The eight step path to a winning content strategy
Let’s build the house of your dreams. Close your eyes and picture it in as much detail as you can. OK now open them and tell me—what did you love the most about your dream house?
I don’t know about you, but for me it definitely wasn’t the reinforced concrete or top-notch insulation. Building a solid content strategy is a lot like factoring reinforced concrete or top-notch insulation into the house of your dreams. It doesn’t seem that exciting—and it doesn’t get talked about much, but you can’t build extraordinary content without it.
Content strategy focuses on the planning, creation, delivery and governance of content. This includes the way content is designed and presented (for example through formatting, images and media) as well as the actual words on the page.
A lot of organizations put out great content already-so why go through the work of creating a content strategy? The answer is that a content strategy allows you to:
- Figure out which content is doing well and which content is doing poorly.
- Create better content, more reliably.
- Plan ahead, reducing the amount of stress that goes into the content process.
- Coordinate better with other groups and departments that you may want to collaborate with on content.
Here eight key steps to setting up a content strategy for your organization:
1. Take (or find) ownership for creation of the strategy.
A content strategy is a huge asset to any organization, but it’s usually not a matter of dire urgency. Who is going to champion and cultivate the cause? Once you’ve identified this person—whether it’s you or someone else—half the battle is won.
2. Find out (and document) where you are, so you can decide where you need to go.
I’m probably not going to win popularity points for this, but if you want to build an extraordinary content strategy, you absolutely must audit all your content.
3. Listen to your audience
Use tools like Google Analytics and do some listening on your social networks, to see what your constituents are saying and doing. What pieces of content are your high and low performers? Can you observe any patterns? And just as importantly, don’t forget about in-person interviews. Have you taken the time to speak with all your different stakeholders about the content you offer? Document all of this.
4. Listen to yourself—are you doing all the talking?
The best way to get someone to leave a conversation—whether it’s in person or on the web—is to spend the whole time focused on yourself. We have a lot to say to our constituents but if we want to draw them in we need to spend some of that time sharing information that is useful and relatable for them. Content curation is a great way to add diversity and flavor to your content.
5. Figure out your content pillars.
What are the two or three key things you want your content to do for your constituents? These are your content pillars and they are different for every organization. For some, it is “empower and inform”. For others, it may be “inspire, embolden and impassion”. This is a big decision, and it can’t be made in a vacuum, so plan to hold at least one workshop on the subject.
6. Build a content roadmap.
This is my favorite part. After all the research is done, you get to shift into action!
Break out your excel spreadsheets, trello boards or whatever organizational system works best for you and start to lay out your content for the year ahead. I like to keep my topics and formats broad and lay things out by month. It’s fine to organize yourself quarterly or even weekly if that works best for you. Think about topics and how you want to deliver the content and don’t over-rely on any one topic or format (unless that’s a conscious decision you’re making).
7. Are content decisions and approvals working for or against you?
If you’re not happy with the way content decisions are made—now is the time to change it.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. What isn’t working? Who really needs to be involved in the development and approval process? What should happen if something goes wrong or needs to be fixed? Your strategy should address all of this. Collaboration tools like trello and asana are great for streamlining the content development and approval process. Check out this blog post on creating a (free) trello content workflow.
8. It. Will. Never. End.
I know, I know. I roped you in by telling you there were eight steps. But the truth is that content strategy never ends. Like a house, whatever you create will require constant upkeep and updating. If you don’t, it will no longer reflect your voice or the needs of your audience. You need to buy into this mantra wholeheartedly: Plan, Create, Publish, Analyze, and Repeat.
Above all, never lose confidence in the quality of content that your strategy is allowing you to achieve. It may not be the most exciting document your organization has ever produced—but it might be one of the most useful. You don’t need to go through all eight of these steps chronologically. You may already have done some of these, but if you don’t have a content strategy—it’s crucial that you begin somewhere. What step will you start with?
 Halvorson, K. (2012). Content strategy for the Web.