantly evolving, so your processes should, too.

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Posted in Content Strategy

Content Strategy Can Save Us All From Slobdom

by Meghan Casey

With content—like everything in life—it's easy to fall behind. Things get busy, a few content pieces get neglected, and before you know it, there's a big sloppy mess.

Believe me. I know all about sloppy. Let me describe for you my bedroom circa two weeks ago. It was messy. Real messy. My clothes were everywhere. And, when I was looking for something, I found it by thinking about when I wore it last and using that information to determine its approximate place.

Fraggle Rock fans might be envisioning something like the picture below. You wouldn’t be far off.

Marjory the Trash Heap

My room, lots of websites

I’ve worked on a number of websites filled with the kind of clutter and disorganization that makes users as crazy as my room was starting to make me. Chances are, you’ve been there, too. So, especially if you’re newer to content strategy, I thought I’d share the process I followed—which was influenced by the way I think about my work—to get my room in order. Similar steps apply to our work on the web.

Enough with the chaos

The pre-Brain Traffic me would have put her clothes away any place she could find room. Not this time. I let some things I’ve learned from content strategy guide me.

Here’s how it went down.

Step 1

I pulled everything out of drawers, laundry baskets, and suitcases and conducted a ROT analysis.

  • R = Redundant (too many of very similar things)
  • O = Outdated (also, doesn’t fit)
  • T = Trivial (includes impulse buys I wore once or never wore)

I donated or threw out about 10 large garbage bags of clothes. What was left was two good-sized piles of clothes—one to wash and keep and one to put away.

Content Strategy Tip 1

Big websites aren’t better websites. Get rid of the ROT.

You’d be amazed at what a difference you can make in the content on your site by just eliminating the stuff that is redundant, outdated, or trivial. For smaller sites, you might be able to do this in one fell swoop. For larger ones, you might have to take it a section at a time.

Step 2

I inventoried what was left. Actually, I inventoried just the clean stuff as a representative sample.

As I started sorting, the logical ways to group my clothes became apparent. I did, however, modify my groupings as I went based on things like size and quantity (keeping in mind that I had stuff to wash that would need to fit this model).

  • Shorts: casual and workout
  • Long and capri workout/yoga pants
  • Casual tank tops
  • T-shirts
  • Long-sleeved casual shirts
  • Pajamas
  • Undergarments
  • Socks
  • Swimwear
  • Sweatshirts
  • Jeans
  • Dresses
  • Dress pants
  • Dress tops
  • Skirts

Okay, you get the idea.

Content Strategy Tip 2

Take stock of what you have.

Document what’s on your site—and in other places throughout your organization, for that matter. You’ll start to see patterns that will help you organize your content later. Begin here if you need help getting started with a content inventory.

Step 3a

I surveyed the space (dresser drawers, closet, armoire) I had available to keep my clothes. From a quick review, I realized that I would have to store some stuff elsewhere. So, I weeded out the off-season clothes and put them in one of those under-the-bed containers.

Content Strategy Tip 3a

Build a library.

If one of your goals is to regularly publish content to your site to ensure people see something different every time they visit, it’s a good idea to develop content based on timely triggers that you can pull out when appropriate. Similarly, keep a reserve of evergreen content you can use to fill in the gaps.

Step 3b

Next up was determining which space would work best for which categories of clothes. In my mind, I drew a site map of my organization model that looked a little something like the following graphic. And then I put everything away. But, some things changed as I went.

meghan's organization model

Content Strategy Tip 3b

Test your concept.

Once you have a solid idea for how your content should be organized, it’s tempting to put together a site map with a bunch of page stacks and call it good. In most cases, however, someone down the line will realize that some things just don’t fit. Do everything you can to make sure every piece of content that’s necessary to satisfy identified user and business goals has a place to live.

Step 4

Once I got everything put away and started reveling in my accomplishment, I got to thinking. The conversation in my head went a little like this:

“This will have all been a waste of time if I can’t figure out how to maintain it.”

“You’re right. It will all be for nothing if you just let it get disorganized and cluttered again.”

So, I made some guidelines for myself related to maintaining and governing my clean room. They are pretty simple guidelines. It’s following them that will be tough.

