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Content/Communication (CS Forum 2013)

Once more landing the CS Forum keynote (though only because Karen couldn’t make it), Kristina Halvorson continued the theme from Ida and Ilona’s opening remarks.


While we may focus on the word “content” in the title content strategy, the content itself is almost never at the root of the problem. Consistently, it is the processes behind the content that cause headaches for people. There are many factors that throw a spanner into the smooth creation of quality content. Two of the hardest to solve are: the content-creation balance between subject matter experts and editorial competence; and the confusion of audience needs with our own perception of importance and structure.

Most of the fixes people first try when facing content problems are tactical rather than strategic. The example used here is that was so powerful was of the hungry bear. The bear is hungry, so needs to eat. To eat, his strategy is to go to where the food is (the river). Once in position, his tactic is pretty straightforward: open his mouth and wait for the fish to jump in. Tactics without strategy is a bear sitting in a field, maw agape, complaining the fish aren’t coming to him.

There is a trend at the moment to try to “do agile” when approaching content strategy. Agile is an implementation methodology. Strategy is a planning phase that maps business needs to outcomes; it defines the framework for the implementation. An “agile strategy” is like constantly moving the goal posts during a game; you never know where you are trying to get to.

When dealing with larger organisations, and complex content issues, it is too easy to get everyone involved in everything (interminable meetings, no decisions). The alternative is to map out the sub-sections of the project/process, and apply a RACI model: for each aspect, who is Responsible, who is Accountable, who needs to be Consulted, and who only needs to be Informed?

On the subject of teams – particularly for larger projects where functional roles are split – it is critical that everyone speaks the same language, understand how each other uses terms. Otherwise, multiple people will be undertaking the same tasks, calling them different things, without coordinating their efforts, while other aspects are completely overlooked (the old Everybody/Somebody/Anybody/Nobody meme). And within teams, the primary predictor of success is how well the individuals get on, what they honestly believe about the other team members’ competences.

And lastly, the primary job of a consultant is to return to the habits of a 3-year-old: constantly, repeatedly and emphatically ask “WHY?”

Raw notes:

  • Content strategy consultancy is not only about content. Content is about process.
  • If people are doing content wrong, it can be a soul-destroying discussion.
  • A principle is something that guides and motivates us. A rule is something we can break. Have principles.
  • If you centralise content creation/management into a central team, they become a content processing line.
  • Our content is not for us. It’s for our audiences. (You are not your customer)
  • Content is both a science and an art. Numbers aren’t everything.
  • If you keep objective and tactic, and forget strategy, you might as well be sitting in a field with your mouth open, waiting for the fish to jump in.
  • Strategy keeps us accountable. It must be a proper strategy, not self-aggrandisement.
  • Content is a complicated beast. It has lifecycle.
  • Content strategy is not agile. Because strategy definition is not agile. (Implementation may be.)
  • Don’t sacrifice quality of work on the altar of your process-God.
  • RACI model: Who is responsible? Who is accountable? Who must be consulted? Who must be kept informed?
  • Cross-reference roles and tasks with the RACI model (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed)
  • To work together, we need a shared language. (Otherwise, who knows how much we will duplicate/miss)
  • Your perceptions are wrong. They’re just perspectives. We are all constantly catching up.
  • The primary predictor of team success if their feelings about each other.
  • Clients don’t call you in to tell them things are wrong. They want to know how to be (more) awesome.
  • You are hereby inducted into the secret society of consultants.
  • WHY? (Learn to ask that, repeatedly, and you will add value)

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