Content strategy is more than just documentation, but often there is a need to deliver certain documents, for example, to better define a content project, its budget implications and scope – and then tick boxes against delivery.
Well structured and well written documents are also valuable when it comes to getting senior management buy-in, and demonstrating the role of content strategy (and the value of content) to wider audiences within organisations.
So, of all the things you could document, which are potentially the most useful, why and what should they look like? Here’s my top 5 and where you can locate some great examples.
1. Personas & Scenarios
I’m sometimes gobsmacked by how much big data organisations hold about customers but how little they understand about them as flesh and blood human beings. Personas and user scenarios (who your audiences are and what they want from your content) are a great way of bringing users to life and melding data with more personal insights.
In terms of templates, I’ve seen some great work developed internally by simply getting people to work with simple stick figures (see image). For a more blow-by-blow approach take a look at the US usability.gov site.
2. Content Audit/Inventory
While traditionally this was conceived as a website tool, I don’t believe it’s possible to create new content for anything if you don’t understand existing content its faults and foibles. That holds true for social media and emails, print as well as digital. A spreadsheet is a good way of collating this and if you attach scores you can also create charts and diagrams using spreadsheet functionality. In terms of methodology you have to go a long way to beat this one outlined in the Brain Traffic blog. I also like this one from UX Mastery.
3. Card Sorting
Card sorting is usability specialism, but a great deal can be achieved simply by working with stakeholders within an organisation using post-it notes and a blank wall.
Often content projects flounder because organisations have not reached consensus about what content is required and where it should go; this may be a website process, but card sorting can also be used to work through how content is deployed across multiple channels.
When it comes to website navigation and labelling there is often a need to get people away from using technical terminology or business unit names and exploring user friendly alternatives. A simple card sorting exercise can help you work through these challenges and then capture the resulting outputs in a Word document, illustrated with photos taken during the card sort.
There are online card sorting tools, but I like the low tech (post-it note) option and keeping it simple. In terms of a basic guide to card sorting, this Wiki is good. For a document template try this one from uasability.gov but do add photos.
4. Content Gap Analysis
You may develop this as part of your content audit or card sorting as you start to think about what sort of content goes where.
To help crystallise this I love the Core Model from Are Halland, that maps business objectives (what the organisation wants to achieve) to user tasks (what people want to get done) and helps you identify specific web pages, and the content that needs to be housed there to meet these twin needs.
You can find an example of the template he uses in a fantastic presentation he gave a little while ago.
5. Timelines & Calendars
Even a broken watch is right twice a day but it’s amazing how many projects do not have a detailed timeline, or one that reflects realistic timescales and their impact on deadlines. For example, it may well take a professional copywriter very little time to create the new text content, but what do your internal sign-off procedures look like? Businesses dealing with financial or technical products can see timings derailed by their own compliance or technical sign off procedures.
You can have a basic timeline at the start of a project i.e. this project should take X weeks, but start and complete dates may have to be reviewed against the level of work uncovered by the content audit, for example.
As well as project timelines, all organisations should develop an ongoing content calendar of key dates and events, and what content is required and when. I like this article on the Content Marketing Institute website on content calendar creation (which comes with a downloadable template), and this timeline maker for Power Point produces very professional results.
Your lynchpin content strategy document would pull together a top level overview, key recommendations, major resource impacts and risks; based on the underlying research and analysis using some or all of the documents listed below. In terms of what the structure for this might look like I’ve created the graphic above. There is a larger version on my blog along with a content strategy documentation glossary.