A hierarchy of content needs
Some thoughts on how to evaluate a hierarchy of content needs as a foundation for content strategy.
In working through the idea of minimum viable content, I decided to build out a hierarchy of content needs based on Maslow’s hierarchy. In Maslow’s pyramid, the basic needs (like food and water) are on the bottom. If you don’t have the basics, you’re unlikely to be interested in the top layer (self-actualization).
What happens if you look at content needs?
The bottom three layers are what’s required for minimum viable content.
This hierarchy helps us with content strategy work. When your content is not even available in a useful format, focusing on social engagement (the connected layer) is probably premature.
Available content means that information exists, and the person who needs it has access to it. If the content hasn’t been written, but the reader can’t find it, or if it’s behind a firewall/login that the reader doesn’t know about, then content fails the available test.
The first step in meeting content needs is to make the information available to people who need it. You can push information via email, publish to the web or a private site, or send out printed catalogs. But “available” is the first critical need.
In the available category, we also look at whether content is findable, searchable, and discoverable—if readers can’t successfully locate the content they need, it exists, but it’s not really available to the readers.
Content should be accurate. Available but inaccurate isn’t so good. Under this category, we can also evaluate information for grammar, formatting, consistency, and other decorations that improve the content quality.
Appropriate content is delivered in the right language, in the right format, at the right level of complexity. This is where we put together the user’s needs with the delivery possibilities.
Content is “available” when you put it in a crappy PDF and email it on request.
To pass the “appropriate” test, you must deliver that information in a way that is best for the user. Depending on your user, that could mean a mobile-friendly HTML web site or an EPUB file. There’s delivering content, and then there’s delivering content WELL.
The connected layer is where you add user engagement and social layers. This is hard to discuss without using terrible buzzwords, but what I’m looking for here is the ability for readers to comment on your content, vote it up and down, and perhaps edit content or create their own content.
You want to support users in engaging with your content.
The pinnacle is content that isn’t just a static piece of text, but information that can be manipulated for different purposes.
Intelligent content might include content that is personalized, interactive service manuals, the ability to filter information based on my needs, and more.
Often, delivering intelligent content requires you to integrate database content (for example, product specifications) with authored content. Troubleshooting instructions, for example, might be integrated with information from the organization’s parts database.
Here’s a slightly more detailed version of the pyramid.
What do you think? Can you use the hierarchy of content needs to assess your content requirements? Do you agree with the hierarchy?
UPDATE: Hilary Marsh also built a content needs hierarchy, but hers was published in July 2013 (much earlier than this one). I don’t recall seeing her article, but it’s possible that it’s been kicking around in my subconscious mind for several months. That said, we do have some significant differences, although happily we both have “accurate” as an important base layer in the pyramid.