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Stakeholder Interviews: Engage the Octopus

by Melissa Rach on July 26th, 2012

Most of the time when a content project begins, there are interviews with key stakeholders within the organization. The project sponsors and/or their outside consultants often talk to the “strategic decision makers”—generally the highest ranking people you have access to, such as the VP of marketing or the director of such-and-such. It’s a good place to start. After all, strategic decision makers have important insights (and budgets).

But bigwigs rarely maintain web content. In fact, in a lot of cases strategic decision makers don’t have the subject matter knowledge needed to select or create the content in the first place. In his book, What Is Strategy, and Does It Matter?, Richard Whittingham says, “Knowledge resides inside the heads of lower ranking staff, not in the files of top management.”

When it comes to content, organizations are a bit like an octopus. The strategic decision makers are in the head of octopus—setting the overall direction. But just like an octopus needs all eight arms to move forward, good web content needs help from people at all levels of the organization. If it’s a manufacturing company, the most accurate information about the products may live in the heads of the engineering or R&D teams. A healthcare organization that wants to publish content about diseases or treatments will likely need help from healthcare practitioners, like doctors. And, no matter what an organization does, the people who are assigned to create and maintain content know the most about how much they can realistically accomplish.

Engage The Octopus

Here is a DIY octopus org chart from bigactivities.com!

So, don’t just interview the people in the executive suite. Engage the entire octopus. Identify subject matter experts and people responsible for the content, and interview a few of them, too.  Ask them things like:

  • How much time do you have to spend on content (for the initial launch AND ongoing maintenance)?
  • What is your role in the content process (e.g., subject matter expert, content creator, content approver… all of the above)?
  • How does content get created in the organization—is there a set process or is it bedlam? If there is a set process, is it tenable or do people use workarounds to avoid it?  
  • What information or messages would you most like to convey to the user?
  • If you talk to the users regularly, what kind of information do the users ask you for or need?

Now, interviewing these people doesn’t mean you have to do everything they suggest. But, knowing what the content-specific stakeholders want and need will help you (and the strategic decision makers) understand opportunities and risks associated with content. Maybe the site you’re designing would require the organization to hire more people to update the content appropriately. Maybe you can see that a certain subject matter expert has something unexpectedly great to say.  Or, maybe just talking to content stakeholders will get them excited to help your project succeed.

Whatever you learn, by engaging the whole octopus, you’ll have far fewer unpleasant surprises when you hand over the reins to the “content doers” after launch.

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Posted in Content Strategy

From the Archive: Brain Traffic Lands the Quad

by Melissa Rach on July 5th, 2012

Happy (belated) Fourth of July! On holidays, Brain Traffic celebrates by reposting a favorite blog from our archive. Since our minds are back on the Olympics, we thought this blog post from March 2011 was appropriate this week. And we’ve updated the design of our “quad” with new colors, adding yet another thrill to the make-your-own-medal craft project at the bottom of the post.


At the last Winter Olympics, figure skater Evan Lysacek won the gold medal without a quad jump, much to the chagrin of the Russian favorite, Evgeni “The-KGB-stole-Steve-Perry’s-mullet-for-me” Plushenko.

Afterwards, Evgeni glowered and ranted. He briefly stood on the gold medal platform at the medals ceremony. His official website declared him the “platinum” medal winner. He made it clear that you need a quad to compete. Vladimir Putin agreed.

I don’t know about you, but we at Brain Traffic got the message. I mean, seriously, Evgeni and Vladimir are not guys you want mad at you. So, we got to work.

The Content Strategy Quad

As of today, the Brain Traffic team has been landing its own quad regularly for more than a year. But our quad isn’t an ice-skating feat—it’s an infographic describing the critical components we consider in every content strategy.

Brain Traffic Content Strategy Quad

What It All Means

At the center is the core content strategy, the central idea for using content to achieve an organization's business goals. To achieve that strategy most effectively, we look at four closely related components (the four areas of the quad):

Content-focused components

  1. Substance—What kind of content do we need (topics, types, sources, etc.), and what messages does content need to communicate to our audience? 
  2. Structure—How is content prioritized, organized, formatted, and displayed? (Structure can include communication planning, IA, metadata, data modeling, linking strategies, etc.)  

