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10 Things I Learned in 10 Years as a Content Strategist

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In the decade since I officially became a Content Strategist, I’ve learned many important principles of working with content. Some of them have influenced the kind of work I do, and some of them have helped me better understand how the field is developing and what directions it needs to grow in for this practice to become more effective with digital content.
In this presentation I’ll summarise my top ten learnings and describe how these principles have been critical to the work I’ve done these past 10 years. I’ll also discuss how people can dig deeper into the principles that they find most useful and relevant to their work.

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  • One of the most (maybe the most) insightful and dead on presentations on content strategy I've seen published anywhere. If you are new to to the subject and want to learn more also see Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, the free downloads offered by the Content Strategy Alliance, and Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane
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10 Things I Learned in 10 Years as a Content Strategist

  1. 1. Photo by Brickspace 10 THINGS I LEARNED IN 10 YEARS AS A CONTENT STRATEGIST Rachel Lovinger @rlovinger CS Forum, 5 October, 2016
  2. 2. 2 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Experience Director, Content Strategy; Razorfish New York • Became a content strategist: 24 April, 2006 • Twitter: @rlovinger • (Doing work related to content strategy since 2000) ABOUT ME: RACHEL LOVINGER
  3. 3. Less is More Learning 0
  4. 4. 4BE CONCISE From “11 Mistakes You Make At Work Every. Single. Day.” Huffington Post
  5. 5. 8 THINGS I LEARNED IN 16 YEARS OF DOING CONTENT STRATEGY Rachel Lovinger @rlovinger CS Forum, 5 October, 2016 Photo by Brickspace
  6. 6. Everything is Content Learning 1
  7. 7. 7CS: THE PHILOSOPHY OF DATA (2007)
  9. 9. 9 ©2016 All rights reserved. DEFINING CONTENT Documents Discussion Copy Video Data Metadata Images Email Content isn’t just copy Audio
  10. 10. 10 Medium  Paper  Ink  Staples Content  Words  Images NEWSPAPER Photo by Newspaper Club
  11. 11. 11 Medium (“Non-content”)  Bits Content  Bits DIGITAL CONTENT Photo by Newspaper Club
  12. 12. The Medium is the Message - Marshall McLuhan P.S. Now the Medium and the Message are both made up of bits.
  13. 13. 13CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM Manages content Could also manage: • Metadata • Layouts • Styles • Design Elements • All the code
  14. 14. Great! But… That’s a lot of responsibility for one person. Photo by Jeff Eaton
  15. 15. [Content] strategy, the intuitive entry point for changing hearts and minds, is a “big, big world” that…currently covers perhaps too many sins for its own good. It’s time for a conversation about what sits under the “everything” umbrella. - Jessica Collier, Our Narratives, Ourselves (2016)
  16. 16. 16CONTENT IS THE ELEPHANT IN EVERY ROOM No one person can do all of these things, but if everyone only focuses on their own bit, no one thinks about the big picture. Illustration from “The Discipline of Content Strategy,” by Kristina Halvorson (2008).
