Everyone is a publisher. You, your organization, your new business, your clients; as traditional media struggles and technology advances, everyone has the opportunity to publish content. But, just like great power, publishing comes with great responsibility. Each piece of content you publish defines your story and controls the narrative around the topics you care about. You have a responsibility to your business and audiences to tell your story in a way that is consistent, realistic, and responsible. To do that, you need a content strategy.
What is Content Strategy?
There are many ways to examine content strategy. Here, we’ll do so through two lenses: the storytelling that engages your audiences and the process that supports that storytelling.
A Harmonic Balance
If every piece of content you share contributes to a larger narrative thread, how do you define your story and identify the best way to tell it?
Rachel Lovinger, author of Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data, asserts:
“A content strategy must achieve a harmonic balance between business goals, editorial mission, user expectations, design vision, the content production process, and technological capabilities.”
That’s a lot. Before you try to weigh each item and reach equanimity, remember, we’re talking about a ‘harmonic balance.’ You don’t need each of these elements in equal amounts but when you bring them together, they should sing. How do you achieve that harmony? Let’s start at the top.
Use what you’ve got
To define your story, start with your business. What are your goals? What do you want people to know or do after reading your content? By starting with your business goals, you’ll define a story that has meaning and purpose for your organization. You’ll also create a useful litmus test for all content development: if a piece of content doesn’t support your goals, it shouldn’t be part of your story. Naturally, with more than one way to interpret a goal, this is easier said than done. But the more you do it, the easier it will become. If you focus on how the content you publish relates to your goals and routinely evaluate how each story contributes to your narrative, you will consistently develop content worth the time and money you invested.
Understand what they need
Each part of your story must balance your goals with the goals of your audience. This doesn’t mean you should change your story, but it may require changing your methods, style, or channels so that you are telling your story in a way that your audience understands, in the places where they congregate, and at the times when they are looking for it. To achieve this trifecta, study your data. Look at where your audiences publish (they are publishers too) and pay particular attention when they comment on or share your content. While still mapping back to your goals, give them what you know they will share.
Make the story
Now you’ve got the ‘what’ so let’s jump into the ‘how.’ How are you going to tell your story? (The right answer to this question is rarely, “Let’s put up a page on our website.”). The most beautifully written story won’t reach your audiences if it is squeezed into a page that wasn’t designed to hold it and buried deep within your information architecture. The Internet, with its love of all things social, image-based, audio-visual, animated, etc. offers a spectacular canvas. Use every inch. On a story-by-story basis, evaluate the best way to deliver your content to make a positive contribution to your narrative.
Get it out there
Stories based in your organization’s goals that meet user needs will engage your audiences. But those audiences will disappear in a blink unless you consistently deliver content to the right people at the right time. In the realm of content strategy, process means whatever it takes to get your story out:
- Consistently: on a regular schedule using the same voice and tone
- Realistically: attainable with your current skills, talent, and
- Responsibly: aligned with your business goals and those of your users.
This could mean an editorial calendar, content workflow, style guide, content templates, and/or governance policies. The tools for your organization or business will depend on the size of your content team, the frequency with which you publish, and the existing processes you have in place.
You are a publisher and you can control the narrative around the topics you care about. Go forth and use your power.
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