People-focused components

  1. Workflow—What processes, tools, and human resources are required for content initiatives to launch successfully and maintain ongoing quality?
  2. Governance—How are key decisions about content and content strategy made? How are changes initiated and communicated?

So Far, It's Getting High Marks

Our quad will probably never be discussed by Dick Button and Scott Hamilton, but over the past year it has received consistently high marks from clients and seminar attendees. The quad helps people quickly understand the complexity of content strategy and puts their content challenges into perspective.

Bonus quad-related craft project

Want to look like a content strategy Olympian? Here’s how:

  1. Print this page
  2. Cut out the quad
  3. Poke a hole in the middle
  4. Put it on a string around your neck

Presto, you’re just like Evgeni.

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No-pout Routes: Ways to Do Content Strategy on a Budget

by Melissa Rach on March 22nd, 2012

Maybe you’re a small organization. Or maybe you’re trying to introduce content strategy to a large one. Either way, getting the budget for a full-fledged content strategy can be a challenge. But never fear, just because you don’t have a lot of budget doesn’t mean you have to stand around looking like our friend, Eel Poutface.

Eel poutface

You can make a lot of progress by starting slow and getting a few quick wins. Here are a few ways Brain Traffic helps clients with limited budgets get some content strategy satisfaction.

Audits & diagnostics

It’s often said, “knowing is half the battle.” Audits and diagnostics are the quickest way to get to know your content and content processes inside out. During these projects, you take a thorough look at your content and/or content processes, in order to:

  • Understand the scale and scope of your content or resource expenditures
  • Identify risks and opportunities
  • Make the business case for further content strategy work
  • Prioritize future content projects

When you’re done with audit and diagnostic work, you’ll be able to back up your opinions about content with real examples and stats. Persuasive tangible data, like this:

Content audit graphic

There are a wide variety of ways you can do audit and diagnostic projects, but the two most popular requests we receive are:

  • Qualitative content audit—A content audit (sometimes called an inventory) is a traditional way to kick off content strategy efforts. During an audit, you’ll go through your content, piece-by-piece, with a fine-tooth comb. A qualitative assessment is an audit that helps you understand the quality of the content you have. You can measure your content against industry best practices, competitive benchmarks, strategic business objectives, or all of the above. You can look at all of your content or just do a sample. At the end of the audit, you’ll have a thorough understanding of what content you have and what state it’s in.
  • Content organization diagnostic evaluation (CODE)—You’re probably familiar with financial auditors who review a business’ financial processes and records. A CODE works the same way, but it’s focused on content and has no threat of reporting you to the IRS. In fact, it’s not scary at all. Basically, a third-party content expert (or team of experts) takes a good, hard look at your content ecosystem—they examine your content, your content workflow, the user’s needs, competitive strategies, industry trends, and more. Whether you do a comprehensive CODE (which takes several weeks) or an accelerated workshop version, you’ll wind up with a better understanding of your pain points—what causes them and how to eliminate them. And, you’ll likely discover new areas of competitive advantage to boot. Bonus!

Quick-start strategies

If content strategy is new to your organization, another terrific option is to start with a small, contained content strategy project. That way you can:

  • Introduce your organization to content strategy concepts
  • Get measurement data to prove your case
  • Show concrete results—with your own content

If your project goes well, you can share the results with anyone and everyone. It’s much easier to get a bigger budget next time, when you can prove past victories—no matter how small. Again, here are a few of the most popular budget-friendly services Brain Traffic offers:

  • Strategy sprint—A strategy sprint is a two-day, facilitated workshop where you, your key content stakeholders, and Brain Traffic team members sit in a room and go through the content strategy process at a super-human pace. (Think Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, without Ty Pennington or his megaphone.) At the end, you get a preliminary content strategy (accompanied by a long list of assumptions and to-dos). If you’re a medium or large organization, a sprint can be a perfect way to jumpstart a larger conversation about content strategy. If you are a small organization OR have a really small project, you can take the strategy and run with it.
  • Strategy pilot—You can also do a full-scale content strategy for a small segment of your content. In her blog post, “The Inside Job,” Brain Traffic’s Christine Benson advises: “Find low visibility content with high potential. People often have strong opinions about the home page and main section pages. These content hot spots can be difficult starting points until you have some success stories to back you up. Look for things that have high potential for customer engagement, but usually get ignored. Support content like help sections, customer service pages, or error messages are good candidates.”

