The audience comes first!
Before considerations of screen display and related concerns, there is a much higher priority: understanding what the audience needs from the content offered. I followed the steps below in learning about this crucial part of content strategy.
A visual representation of content strategy facilitates understanding
Step 1: After viewing the presentation “Content Strategy Parts and Partners,” I created a visual representation of content strategy elements as I understood them. The representation I created was a word cloud that could be used to explain content strategy to my colleagues or in showing how content strategy could play a role in a digital project.
It isn’t always clear which content strategy tasks should be done to serve the audience.
Step 2: I participated in a content strategy task discussion and task sorting assignment with the class. In this step, we grouped and sorted the content strategy tasks in the order that was logical to us. It was interesting to learn the different perspectives and rationale we brought to the discussion.
Personas provide the context for knowing what content is truly meaningful to the audience.
Step 3: The aim of content strategy tasks is to provide meaningful content for the web site user. Defining the needs of the user is part of content strategy. This is accomplished by creating a model of the user known as an “empathy persona.” This model uses not only demographic facts and statistics, but describes the user in terms that have human meaning. It includes information such as:
· Their ideas about status
· The things they trust
· Their comfort zones
· Their affinities for things
· How they act in groups
Persona development begins with a basic outline known as a persona skeleton.
Step 4: As part of a group, I developed an empathy persona for the parent of a high school student who uses information from the Student Life section of Kent State University’s web site. The first step was the creation of a skeleton persona.
· Each group member identified a real person who had characteristics of our persona. We observed the person empathically by noting how he or she interacted with people and things. My thoughts about the persona were, at first, based very much on the real person that I observed.
· We then discussed ten key insights about the person and how they would impact the development of the web site. As we discussed these insights, my thought process expanded to include persona characteristics from other group members.
· On our discussion board, we selected 7 to 8 trait dimensions that we thought were best. A dimension is a short statement that can be answered in a continuum from a smallest unit to a largest unit. For example, the dimension “When considering costs of education,” the answer choices ranged from “it’s best to be frugal” to “money is no object.” This discussion expanded my thoughts about the degree to which personas reflect flexibility in real users. That is, my thought processes now incorporated the idea that users are not "black and white" thinkers.
· Using a skeleton template, we added these dimensions. We also created a story for the skeleton that included gender, age, family status, hometown, age, education, and situation.
We later completed the persona by “fleshing out” the persona to provide more details on life events, opinions, needs, and fears of the persona. The persona shown below represents our final persona.
Online writing must be effective in communicating with the persona and must have good message architecture.
Step 5: I learned that good content online is like a conversation. The content anticipates the persona’s specific questions and answers them. When content answers specific questions and does so with the appropriate voice and tone for its readers, it has good message architecture. The quality of a web site’s message architecture affects its brand perception. To create good message architecture for Kent State’s Student Life section, and protect Kent State's brand, we listed and sorted attributes into three groups:
. Who we are – i.e., how we thought our brand was currently perceived
. Who we want to be – i.e., how we would like the brand to be perceived by our students, prospects, and competitors
. Who we are not – i.e., which terms are not relevant to our brand, not associated with us, or better associated with a competitor
To support good message architecture, a style guide must be followed.
Step 6: Keeping in mind the user persona developed so far, I worked with my group to develop a style guide for the Student Life section. The style guide included voice and tone specifications, editorial guidelines, and directions for key content types and formats. We adapted a style guide sample to suit our persona’s needs:
· Using the attributes on the message architecture list, we created a set of “this, not that” statements. That is, we stated that Kent State's brand is like a given entity, thought, or concept but not like others. This exercise provides a grounding in reality for the attributes on the message architecture list.
· We included three examples of “before and after” content, showing how existing paragraphs of three different content types (announcements, program information, etc.) from the section would change based on the new voice and tone principles we identified. We learned that an organization’s voice stays the same, while its tone changes based on the communication vehicle, content type, and purpose.