  • When you change in the evening, put the clothes you wore back where they belong or in the wash.
  • If there is no room in a drawer or in the closet for an item you need to put away, find something to store or donate to make room.
  • If you buy something new, get rid of something old.
  • Conduct the ROT analysis at the end of each season.
  • Um, do your laundry, instead of just buying new clothes that you don’t need.
  • If your room is still clean at the end of each month, splurge on something special.

Content Strategy Tip 4

Make maintenance and governance a priority.

When you’re thinking about what content to include and how it should be organized, keep the sustainability of your ideas and how you’ll know whether they’re working top-of-mind. A website that you’re not able to keep up with after launch can damage your relationships with your customers or visitors. And more and more, you’ll be asked to prove that what you’ve developed is worth the effort.

In case you’re wondering, I’m just over a week in and everything is still in tip-top shape. All it takes is discipline and a keen desire to leave the mess behind.

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Posted in Content Strategy

Serial Killer: The Dissing of the Oxford Comma

by Meghan Casey

"There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don't, and I'll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken."
- Lynn Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves

In June, it was discovered that Oxford University had revised its style guide and pulled the plug on the use of the Oxford comma (otherwise known as the serial comma).

They issued the following guidelines:

As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used—especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and’:

They had a choice between croissants, bacon and eggs, and muesli.

There are some cases where the comma is clearly obligatory:

The bishops of Canterbury, Oxford, Bath and Wells, and Salisbury

Now, to be clear, The Oxford Style Manual, which is governed by the autonomous Oxford University Press and for which the Oxford comma is named, has done no such thing. (Phew.)

What we said

At Brain Traffic (a.k.a. wordnerd central), Oxford University’s decision to drop the serial comma was cause for immediate debate. We had a very civil, yet heated, discussion about our reactions. Here are some choice quotes. (NOTE: You may or may not be able to see my personal biases come through here.)

The yays (i.e., the people who are right)

Melissa Rach:
To me, the serial comma is a courtesy. Is it required? No. Is it a nice thing to do for your users? Absolutely. Incidentally, in journalism school, I learned that early newspapers removed the serial comma (and the second space between sentences) to conserve column space. So, it wasn’t about best practices, it was about money and discourteous typesetters. Maybe I will write to Miss Manners for support.

Angie Halama:
When I was a copyeditor, the in-house style where I worked did not call for using the Oxford, or serial, comma. But, as the Oxford Style Guide entry on the comma points out, there are still times the serial comma is needed to “assist in the meaning of a sentence” or “help resolve ambiguity.” And these situations can be ambiguous in themselves. I worked with smart writers, so this wasn’t usually a big deal. But for many people, the intricacies of punctuation rules are confusing, frustrating, and ridiculous. That’s why copyeditors exist, but even they have to wade through these complexities. So why not simplify just one thing and make the serial comma the rule? Then everyone can save their energy for more important things, like knowing when to hyphenate a compound modifier. Which I know you’ve been really concerned about. As you should be.

Tenessa Gemelke:
My vote? CLARITY.

The serial comma rarely introduces confusion, but it often saves the day with its clear enumeration. For example, consider the following list of options:

Your sandwich choices are turkey, beef, ham, and Cheez Whiz.

The serial comma is essential here. Although wise people know Cheez Whiz tastes best as a singular sandwich ingredient, crazy people might try to eat it with ham. In most uses, the serial comma makes it clear that the final and penultimate items in a list are distinct from each other.

Of course, there are rare instances in which the serial comma causes trouble:

I dedicate this book to my father, Burt Reynolds, and America.

Is this book dedicated to three entities, or am I the secret love child of Burt Reynolds? In either case, it would be clearer to revise:

I dedicate this book to my father, Burt Reynolds and America.

I dedicate this book to my father (Burt Reynolds) and America.

I’m okay with ditching the serial comma when it’s problematic. But nine times out of ten, adding it makes for clearer reading. And that’s why I love it very, very much.

Kristina Halvorson:
I like the serial comma the way I like my punctuation outside of the quotation marks (which, by the way, makes me a sympathizer to the Brits and a traitorous American). They delineate; they contextualize. Generally speaking, I prefer extra-strength clarity: the serial comma singles out each item or phrase in your list so there's no confusion about what is grouped with (or attached to) what. Is it more cluttered? Yeah, sure. But it's worth the added clarity and meaning. And you know who agrees with me about commas? SHAKESPEARE, THAT'S WHO.

P.S. Next they're probably going to try to get rid of using ALL CAPS FOR EMPHASIS. WHAT?