  17. 17. 17 Illustration from “Tinker, Tailor Content Strategist,” by me (2012). For a content strategy to succeed, someone has to: • Be aware of how all the aspects of content are intertwined • Bring them together into a cohesive plan • Advocate for the content plan at all stages of a project, across all members of the project team TAMING THE BIG (CONTENT) PICTURE
  18. 18. Content is Communication Learning 2
  22. 22. Content Strategy is concerned with content Systems, not just content. Learning 3
  23. 23. 23CS: THE PHILOSOPHY OF DATA (2007) Content Strategy is to Copywriting as Information Architecture is to Design
  24. 24. CS : Writing :: IA : Design
  25. 25. 25HOWARD BEATTY, NEWSPAPER EDITOR (1930s) Photo by Ann Althouse
  26. 26. 26 Photo by The Rookie Reporter WORKS WITH CONTENT EVERY DAY
  27. 27. 27 Photo by Alyson SHAPES IT, PREPS IT & DEPLOYS IT
  28. 28. 28 Photo by Global Editors Network MAKES PLANS FOR NEW CONTENT
  29. 29. 29CONTENT STRATEGISTS BUILD A FRAMEWORK Photo by Danielle York
  30. 30. 30 The tools, processes & resources we need to successfully create and distribute content: • Easy-to-use publishing tools • A repeatable content workflow • Clearly defined goals and constraints • Governance for escalating decisions • An intuitive and flexible process A CONTENT FRAMEWORK Photo by Jeff Eaton
  31. 31. Author Experience is critical to Content Strategy Learning 4
  32. 32. 32 ©2016 All rights reserved. Brilliant! JUST IMAGINE, YOUR CONTENT STRATEGY IS… Delightful! On brand! Engaging! Photo by clement127
  33. 33. 33 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Crappy CMS • Confusing decision points • Designs that don’t accommodate the content • Different interpretations of the guidelines THEN REALITY SETS IN Photo by Kristina Alexanderson
  34. 34. 34 ©2016 All rights reserved. Not following design & content guidelines: 1. Promos were were meant to highlight marketing content, but this one just points to products 2. Missing a small promo, which leaves a hole in the grid 3. A second large promo is used, but that style was only meant to be used in the lead spot THE CONTENT & EXPERIENCE BECOME DEGRADED
  35. 35. The team needs to know what to do and needs tools to help them do it
  36. 36. 36 ©2016 All rights reserved. • How the design system works, what it’s intended to do • How to make decisions at points where there are options • They need to be empowered to make decisions when they encounter content not anticipated by the designs KNOWING WHAT TO DO
  37. 37. 37 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Publishing tool that are intuitive to use • Specs for things that aren’t intuitive (and inline help) • Photoshop templates for image sizes, safe zones, etc. • Ability to preview content in as many relevant contexts as possible (for example, breakpoints) • Tools that provide machine assisted support for tedious & repetitive but predictable tasks TOOLS THAT HELP THEM DO IT
  38. 38. 38PEOPLE TAKE SHORTCUTS WHEN OVERBURDENED Replace or remove Photo by clement127
  39. 39. 39POOR METADATA Copyright © 2010 Reurers
  40. 40. Intelligent Content needs to be Well-Structured Learning 5
  41. 41. 41 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Content is stored separately from any display information • Distinct content types are identified, with unique attributes • Content is stored in discrete, meaningful chunks • Content is combined with a layout and design elements right before being delivered to a webpage, app, skill*, etc. • Content is delivered in the appropriate format for the device “WELL-STRUCTURED CONTENT” MEANS
  42. 42. 42 ©2016 All rights reserved. CONTENT MODELLING Translate designs into flexible content chunks Chart Song Album Page Artist Profile Content Attributes Content Types
  43. 43. 43 ©2016 All rights reserved. Which types of content are different enough that they might warrant a unique structure? IDENTIFY UNIQUE CONTENT TYPES © A List Apart, Jeff Baker and Alex Graham, Washington Post, Food Network, and Barnes & Article Quiz Slide show Recipe Event
  44. 44. ©2016 All rights reserved. DEVELOP A FLEXIBLE CONTENT MODEL Title Author Show Episode Tags Image Caption Time Level Yield Ingredient 1 Ingredient 2 Ingredient 3 Etc… Directions Guide / Menu Recipe © Food Network
  45. 45. 45 ©2016 All rights reserved. For each element on the page: • What is the purpose of this element? • What is its content? • What is the source of the content? • How much content can it hold? • What happens to “spillover?” • How often does the content change? • In what way does the content vary? • Does the content expire? • Etc.. CONTENT MODELLING FOSTERS DISCUSSION
  46. 46. 46 Involve designers and developers. Ideally, content producers as well. CONTENT MODELLING PROCESS These activities enables us to: • Verify that the design makes sense for real content • Advise on best setup of the CMS to support the design • Advise on best setup of the CMS to support good authoring experience and content production processes Photo by Stephen Ritchie