· We learned that defining the organization’s voice and tone is critical to helping it speak to its audiences in the right way. With a sound voice and tone, an organization’s content strategy can both help the organization meet its business goals and help the audience get what it needs.
Good message architecture can be undermined by content that has ROT (content that is Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial).
Step 7: In order to assess existing content and to ensure that an organization creates and manages content that starts and remains useful, it is important to develop rules and criteria for content usefulness. Our team discussed how to define content that is Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial (ROT). We defined it in a common way, expressing our individual opinions about what constitutes effective and ineffective content. We learned that one of the ways that online content is different than print is that it has a lifecycle. The lifecycle has the following steps:
Content should be analyzed for ROT using consistent criteria and analysis.
Step 8: After learning about the considerations for making lifecycle decisions about content, we created actual criteria to be used in assessing content for the Student Life section. Each content type used a consistent set of rules. I then completed a content inventory in preparation for the assessment. The assessment answered these questions:
. Is the content that’s present on the site now effective, appropriate, current, and relevant to the audience?
. If a piece of content is not effective, can it be rewritten to make it more so?
. If a piece of content is outdated, would it still be relevant if it were updated?
. What business purpose does the content serve? Does it help meet business goals?
Using a Content Analysis Tool (CAT), I created an Excel file that included information on over 20 characteristics of a given content item. Major characteristics were Title, Location, Type, Format, Topic, Owner, Date Created, Date Last Updated, and Number of Visits in Last Year. A Recommendation field included the lifecycle choices of keep, update, rewrite, archive, or delete. The ROT? field provided the final assessment of whether or not the content was Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial.
Content ROT can be avoided by using a content governance process.
Step 9: Based on the persona, message architecture, content inventory, and content analysis, I assessed the quality of the content in the Student Life section. My assessment answered questions such as these:
· What proportion of content on the site now is effective, appropriate, current, and relevant to the audience?
· Does the existing content meet the audience’s priorities?
· What business purpose does the content serve? Does it help meet business goals?
· What opportunities do you see for Kent State to produce (or invite/allow students and others to produce) in order to engage the audience more fully?
My findings report included:
· Executive Summary - A brief summary of the project.
· Background - A recap the project’s objectives, the message architecture, and persona
· Overview - High level description of the types, topics, and subsections that existed in the Student Life section and the work I did.
· Findings - My analysis and description of where I saw content ROT. An explanation of what ROT is and the criteria I used to assess it. Highlights of content areas or types that are effective and the ways in which they are effective, as well as the areas that are not effective and rationale for my opinions.
· Recommendations - As the content strategist, my advice on how to make the Student Life section content work effectively. I included my rationale for each recommendation
My main recommendation was the establishment of a stable and reliable content governance process and content updates. I concluded that the Student Life section is one of the major components of the Kent State main site. It plays a prominent role in the first impressions users will form of Kent State. The Student Life section, therefore, should be highly focused on ensuring that it represents Kent State in a manner that meets message architecture standards. It should be appealing to users represented by the empathy based personas developed to evaluate Kent State’s web site. Content governance must include:
· scheduled stakeholder reviews, editorial calendar updates, and content updates
· clearly defined roles and responsibilities for staff who manage the content
· adequate funding and staffing to maintain the quality of the content
I sketched a concept map to get my thought process on paper.
After my thoughts on content governance became clear, I created the flowchart with swim lanes below.
I created a final presentation that summarized the definition of content strategy, the creation and use of empathy personas, the establishment of an effective message architecture, and the use of content governance to ensure high quality content.
I learned how to work in a group through online collaboration. Our work on empathy personas was very detailed. It required making real time changes to our template, obtaining consensus, making revisions, and arriving at a final agreement as a group. This was highly valuable and practical experience.
Click below to see the Findings and Recommendations, Content Governance Model, and Final Report. Please contact me if you have questions or would like to see other documents related to the project.
A story sketch appears below. It was very interesting to learn about the complexities of managing content on a large and dynamic web site.