Christine Anameier:
Damn them!

I like the serial comma because I feel it reduces ambiguity. Emily dislikes it because she feels it adds unneeded complexity. I don’t really care what other people do as long as I can continue to use it. That’s essentially my approach to all the style controversies at BT: live and let live.

Long live the serial comma.

Meghan Casey
Well, I have an online dating profile up on the internets. In it, I write, “I use the serial comma. Get used to it.” So, yeah, you get the picture.

The nays (i.e., the people who are wrong)

Emily Folstad:
Finally! Serial comma = unnecessary typographic clutter. Good riddance! Does this mean that Brain Traffic proofreaders will finally stop filling up my documents with that little sucker?

Julie Vollenweider:
I’m an informal and impatient gal. If I could write everything in shorthand or abbreviations, I would. Punctuation included. I’m in full support of Oxford University editing the serial comma right on out of the rules. Just wish the Oxford Style Manual would follow suit.

In conclusion

Clearly, the yays have it. According to me. (And, anyway, the Brain Traffic style guide says to use the serial comma. So there.)

But, don’t be glum, naysayers. At least there is an (overplayed) theme song for people who don’t give a **** about the Oxford comma. Take it away, Vampire Weekend …

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Posted in Style Guides and Such

Give Content Strategy a Fighting Chance

by Meghan Casey

Every content project has stakeholders. And while developing and documenting your content strategy is super important, it’s nothing more than paper or electronic files without their support.

Getting to Kumbaya

Content projects touch a wide variety of stakeholders in an organization. Most of the time, these projects don’t start out with everyone holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” As I regularly tell client stakeholders, “I’ll be surprised if you agree on everything. This is your time to talk it out.”

Kumbaya Singers

To get to the hand-holding and singing, follow these five steps:

1.  Identify your stakeholders
First, make a list of the stakeholders for your project. Get specific—not just “someone from product development.” Find out precise names and titles. 

Then, determine what type of stakeholder each person is. I categorize using these seven types (one person can be assigned to more than one category):

  • Sponsor – This is the person who gets the recognition or takes the fall. There’s usually only one.
  • Financial decision-makers – Again, there’s usually only one, but there could be more. These are the people who decide whether your project (or parts of your project) gets funded.
  • Strategic decision-makers – These are the people who have a problem that your project can or should solve. They are usually pretty vocal, and can approve/veto your work.
  • Champions – These are the people you can count on to evangelize the importance of content and content strategy.
  • Derailers – While these people don’t have official veto power, they can stop the project in its tracks (intentionally or unintentionally). They are often outside the obvious pool of project stakeholders, but impacted by the project outcomes. 
  • Influencers – These people have opinions and insight that should be considered, but they don’t have veto power.
  • Implementers – These are the people who are responsible for putting your strategy into action. They often have very specific knowledge or expertise.

2.  Get ’em involved
Alignment is not about telling people what you think and then asking them to agree. It’s about getting stakeholders to participate in the project, so they feel invested in and committed to the strategy. Work with your project sponsor to ensure all stakeholders are involved in some way.  Some stakeholders need to be more involved than others, but everyone needs to be aware of your project objectives and updated on project progress.

3.  Anticipate their needs
A very wise woman once told me that objections are needs or concerns in disguise. The more you know about your stakeholders’ needs and concerns, the better you can address them.  Cultivate understanding between team members and avoid surprise objections later. Keep in mind that their needs will likely change as you progress through your project, so reassess as you go.

4.  Craft your messages
Once you have a pretty good idea about what your stakeholders care about, start thinking of messages that will resonate with them most. For each of your stakeholders, complete the sentence, “She needs content strategy because …” Center your discussions with that person around what’s most important to her. 

A simple stakeholder matrix can help you collect information about your stakeholders and organize your messages.

stakeholder matrix

5.  Don’t align ’em and leave ’em
Stakeholder alignment isn’t something that happens just once on your content project. It happens over and over throughout the project—from inception to implementation. Getting and keeping stakeholders aligned throughout the process is hard work.  At every key point (or at regular intervals), don’t forget to stop, drop, and align.

If you pay attention to alignment, with any luck all of the stakeholders will be singing “Kumbaya.” And their favorite verses may include stuff like: “Someone’s creating content, Kumbaya …” or “Someone’s auditing stuff, Kumbaya …” Feel free to improvise your own.  

