Top 10 lessons for sustainable content strategy success

So, you’ve decided that your organization would benefit from a holistic content strategy: a unified approach to publishing content online. (In case you’re wondering, here’s more about what content strategy is.)

Here are 10 real-life lessons to make sure that your content strategy is successful, in both the short term and the long run.

    1. Get buy-in early and often with colleagues whose processes and work will change
      Be sensitive to people’s concerns about change. Start the project with a kickoff meeting to explain what you’ll be doing and why. Make sure they know how the content strategy outcome will help their work be more successful, and keep them informed about what you do and what you learn every step of the way.
    2. Make sure content owners play a role in crafting the solution
      The very best way to get buy-in is for people to be involved in the effort itself. There are so many opportunities for content owners to contribute! Stakeholder interviews will help you learn what their goals and pain points are. Empathy-based personas that they help craft will break down siloes and create a common vision of the most important audiences your organization serves.
    3. Show them how to do things differently
      Guidelines are an important step in ensuring that the content owners understand how to plan, create, and measure their content. So are examples – there’s no such thing as too many examples. You may need to create different sets of guidelines for people in different roles, to ensure that they get the information they need without having to wade through irrelevant material.
    4. Over-communicate
      Create a regular stream of information about the project – what you find, what you learn, who you’re talking to, what’s next. Everyone is busy, and the project you’re working on isn’t always their top priority. So remind them about what you’re up to, and be sure to include information about how they may be affected in the short and long term.
    5. Remind people about the context for the project
      Remember that kickoff meeting from the beginning of the project? Neither do your colleagues. Whenever you discuss or present your findings, start with the rationale for the project, the problem that the organization is trying to solve through adopting a content strategy. That rationale should become a mantra to everyone involved in the project.
    6. Use the consultant strategically to share stories, create tools, and provide instruction
      Consultants work with a variety of organizations, and can contribute stories about what other organizations struggle with and how they’ve reached their goals. Your peers are likely to be able to see a solution more clearly if it is separated from their challenges. Consultants also have the time to create tools, or adapt ones they’ve developed for other clients, that will help you make your new processes more systematic. Finally, consultants’ skillsets almost always include teaching clients how to use the new processes and tools to work more effectively.
    7. Be visual
      When sharing information, take advantage of every opportunity to tell your story using visuals. Data visualizations lend themselves to many aspects of content strategy: reporting the project’s process, sharing data about the condition of someone’s content, showing recommended decisions about content, discussing a new workflow, sharing the content or topic lifecycle, and more. Visuals make information significantly easier to grasp quickly – and some people are visual thinkers, so visuals are a great accompaniment to a narrative presentation.
    8. Learn from examples
      Seek out the good work in your organization to use as role models for good practices. But don’t stop there: Showcasing the good work from your competitors may provide extra inspiration and motivation. And make sure to include examples from organizations outside the association world. You may not have the staff or budget of the New York Times, but it’s wise to show that you know what those at the top of their game are doing.
    9. Foster internal champions and honor their expertise
      If your organization is like most, you have some early adopters – people who jump right on board with a more strategic approach to content. Bring them in right away! Their subject matter expertise in one of your association’s programs or offerings is a crucial reality check for your content strategy. These people are the ideal candidates to pilot new ideas and new approaches, and help you refine the processes and practices that are likeliest to succeed in your organization. And, most important of all, they can be your partners and allies in spreading the word about the value of content strategy inside your organization.
    10. Operationalize and socialize – make it stick
      Content strategy is not a one-time effort. It’s a series of shifts in how people produce their content, who they work with in order to get it published, and how they make sure it is effective. You need to foster and encourage these new behaviors and ways of working. Create an online community for content authors. Send a monthly newsletter with tips. Share successes with management. Develop training materials and use them in the on-boarding process for new employees who will be creating online content as part of their jobs.

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