  47. 47. Intelligent Content needs to be Well-Described Learning 6
  48. 48. 48 ©2016 All rights reserved. The content contains (often hidden) information that: • Explains precisely what the content is about • Indicates how it can be used • Provides cues on how to best display or “run” it • Indicates how it’s related to other content and services • Is captured in a machine-readable form “WELL-DESCRIBED CONTENT” MEANS
  49. 49. 49 Title: Ta-dah! Description: That’s a serious jello mold! Tags: jello, layers, delicious Appears in: Dinner (set) Created by: Dan DeLuca Taken on: February 14, 2010 Taken with: Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR Usage Rights: CC-BY Some rights reserved Source URL: CONTENT STRUCTURE Photo by Dan DeLuca `
  50. 50. 50 Title: Ta-dah! Description: That’s a serious jello mold! Tags: jello, layers, delicious Appears in: Dinner (set) Created by: Dan DeLuca Taken on: February 14, 2010 Taken with: Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR Usage Rights: CC-BY Some rights reserved Source URL: METADATA • Gives the content context and meaning and helps platforms and systems understand how to use it • Some is authored, some is machine generated Photo by Dan DeLuca `
  51. 51. 51 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Subjects, people, places, events, and products • Answer to questions such as: • Where did the content come from? • Are there restrictions on how it can be used? • Is the content time-sensitive or evergreen? • Is the content part of a larger story or set of content, without which it doesn’t make as much sense? • What information is included when people share the content via social media? WELL DESCRIBED CAN INCLUDE
  52. 52. 52 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace • Episode 1 • Episode I • Phantom Menace • Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace • Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace • Star Wars prequel • Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace • Star Wars: Episode i -- the Phantom Menace • Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace • Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace • Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menance • Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace -- Episode I • The Phantom Menace • The Phanton Menace STANDARDIZING KEYWORDS
  53. 53. 53 ©2016 All rights reserved. • More Precise Search • More Usable Browse • Contextual Linking • Automated Content Aggregation • Syndication • Access Permissions • Personalized Content • Other Advanced Functionality HOW METADATA IS USED
  54. 54. 54 Increasingly important as content ecosystems incorporate more machine intelligence, and content moves through autonomously. METADATA STRATEGY Photo by Cade Roster
  55. 55. 55 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Nimble: A Razorfirsh Report on Publishing in the Digital Age • Content Modelling: A Master Skill • Metadata is a Love Note to the Future • Metadata Workshop • My other presentations on Slideshare MORE INFO ON CONTENT STRUCTURE & METADATA
  56. 56. Content Strategy is concerned with content Systems, not just content. Learning 3, revisited (briefly)
  57. 57. 57FRONT END AND BACK END Source “Why You Need Two Types of Content Strategist”, by Ann Rockley
  58. 58. 58 Front End Supports the design and creation of the content itself.  Content Design  Editorial Strategy  Content & Channel Planning  Content Creation Back End Supports the design and creation of the systems that manage and deploy content.  Content Model  Metadata  Content Delivery TWO DISTINCT FOCUSES Photos by Ewald Straßmann: outside and inside
  59. 59. Content decisions are tied to bigger strategic initiatives and measurable goals.
  60. 60. 60 ©2016 All rights reserved. Articulates the following: • Summary of insights from audit, interviews, and other research • Primary content opportunities • Content Vision Statement • Content Principles • Activities that will get you to the future state CONTENT VISION BRIEF
  61. 61. 61 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Vision Statement: “Become a media company. Become the most useful brand in the word” • Content Principles: EXAMPLE: A CLOTHING COMPANY
  62. 62. 62 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Vision Statement: Unleash the power of digital to help engineers design solutions for the world’s toughest challenges. Content is the basic unit of digital power. Our digital offerings will only be as strong as the content that drives them. • Content Principles: EXAMPLE: B2B ELECTRONICS PARTS COMPANY
  63. 63. 63 ©2016 All rights reserved. • Vision Statement: The industry-leading digital platform serving information, insights, and tools that transform the power of healthcare partnerships to bring lasting value to customer relationships across the globe. • Content Principles: EXAMPLE: GLOBAL MEDICAL DEVICE COMPANY
  64. 64. Based on these, develop a picture of what the future will look like and THEN decide what activities will get you there.