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Posted in Content Strategy

A-ha: Content strategists never stop learning

by Meghan Casey

We’re not afraid to admit that none of us at Brain Traffic have all the content strategy answers. With every project, we uncover something new or have a big-ass revelation. So, we thought we’d share some of our recent a-ha moments.

Respect my authoritah

A haiku and commentary by Meghan Casey, Content Strategist

Authoritah needs
To be respected by all
Who care for content

Okay, so maybe this needs some explanation. When I think about the authority aspect of website governance, I typically ask:

•    Who should have central day-to-day authority to make web content decisions? For example, if a content request comes in for an urgent change that just doesn’t fit with the content strategy, who is empowered to say no?
•    Who should be involved in long-term strategic decision making related to web content? For example, which stakeholders should be invited to regular content governance meetings to review the content strategy and plan for content work?

Both of these things are important, of course. But it occurred to me in a meeting with a client the other day that people involved with content creation throughout an organization often have to give authority to colleagues in their own departments.

Let’s say that a product group is responsible for hundreds of pages of content and has appointed one person to do a final review of all product content before it goes live. It’s imperative that everyone in the product group trust that person’s decision-making authority so second-guessing doesn’t lead to bottlenecks in the content process.

Inside search

A lesson in findability by Kristina Halvorson, Founder and CEO

One of my recent a-ha moments was when it really hit me how much of a focus internal site search needs to be when working through content strategies for large, content-rich websites. It'll take a long time to actually implement changes, but if people are going to fix their sites, then users need to be able to find stuff on those sites via intuitive search. AND it's critical to have a solid content strategy that informs structure, workflow, and governance to keep the metadata attributes and taxonomy schemas up to date as things change with the organization and its offerings.

If you want to find out more, get your hands on Lou Rosenfeld’s book on site search analytics when it comes out.

Whistle while you work

A Brain Traffic noob’s tale by Tenessa Gemelke

The work of content strategy is less like a job and more like school. Study. Do your homework. Read all of the assignments. Discuss with peers. Learn from experts. Think hard. Use your whole brain.

Some schoolwork is intellectually stimulating, but some of it is tedious or daunting. It’s always helpful to take the long view and look toward the feeling of achievement you’ll have when you complete each course.

Taking this approach can change the way you think about clients and deliverables. This isn’t just a series of tasks and deadlines. Mastery and understanding of the content are the real reasons we nerds show up each day.

Psychology isn’t just for diagnosing your friends and family

A discovery in three parts by Melissa Rach, VP of Content Strategy

MY DISCOVERY: I have been doing research on what makes content interesting from a psychology standpoint.  A professor named Paul Silva (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) has done some research on it. It’s kind of complicated, but one of his theories is that something needs to be easily comprehensible to capture somebody’s interest, but increasingly complex (in substance, not writing style) to keep somebody’s interest. The theory definitely applies to content organization and linking strategies, but it has implications in a lot of other areas, too.

WHY IT IS COOL: As content strategists, obviously it’s part of our jobs to ensure content is interesting to users. But, much of the work we do is based on instinct and experience. I like finding research that we can use to understand our practice better and vet our ideas.

WHERE YOU CAN LEARN MORE: Exploring the Psychology of Interest.

Share your a-ha moments

We’d love to find out what you’ve learned on-the-job.

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy

Can Your Content Strategy Handle the Truth About Governance?

by Meghan Casey

I’ve noticed a bit of a trend lately in content strategy blog posts. A lot of them only talk about the content side of content strategy—what content is needed, why it’s needed, who it’s for, what format it should be in, etc.

A whole lot of them are missing a really important component of content strategy: Governance. Specifically, the importance of:

  • Getting everyone to agree with the core purpose—and structure—of the site, and the messages it needs to convey
  • Empowering someone (or a small group of someones) to make long-term and day-to-day decisions about content

These things are just as important, if not more important, than the content itself.

Content strategy – governance = face-hating

Consider this made-up story of what can happen without governance, even with the best of intentions:

Once upon a time, a Content Strategist arrived at work, coffee in hand, eager to continue the challenging—yet fulfilling—task of overseeing his employer’s website content. Months before, he developed and implemented a content strategy for the site. It included a lot of really great stuff, from content objectives to an editorial calendar, and everything in between.