Awareness initiatives

If you have absolutely no budget for content projects right now, don’t be discouraged. No matter what, keep building your case for content strategy, slowly but surely.

Keep engaging your colleagues in content strategy conversations:

  • Do brown bag lunches to discuss what content strategy is, and how it could help your organization
  • Forward relevant blog posts or pass around your copy of Content Strategy for the Web
  • Or, contact us to have a Brain Traffic strategist do an hour-long webinar about content strategy for your team

And, get involved with the content strategy community:

Keep at it, and be patient. It’ll be worth it.

OR, you could just pout it out

Of course, if you’d rather not take any action AT ALL, you can try to pout it out. At Brain Traffic, we don’t have any experience with that method, but who knows, it might work. Maybe the people at the Eelpout Festival can give you some pointers.

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Alignment: The Secret to a Successful Content Strategy

by Melissa Rach on February 16th, 2012

Pssst. Here’s a trade secret. At Brain Traffic, we can usually predict how successful a content strategy will be after the first few weeks with a client. No, we’re not clairvoyant. We don’t even have a fancy algorithm or success scorecard.

Here’s the trick: We simply look at how receptive the project sponsors are to collaborating with others within their organization. It’s our experience that people who are open to input and opinions succeed far more often than those who try to keep their projects under wraps.

Why? Because content strategy requires outreach and alignment.

Content touches just about every area of the organization. When you introduce a new content strategy, you’re asking all of those people to change their habits, opinions, and accountabilities. As a result, your strategy is only going to work if people get on board. Now, that doesn’t mean everyone has to agree on everything—that can be impossible. Alignment isn’t necessarily about creating consensus. It’s about creating a common understanding.

Getting alignment isn’t as hard as you might think. You can start by ensuring your project stakeholders:

Know the basics about your project

Your first alignment priority is to make sure everyone has access to the same information—so they can participate in conversations and make educated decisions. You need to make sure they know (at a high level):

  • What content strategy is, how it could benefit the organization, and how it could benefit them
  • What content exists today
  • What internal and external factors impact your content—highlighting user research, competitive research, and an overview of the content workflow process

Know each other

You also need to help stakeholders learn about each other. In large organizations, it’s not uncommon for people to meet each other for the first time on a content project. Even in small companies, people see each other in a new light during the content strategy process. Helping people understand and engage with each other is critical. So take time to explain:

  • How everyone fits into the content strategy puzzle
  • What role each person is playing on the project
  • How needs and perspectives differ, and why

Know what’s next

Lastly, you need to set the stage for the rest of the project. People always want to know:

  • What are the immediate next steps?
  • What is their role in the process?
  • How much and how often can they/will they need to participate?

The more stakeholders know, the more they’ll feel some ownership in your content projects from day one. Remember, stakeholders are your allies—or, if they’re not initially, it’s your job to find that common ground. The success of your content strategy depends on it.

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Tell Us What You Want (What You Really, Really Want)

by Melissa Rach on January 5th, 2012

Happy New Year! We hope you have the best year ever in 2012. Especially because the whole world is going to end on December 21, according to the ancient Mayans. Or not. Nobody knows for sure.*

Deathstar blowing up Earth

Hey, it could happen.

There are three things, however, that we DO know for sure:

  1. We have AT LEAST eleven more months to rock the Brain Traffic blog.
  2. Blogs, like all content, are only successful if it provides value to the user.
  3. We’d like you—yes, YOU—to tell us what topics you’d like to see discussed on this blog.

That’s right, there are 22 Brain Traffic employees standing by. We eat, sleep, and breathe content. What would you like to learn more about? How can we help you?

Make your suggestions in the comments section below or on Twitter (@BrainTraffic). We’ll address as many as we can. And treat this year’s editorial calendar as if it were our last!

Thanks in advance for your suggestions. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

* Does anyone else see this whole Mayan calendar debacle as a content workflow problem? It’s more proof that content that hasn’t been updated regularly can cause all sorts of problems (i.e., conspiracy theories, mediocre movies, etc.). No? OK. Erm. Nevermind us.

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Audit Sampling: It’s a Numbers Game

by Melissa Rach on November 10th, 2011

A few months ago, a client called us about a content audit. For a site with hundreds of millions of pages. That’s 100,000,000+ pages. Yep, those zeros are correct.

