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November 12, 2012

Dodging the dragons of content strategy

Some patterns are beginning to emerge as we apply content strategy to technical information.

It turns out that you really need to watch out for dragons. And although slaying dragons may be appealing, there is a better way.

foxypar4 impaling the creators of the new Flickr Homepage - aka St. George Slaying the Dragon

This post started out as a discussion of content strategy maturity model, but let’s face it, I’m just not that mature. Plus, I discovered that Rahel Bailie beat me to it:

Content strategy maturity model by Rahel Anne Bailie, Intentional Design

I have noticed, however, that content strategy in tech comm tends to evolve in fits and starts. Rahel’s descriptions are very professional, so I decided we needed a more casual version:

  • Level 1: Ugh.
  • Level 2: Stop the Stupid. In Rahel’s model, this is the step from reactive to tactical. An organization recognizes that the current approach is neither efficient nor effective, so they take a look at establishing a better process.
  • Level 3: Minimum Competence. The organization is now at a point that is at least not embarrassing.
  • Level 4: Nice! The organization’s approach is interesting and has some features worth emulating.
  • Level 5: Teh Awesome. Business requirements drive content strategy, and the results are excellent.

The process of moving up the maturity model looks something like this:

Many projects start with a recognition that the current content production processes are inefficient. The organization invests in correcting this problem with little or no change to the final deliverables. Only after implementing an automated production process does the organization begin to look at how to improve the content.

It does look as though it would make more sense to traverse a diagonal line to improve automation and content at the same time, but, in practice, that level of change introduces a lot of additional dragons risk.

It’s also unusual for an organization to move up (improving content) and then to the right (automation). This clockwise movement is more difficult because the content improvements require additional resources whereas the automation improvements free up resources. It’s easier to automate, thus freeing up resources, and then use those resources to work on the content quality.

If your organization needs a new strategy for technical content, consider the following:

  • Establish the strategic goals. What is the end point, and how will your content tie in to organizational goals?
  • Look for incremental, tactical progress. How can you break down the transition into manageable phases?
  • Do a risk assessment. Consider your current environment, your tools, your staff, and your organizational culture. Is your goal compatible with your organizational competence?
  • Gather support. Change resistance is by far the biggest risk in any new initiative. Look for allies in the organization.

Sounds overwhelming? Let’s talk.