All of these things had helped to dramatically improve the site’s content. Content drafts required less editing. Calls to action were more compelling. Customer service was getting fewer calls from people who couldn’t find what they were looking for.

With all of these positive results, the Content Strategist was surprised—jaw-droppingly aghast, even—when he opened the site and found something on the home page that didn’t fit with the content strategy. Even worse, he knew nothing about it.

It was an interactive, Flash-based “Letter from the President,” full of company pats on the back, corporate speak, industry jargon, and nothing of value to site users. And, it clearly cost a lot of money to produce. Like half of the annual content creation budget.

The Content Strategist exclaimed, “Ellllgghhhh. Who did this? I hate his face.”

Once he determined that it was the Director of Executive Communications who was responsible, the Content Strategist grabbed his Editorial Specialist colleague for moral support and marched to the Director’s office. The following heated conversation occurred.  It might sound familiar.*

Content Strategist
"Did you order the interactive Letter from the President?"

Director of Executive Communications
"You want answers?"

Content Strategist
"I think I’m entitled."

Director of Executive Communications
"You want answers?"

Content Strategist
"I want the truth!"

Director of Executive Communications
"You can't handle the truth!

Son, I serve the most powerful person in this company. The person who signs our paychecks.

Who’s going to keep the CEO happy? You? You, Mr. Editorial Specialist?

I have more responsibility than you can fathom.

You weep for the home page and curse the CEO’s office of communications.

You don't know what I know. That interactive Letter from the President saved jobs.

And my existence, while grotesque to you, appeases the person who approves your budget.

But deep down, in places you don't talk about at content meetings, you need me in the CEO’s office.

I haven't the time or inclination to explain myself to someone who needs my protection but questions the way I provide it.

Better just to thank me. Or sit in a meeting with the CEO and indulge her every whim.

Either way, I don't give a darn what you think you are entitled to!"

Content Strategist
"Did you order the interactive Letter from the President?"

Director of Executive Communications
"You're gosh darn right I did!"

And so the Content Strategist bowed his head and left the office, with no recourse to fix the situation.

Hindsight is 20/20

The Content Strategist learned a lot from this experience. Rather than agonizing in his defeat, he took a more proactive approach. One that allowed him to salvage all the great stuff in his content strategy and prevent such a thing from happening again.

To gain alignment with the CEO’s office, he scheduled a meeting to discuss a few things with the Director of Executive Communications, including:

  • Why content strategy is important to the business
  • The content strategy document he uses to guide content decisions
  • A proposal for establishing governance that includes stakeholder alignment, content planning processes, and a decision-making model
  • Recommendations for how the interactive Letter from the President could be re-purposed to meet business goals and user needs
  • A request to present the same information to the CEO to get her buy-in and support

The meeting was a success. You see, the Director of Executive Communications knew the interactive Letter from the President was a bad idea. But, with nothing compelling to stop him from following his marching orders, he found it easiest to please his boss rather than push back.

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you know that it’s pretty hard to say no when you don’t have anything formal or documented to back it up. Get some governance—and get more control.

*Adapted from the film A Few Good Men

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Posted in Content Strategy, Web Content

Content strategy with a British accent

by Meghan Casey

Meghan Casey and Jonathan Kahn


After spending some quality time with our pal Jonathan Kahn at Web Content Chicago 2010 in June, we convinced the fellow content strategy evangelist to make a trip to sunny Minneapolis. Jonathan is founder of London-based web design agency Together London, author of the blog Lucid Plot, and an all-around smart cookie. We like him.

Amidst his whirlwind of tourist activities and an intense round of bar trivia (we won third place), Jonathan obligingly sat down with me to talk shop. I can’t wait to revisit the podcast myself: I was too entranced by his charming accent to pay much attention at the time. (Kidding!)

Listen in to hear this brilliant Brit wax poetic on:

  • How he came to the practice of content strategy
  • How to fix a broken web development process
  • Content strategy: A job for one or many?

The best part, though, is where I make him say something Minnesotan. (You won’t be disappointed.)

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You may also download the mp3.

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Posted in Around the Office, Brain Traffic, Content Strategy, Web Content

Content people care about: Find your orphaned baby bear

by Meghan Casey

The Bear Center in Ely, Minn., has posted daily updates about Hope, an orphaned black bear, every day since she was abandoned by her mother Lily in May. Their audience has come to expect these updates, and the Bear Center delivers. Consistently.