Now, old-timey (2007) content strategy logic says you need to audit all of your content. You need to see it all with your own human eyes. And if you have a small site (less than 5,000 pages or pieces of content), you probably still should review every piece.

But manual audits get more and more unrealistic as sites get bigger. Who has the time to review 25,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000 pieces of content? For our client with 100,000,000 pages, it would take 20 people working full-time for 270 years to manually view all of those pages. Obviously, that’s not an option. Unless you could hire an army of robots. Speaking of …

Can’t robots just do it?

It depends on what kind of audit you’re performing. If you are doing a quantitative audit—simply finding out how much content you have, where it lives, and associated keywords; yes, there are technical tools that can help.

But, if you’re doing a qualitative audit—where you’re trying to learn about the substance, accuracy, and quality of your content, robots can’t help you out. Well, maybe if you had a robot like C-3PO (fluent in six million forms of communication), or this guy:

Content strategy robot

Image by Sean Tubridy. All rights reserved. 

But you don’t. So, what else can you do?

Sample-size it!

You can pick a sample—a subset of your content—to review. Although a sample doesn’t replace a total site audit, it does help you reduce uncertainty about your content. Scientific and marketing researchers have been doing sampling for years, and when done correctly, sampling can give you a fairly accurate indication of your overall content situation.

You can choose your sample randomly or base it on various factors, such as user segments, product categories, content purpose, location on the site, etc. It all depends on why you’re doing the audit and what you want to learn.

How much is enough?

There’s no rule or benchmark to use. It would seem like the more content you could review, the better off you’d be. That is somewhat true, but mostly you just have to look at enough content to see patterns emerge. On a relatively small site (i.e., 10,000 pieces of content), you might need to look at half of the content before the patterns become obvious.

On a million-page site—you might look at only 0.01% of the content. That’s still 10,000 pages … so you’re not exactly off the hook. But hopefully you’d recognize some kind of valuable patterns by then. You might not have the same level of certainty as you did with the smaller site audit, but you’ll have some ideas. And you probably aren’t going to learn anything else by auditing another 1,000 or 10,000 items—the percentage of items reviewed is still so low that the change in the margin of error is microscopic.

So where do I begin?

Your sample depends on the size of your site. Here’s a rough table of suggested sample sizes (adapted from market research sampling guidelines):

Total number of pages/pieces
Sample size
<5,000 Review all
10,000 5,000
25,000 7,000
50,000 8,000
100,000 9,000
>1,000,000 10,000–16,000

 

Sampling doesn’t lead to a perfect picture of your content. But a sample audit can provide useful information to support arguments for funding, make the case for content work, or demonstrate progress.

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Posted in Content Strategy

Hearing Voices: CS Forum 2011

by Melissa Rach on October 6th, 2011

Back in early September, a few members of the Brain Traffic team trekked over to London for CS Forum. A month later, we’re still talking about how much we enjoyed the conference. Geeking out about content strategy in shadows of Big Ben? Yes, please, and thank you.

CS Forum London by Rhiannan Walton
Photo by Rhiannan Walton

EMERGING VOICES

One of my favorite parts of attending any content strategy conference is hearing from new and emerging voices in the content strategy community. And, CS Forum’s program was jam-packed with `em.

You can check out the entire speaker lineup, but here are a handful people we think you should know about (alphabetically by first name, because alphabetizing is cool):

Daniel Eizans (@danieleizans): Contextually relevant content strategies

This talk introduced a series of smart, detailed ways of understanding — and meeting — the needs of our users based on the contexts (personal, situational, behavioral, etc.) in which they encounter content. We'll likely see a lot more discussion of user contexts and content strategy in the near future, not to mention a lot more bright ideas from Dan.

Diana Railton (@dianarailton): How content strategy supports communications strategy

Diana's talk created a bridge between the practice of content strategy with the closely related world of communications strategy. She was both pragmatic and frank about the challenges both practices face as more communication goes online. So sharp and so good.

Irene Walker (@1rene): Let’s talk accessibility

By introducing us to several friends with disabilities and their online content challenges, Irene made an extremely compelling case for spending more time on accessibility. Not because we’re legally obligated, but because it’s the right thing to do. (Incidentally, Irene works for August Sun, the company that will host the 2012 CS Forum in Cape Town. Yes, South Africa. Right on.)