  65. 65. 65 • Watch video: • View slides: ERIN KISSANE: “LITTLE BIG SYSTEMS”
  66. 66. Content Strategy isn’t a practice, it’s a Methodology Learning 7
  67. 67. 67NO ONE WOULD JUST SAY “I’M A SCIENTIST” Photo by clement127
  68. 68. 68 • A body of techniques for investigating phenomena • Employs systematic, empirical observation and measurement • Verified through repeated experiments • Based on the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses Biology: Anatomy, Astrobiology, Biochemistry, Biogeography, Biological engineering, Biophysics, Behavioral neuroscience, Biotechnology, Botany, Cell biology, Conservation biology, Cryobiology, Developmental biology, Ecology, Ethnobiology, Ethology, Evolutionary biology, Genetics, Gerontology, Immunology, Limnology, Marine biology, Microbiology, Molecular biology, Neuroscience, Paleontology, Parasitology, Physiology, Radiobiology, Soil biology, Sociobiology, Systematics, Toxicology, Zoology Chemistry: Acid-base, Analytical, Environmental, Inorganic, Nuclear, Organic, Physical, Solid-state, Supramolecular, Sustainable, Theoretical, Astrochemistry, Biochemistry, Crystallography, Food chemistry, Geochemistry, Materials science, Molecular physics, Photochemistry, Radiochemistry, Stereochemistry, Surface science Earth sciences: Climatology, Ecology, Edaphology, Environmental science, Geodesy, Geography, Geology, Geomorphology, Geophysics, Glaciology, Hydrology, Limnology, Meteorology, Oceanography, Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology, Palynology, Pedology, Volcanology Healthcare: Medicine, Veterinary, Dentistry, Midwifery, Epidemiology, Pharmacy, Nursing Physics: Classical, Modern, Applied, Experimental, Mechanics, Molecular, Nuclear, Particle, Plasma, Quantum mechanics, General relativity, Thermodynamics THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
  69. 69. 69PRACTITIONERS OF CONTENT STRATEGY Taxonomist UX Writer Search Content Strategist Content Designer Tech Writer Editorial Strategist Social Media Strategist Content Marketer Product Content Strategist Content Engineer Information Scientist Content Planner Strategist Information Architect Data Scientist CMS Developer Copywriter Designer
  70. 70. 70 • Ex-editors focus on editorial strategy and messaging. • Ex-designers focus on content and product design. • Ex-librarians focus on info architecture and metadata. • Ex-developers focus on content structure and publishing. • Ex-marketers focus on content marketing and social. OUR BACKGROUNDS INFLUENCE OUR FOCUS Illustration by Richard Ingram
  71. 71. 71THAT’S OK! Photo by Aimee Ray We need lots of content specialists, not lots of content unicorns.
  72. 72. 72 • A body of techniques for working with content • Content decisions are tied to strategic initiatives and measurable goals • Content decisions are made using user-centered design principles • Content strategy is interdisciplinary PROPOSAL: THE CONTENT STRATEGY METHOD Photo by Jeff Eaton
  73. 73. 73 We tend to call all of these people “Content Strategist” ISSUE 1: IDENTITY CRISIS Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist Content Strategist
  74. 74. 74 There should still be a ringleader, someone who articulates the goals and ensures that all content work is heading in the right direction. ISSUE 2: WHO TAMES THE BEAST?
  75. 75. 75 It’s not helpful when we see what others are doing and say “That’s not content strategy, what I do is content strategy.” ISSUE 3: WE NEED TO LET GO OF JUDGEMENT Photo by julochka
  76. 76. Content Strategy is in its Adolescence Learning 8
  77. 77. 77 • Mean girls WE CAN BE PETTY & TERRITORIAL
  78. 78. 78 For example: Endless blog posts on “what is content strategy?” WE’RE PAINFULLY REFLECTIVE
  80. 80. 80 We’re different from Editors, Information Architects, Copywriters, Content Marketers, etc. WE’RE DESPERATELY TRYING TO INDIVIDUATE
  81. 81. 81IT’S AN AWKWARD TIME, BUT THERE’S GREAT POTENTIAL The need for people who can help make sense of it all is only going to grow. Everything is content and the digital landscape is still largely uncharted territory.
  82. 82. 82SO, LET’S GO DO SOME CONTENT STRATEGY! Source: Getty Images, via The Telegraph
  83. 83. 83 0. Less is More 1. Everything is Content 2. Content is Communication 3. Content Strategy is concerned with content Systems, not just content. 4. Author Experience is critical to Content Strategy 5. Intelligent Content needs to be Well-Structured 6. Intelligent Content needs to be Well-Described 7. Content Strategy isn’t a practice, it’s a Methodology 8. Content Strategy is in its Adolescence SUMMARY OF LEARNINGS Photo by Jeff Eaton
  84. 84. Photo by