I doubt the Bear Center has a name for what they are doing. But, what they actually have is … you guessed it, a content strategy. It’s simple: Give Hope fans what they want, then ask them to give money to help bears.

It’s working. Donations have increased exponentially. Even better, loyal readers are out there rustling up fundraising opportunities for the Bear Center. On their own. Without being asked. I’ve never seen such a captive and engaged online audience.

Why their content strategy works
For starters, they’ve got the cute, cuddly bear thing going for them. But there’s more to it than that. The Bear Center:

♦ Stands for something people can get excited about- Their mission is to protect bears in the wild through research and education.

♦ Takes a stand- They aren’t afraid to justify their decision to intervene in Hope’s life. Rather, they welcome conversation on the topic.

♦ Has a clear call to action- “Donate to the Bear Center” comes through loud and clear.

♦ Makes content a priority- Their researchers write daily updates. Even on weekends. After spending all day in the field studying bears.

♦ Inspires people to join a community- More than a million people “like” their Facebook page and hundreds visit it daily to talk to each other.

♦ Re-uses content- The same updates are posted to their website and their Facebook page, helping to increase their reach.

How content strategy can work for you
So what if you don’t have a cuddly orphaned bear to attract and retain an audience? That’s okay. You have stuff to say. And there are people who want to hear it.

Now for that content strategy thingamajig. Here are four things you can do now, on a limited budget, without an army of staff to find your very own orphaned baby bear:

♦ Start small- Pick one piece of your website. The section that gets the most visitors. Your blog. The home page. Whatever. Then, do the following three things:

♦ Identify your point of view- Content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi said at Web Content 2010, “It’s not what you sell. It’s what you stand for.” That one remark was tweeted about a bajillionty times. Cuz it’s true. Figure out what you stand for, make sure it’s different from what everyone else stands for, and then tell people who care.

♦ Define your core purpose- Before you go creating content, spend some time outlining the purpose of the content to make sure everything you publish is on-target. One way to do this is to answer a few questions, such as:

  •  Who is the content for?
  •  Does your audience care about your message?
  •  Does it make sense for you to talk about it?
  •  What are you trying to accomplish?
  •  What do you want people to do after they read or experience it?

♦ Be bossy- Okay, you’ve got your point of view and you’ve got your purpose. Now you need the content. Set a publishing schedule—something you can realistically adhere to—and assign roles and responsibilities for creators, reviewers, editors, and publishers.

Now, go forth and create content people care about.

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Posted in Content Strategy, Editorial Strategy

Avoid this common error

by Meghan Casey

 I had an interesting twiscussion with my favorite grammar guru Grammar Girl the other day. Take a look:

(click to see full size image)
The error of our ways
Many people in the business of creating websites think of error messages (and other user interface copy) as back-end technology mumbo jumbo, and therefore somebody else’s job. Not true! Error messages are content, too.
As such, they deserve the same attention as any of the other user-facing words on your site. Grammar Girl’s puzzlement over her readers thinking she writes the error messages raises an interesting point. Especially because she goes on to say that “marketing” writes "a lot of the user-interface text."
Why interface copy but not error messages?
I put those two things in the same category: Content that’s often written with the back-end systems in mind, rather than the end users, and content that gets ignored until the last minute. In other words, content that leaves programmers scrambling to whip something up quickly before a site goes live. Left to scramble, programmers don’t have time to think about what would really help the user do whatever it is they came to your website to do.
I would like to amend my comment to Grammar Girl that suggests programmers shouldn’t be the ones writing error messages. I actually don’t think it matters who writes them as long as they are focused on users needs.
And I’ll be the first to admit planning for and writing error messages is not the sexiest of web writing tasks. But it can be one of the most important. A frustrating experience on your website just gives users an excuse to hit the black button or click on that red x.
Blast from the past
This brief exchange with Grammar Girl reminded me of this gem of a blog post that Brain Traffic’s Erin Anderson wrote last year showing the differences between bad and pretty awesome error messages. You’ll find tips like these to help ensure your error messages are carefully crafted with the user in mind:
  • Tell users what the problem is.
  • Follow up with what they can do to fix it (if anything).
  • Avoid alarmist phrases like “failure” and “fatal.”
Check it out!


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Posted in Content Strategy, Uncategorized, Web Writing