Lise Janody (@lisejanody): Balance & compromise (Weaving localization into a content strategy)

Content localization is a big, big topic. Some consider it too big for a short conference session, but not Lise Janody. She tackled it head on. In a mere 40 minutes, Lise provided a valuable introduction to localization, globalization, translation, and internationalization. Phew. All that smarts and she lives in France, too. Not fair.

Richard Ingram (@richardjingram): How did we all get here?

Ok, this is cheating. Many of you already know Richard from his brilliant infographics about content strategy. But this was his first-ever talk, and it was a winner. He presented the results of his survey on the varied backgrounds of content strategists. And—you guessed it—he made it all into another interesting infographic. Mmmmm… juicy data.

OH, AND WE TALKED, TOO

I suppose, we should also let you know that the Brain Traffic team also did some talking. Kristina Halvorson moderated the closing panel, and two of us did presentations, which you can see here:

Erin Kissane (@Kissane): Making sense of the (new) content landscape

Melissa Rach (@melissarach): CS Methodology: A DIY project

Thanks to conference hosts Jonathan Kahn (@lucidplot), Randall Snare (@randallsnare), and Destry Wion (@wion) for a lovely time.

Did you attend the forum? What were your stand-out moments?

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The Dirt on Editorial Calendars

by Melissa Rach on July 21st, 2011

The world loves a scandal. And there was never more satisfying scuttlebutt than that surrounding the gossip-mongers at News of the World. While the rest of the world is giggling over the guy who tried to “pie” Rupert Murdoch, I have been writing this blog and imagining what was on the News of the World’s editorial calendar. From the scenarios I’ve read, it might have looked something like this:

(click image to enlarge)

Of course, editorial calendars are not just for questionable news organizations. They can also be a valuable tool for perfectly reputable organizations who want to manage content-related activities effectively. So, here’s the skinny on making an ed cal that works for you.

Calendaring: It’s not as easy as you think

Editorial calendars seem easy enough. There are plenty of calendaring tools and templates online, free to anyone. You put some stuff into a spreadsheet or app and you’ve got a calendar (fancy color-coding optional). Easy-peasy, right?

Unfortunately, the chances of somebody else’s calendar template being exactly what you need are slim-to-none. So, before you go searching online, take a minute to focus your efforts.

Start by defining a purpose

It sounds like common sense, but the first step toward a successful editorial calendar is defining why you’re creating it. The purpose for your calendar may be a variation on one or more of these common themes (get as specific as possible):

  • Improve content quality or relevance
  • Integrate content across various channels/brands/business units
  • Fulfill user needs (by profile, lifecycle, or topics of interest)
  • Align content with business goals/campaigns/events
  • Measure/record content success or value
  • Allocate resources (human and budgetary) or justify resource needs
  • Manage all content creation/curation/maintenance activities

 

When identifying purpose, don’t forget to think about:

  • Who is going to use the calendar and why?
  • How will it be shared/used?
  • Who is going to maintain the calendar?
  • How often will it be updated/shared?
  • How will you know if the calendar is working?

Pick and prioritize calendar variables

Once you know the purpose, you can start choosing what to include on your calendar. There are literally hundreds of content-related variables that could be tracked on an editorial calendar.

List all of the variables/data points you think are relevant to your calendar, then rank them in priority order. It’s tempting to include every tidbit of information you have, but in this case, less is usually more. Focus your calendar on the top priorities, and consider eliminating the bottom priorities to make your calendar easy to use and maintain.

For example, let’s say you work for an organization that provides services to elementary school teachers. You might consider including the following variables (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll only include 10):

  • Date (e.g., May 14)
  • Channel (e.g., website, print newsletter, Twitter)
  • Content element (e.g., home page article, newsletter sidebar, video)
  • Teacher profiles (e.g., new teacher, kindergarten teacher)
  • Teachers’ events (e.g., National Teachers Association Convention)
  • Holidays and seasons (e.g., Christmas, autumn)
  • Hot topics (e.g., student testing, school security)
  • Content creator (e.g., web editor, Sue in marketing, third-party provider)
  • Content workflow step (e.g., schedule interviews, get outline approved, create content)
  • Budget (e.g., $5000)

Depending on your priorities, your calendar will vary. If the purpose of your calendar was to integrate all channels around user hot topics, your calendar might look like this:

Teacher's Aide, Inc. Editorial Calendar

(click image to enlarge)

Alternatively, if your calendar was mostly intended to manage resources and budgets, it might look like this:

Teacher's Aide, Inc. Budget- Editorial Calendar

(click image to enlarge)

One last word of advice

Editorial calendars do not have to be fancy or complicated. Whatever works for you, works. Once you identify the purpose and key information elements on your calendar, you can make your own simple spreadsheet or go online for more inspiration.

However, if you’re looking for something absolutely sensational, I hear there are several editors from News of the World looking for work that would be happy to help you.

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Posted in Editorial Strategy

The Value of Content, Part 2: Nobody’s Perfect

by Melissa Rach on June 23rd, 2011

Once upon a time, I wrote a blog called The Value of Content, Part 1: Adam Smith Never Expected This. It was about how traditional economics make it difficult to assign value to content. In that blog, I promised to write a sequel about measuring content “in a few weeks.” That was (blush) 94 weeks ago. (I’d like to say I was abducted by aliens or something, but in reality, I was on a bunch of exciting content strategy projects. Way cooler than aliens, right?)

Since “Part 1” was published, content strategy has gained a lot of ground in the business world. However, justifying budgets and resources for content projects is still a major challenge. So, here, at long last, are seven tips to help you measure content effectively.
 

Get it? Measurement!

(photo by HeyThereSpaceman. cc licensed)

Disclosure: There’s no silver bullet

I wish I could give you a simple, foolproof way to make all your content measurement dreams come true. Unfortunately, there’s no magic app or secret mathematical equation that does all the work. Sure, there are tools that streamline the measurement process, but no matter how many fancy widgets you buy, measuring content value will still take a significant amount of time and attention.

1. Don’t worry about exact numbers

Before we talk about how to measure content, let’s talk about measurement itself. Most people think of measurement as a practice of absolutes (I am exactly 5 feet 9 inches tall, my dog weighs exactly 98 pounds, etc.). With this mindset, things that can’t be measured exactly can’t be measured at all.

This perception is reinforced in the business world. As I explained in my previous blog, our economic system was created when most products were tangible things, such as shoes or chairs. Calculating the manufacturing costs, units sold, and price for these products is relatively easy. The CFO sticks all the data in a fancy Excel spreadsheet and poof: the company’s year-end profit from shoes is exactly $4,829,006.56. (I’m oversimplifying it, but you get the gist.)

However, when somebody tries to measure something intangible—like the value of content—it’s impossible to come up with an exact number. So, people assume content is immeasurable.

Luckily, most scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians say exact measurement is a myth. To them, the goal of measurement is to reduce uncertainty. Get this: it’s impossible to eliminate uncertainty all together—all measurement is based on assumptions. That means, when measuring content value, you don’t have to come up with precise numbers. You just need to provide enough information that your stakeholders feel comfortable making a decision. Think estimates, not exacts. Now, doesn’t that seem easier?

2. Start by defining what you’re measuring

Ok, so how do you reduce uncertainty? The first thing you need to do is decide what you’re measuring. It might sound simple, but it’s actually one of the trickiest parts of the process. The key is to get as specific as possible, because the more specific you get, the more uncertainty you’ll be able to eliminate.

Start by answering the following questions:

  • How are you defining “content”? Many people forget to answer this critical question. I have my own ideas about what content is, but your definition will depend on your situation. You may need to break “content” down into smaller distinct categories. For example, if you define content as “text,” you may need to define several types of text (marketing vs. help text, intro paragraphs vs. sidebars, etc.). List each component or distinct type of content individually—they may need to be measured differently.
  • What does the content help the user do? In other words, what is the function of the content? Most project teams identify high-level user tasks, but they don’t go deep enough. You need to get into the dirty details. For each piece of content, list as many functions as you can and rank them in order of importance. The more explicit the function, the better. For example, instead of saying the “content on our furniture store website facilitates the buying process,” you might say content on a product detail page needs to:
    • Accurately describe the furniture
    • Justify the cost of the furniture
    • Provide clear details about furniture customization options
    • Guide the user through the purchase process
  • What are the desired characteristics of the content? In addition to function, most organizations want content to have certain traits. For example, they may want it to be professional (no spelling errors) or “on brand.” Again, the more information you can gather about these characteristics, the more easily you will be able to measure them.

3. Assign values to your functions and characteristics

This step really pushes content people out of their comfort zone, because it involves math. And assumptions. I promise it’s not as hard as you think.

For each of the functions and characteristics you identified, assign a value based on data or educated assumptions. (You can use monetary amounts, percentages, or arbitrary point systems. Just as long as you use numbers.) Document all of the data and assumptions you use, so you can show them to your stakeholders later, if necessary.

Using our furniture website example from above, assigning values can go something like this:

  • The average chair costs $500
  • Analytics show that 50 people start the process of purchasing a chair online every day, but only 10 finish the process
  • User research shows that the instructions on the purchase pages are very confusing
  • We assume 5-10 people leave the purchasing process because of something unrelated to the site, and 5-10 leave the process when they see the shipping costs
  • We assume the remaining 20-30 people would complete the purchasing process if the instructions were more helpful
  • Therefore, the value of the instructional content is likely around $300,000-450,000 per month ($500 x 20-30 people x 30 days)
  • The cost of fixing the content is approximately $25,000

(In this case, we can prove with a large amount of certainty that the price of the project is worth doing!)

A lot of work? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

In some cases, documenting only your most important functions and characteristics is necessary to help your stakeholders make decisions with certainty. In other cases, you’ll have to do the whole enchilada. (Hint: Tons of data/assumptions can get confusing, so on big projects you may want to create a content scorecard or matrix. You could even put it in Excel—just like the CFO. See how official you’re getting?)

4. The more ways you measure, the more certainty you get

At Brain Traffic, when we ask a new web client how they measure content effectiveness, they often give us a Google analytics login and a smile. Analytics are great. But, no single measurement method captures the complete picture of content.

Try to use a variety of measurement methods, instead of relying on favorite or easy method. When you use two or more methods, you'll get more well-rounded results. Some common methods include:

  • Analytics: use technology tools to collect data
  • User research: ask the users directly what they want or observe their behavior
  • External expert review: ask content experts or industry peers to review/rate content
  • Internal expert review: get insights from knowledgeable people inside your organization, such as sales people or customer service reps
  • Competitive comparison: measure direct competitors and your content on the same factors and compare

The more ways and more often you measure, the more certainty you get. But, you likely won’t be able to use all of these methods—just choose the ones that are most applicable to your organization.

5. Establish a baseline

Taking a baseline measurement is simple: before you make any changes, make sure you measure your existing content using the same metrics you’ll use on the new stuff. It can be painful to get feedback on content you already know is crappy, but the baseline will help you measure the impact of your future content work. And if all goes well, you’ll have handy, glowing before-and-after stats to pass around at your company’s next board meeting.

6. Measure regularly

Once your new content is live, set a regular schedule to measure the content using the established metrics. This will help you see how content performs over time as business and user needs change. In addition, it helps you understand how content activities change due to events like holidays or product launches.

7. Be realistic about measurement budgets

It’s important to plan a budget for your measurement initiative. Although measurement isn’t always expensive, it does take time, resources, and money. Scale your efforts to the size of the content project. If the whole content project is going to cost $50,000, you can look at basic analytics and do some informal user testing with your friends. But, if your company is looking to invest several million dollars in a content venture, $50,000 on measurement is money well spent.

Phew, I had a lot to say

Well, there you have it. Two years of pent-up measurement info in one ginormous blog. Although this is probably too much information for a blog, it’s just the tip of the iceberg in the content measurement conversation. In fact, it’s a tiny ice cube.

Measuring content value is important to content strategists, but it’s not just a content strategy issue. It’s one of the most important business discussions of the information age. There’s still lots to learn, let us know what you think.

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Posted in Content Strategy

Give Your CS Project Sponsors the Royal Treatment

by Melissa Rach on April 28th, 2011

Tonight, I’m headed to my first official “slumber party” in quite some time. My daughter and I are bunking with all the aunties, cousins, and grannies in anticipation of the royal wedding coverage—which starts at a painfully early 3:00 a.m. for us.

I know. It’s wrong on so many levels—there’s the anti-monarchy angle, the feminist issues, and it’s at 3-freakin’-a.m. But, my preschool daughter loves princesses and brides, and I’m a sucker for feel-good pageantry. So, we’ll be there, bleary-eyed in our jammies, celebrating Wills and Kate with toasts of the multigrain-with-butter variety.

Kate: “What? I’m on the BT blog? Now I’m really famous.” The official portrait photographs for the engagement of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton. (Copyright 2010 Mario Testino).

Saving the monarchy, sponsoring a content strategy project … it’s all the same

However, unlike watching Charles and Diana’s wedding when I was a kid, this time I understand that it’s not all fun and fairytales. I can almost feel the pressure on Kate Middleton from Minnesota. No doubt she’s getting exactly what she wants, but STILL. As if getting married wasn’t stressful enough, she’s a “commoner” expected to save the British monarchy (in fashionable, but not too extravagant, frocks). 

Odd as it may seem, sponsors of corporate content strategy projects are often under a similar type of pressure. Obviously, they don’t have 130 billion people commenting on their fashion choices, but, like Kate, many are knowingly:

  • Committing themselves to a new role with increased responsibility and prominence
  • Tackling a huge, “mission critical” initiative, where related past efforts have had marginal success (if any)
  • Working in a fast-paced, technically-enhanced environment that their predecessors never knew and contemporaries don’t always understand     
  • Facing political minefields and public scrutiny  

With all that stress, why do they do it? I’d guess both Kate and the project sponsors would say it’s because there’s an exciting opportunity, there’s something they love about it, and they believe they can do it. Additionally, if it all goes well, the benefits for their organizations (not to mention themselves) will be great.

Help your project sponsors be royally successful

As content strategists, we have to be content experts, but we also need to be strategists. Part of the role of a strategist is to help each project sponsor navigate his or her environment. It’s a nice thing to do, and it’ll make the strategy a lot more successful.

So, take a cue from the royal couple’s advisors. When appropriate, don’t be afraid to help your project sponsor:   

  • Be prepared and confident. The future Princess of Wales has a lot to learn, fast. She’s apparently taking lessons in a variety of topics: royal etiquette, dealing with the press, and even the Welsh language. Pob lwc! (That’s “good luck” in Welsh. She’ll need it.)

    Good strategists ensure project sponsors are similarly prepared. Be sure your project sponsor is armed with knowledge about content strategy best practices, processes, and theories. That way, they can participate fully in project work and talk confidently about content strategy to other stakeholders when necessary.

  • Earn trust from organization leadership. Just last week the Queen gave her official, written consent to the wedding of Prince William and “our trusty and well-beloved Catherine Elizabeth Middleton.” Trusty? Nice work, Kate. I’m guessing the Queen never said that about Fergie. 

    Helping your sponsor earn the trust of the CEO, CMO, or similar stakeholders is critical to strategy buy-in and implementation. Whether it’s creating talking points for your sponsor, giving a presentation, or facilitating a workshop, do what it takes to get leadership on board.

  • Keep stakeholders informed, and interested. The PR wizards from Clarence House have done an excellent job of releasing information about the royal wedding at regular intervals. These timely updates throughout out the wedding preparations have kept everyone apprised of progress and kept them interested.

    Once the project is underway, make sure your sponsor has regular progress updates to keep stakeholders interested and involved.

  • Get alignment before action. Kate and William were engaged for several weeks before it was announced to the public. That time gave the families and royal advisors a chance to get on the same page, coordinate activities, and come across as a unified, believable front.

    There’s nothing worse than 11th-hour political controversy—it derails the project and makes your sponsor’s job a nightmare. So, when it’s time to make big announcements around your strategy (introducing the strategic plan, launching strategy implementation, etc.), plan a few days in your schedule to ensure all of the key members of the project and leadership teams are aligned in advance.

And then they lived happily ever after

Take some time to understand each project sponsor’s stress points and alleviate what you can. When project sponsors (and their teams) have a positive project experience, there’s a significantly better chance that strategic recommendations will be approved and implemented. And that’s a happy ending for everybody.

As for William and Kate, I hope they have a happy ending, too. I wish them “longyfarchiadau” (that’s “congratulations” in Welsh). I’d also like to tell them: mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod (“my hovercraft is full of eels”). Apparently, it’s a common Welsh phrase.

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Posted in Brain Traffic, Content Strategy, Project Management