You know I love Content Science Review, which features content insights and contributions from the Content Science team as well as a wide variety of friends, or outside contributors—from executives with leading brands to researchers with prestigious institutions to top notch consultants and practitioners. In 2016, our friends did not disappoint, so picking only seven insights to highlight was harder than picking my favorite holiday latte. But, I persevered and am delighted to recap these insights and how they resonated with me. My goal? To bring these content insights and their implications to your attention if you missed them when they first published, to inspire applying the insights, and to summarize them as a handy reference.

On to the insights! By the way, this list is not in order of importance or priority—I find they work well as a collection. Each insight complements the others, and they’re numbered so you know your progress in reading the list.

1. Data, Data, Data Must Inform Content Decisions

Measuring content impact is hard. I’m not a numbers person. I don’t have time to evaluate content. The excuses for not having data to inform your content decisions will no longer cut it. Our friends offered useful perspectives.

Mike Barton of Adobe notes, “While storytelling is important in sharing data insights, that story needs to be non-fiction. If you have important content questions your data isn’t telling you (and you likely do in the engagement category), work with your IT and web teams to put the correct infrastructure in place.”  

Additionally, Kelley Graham of American Cancer Society offers, “What was helpful for us was to sit down with other content teams and walk through the data in as much of an objective framework as possible. It’s not one team telling another team, ‘Your content isn’t effective.’ It’s sitting down as a group and going through the external and objective reporting that comes from ContentWRX and the other tools and really working together to see how we might solve 1 or 100 content issues.”

Monster’s Managing Editor Margaret Maranelli shares, “To compete with publishers, you need to act like a publisher … [our writers] dig into Monster’s proprietary data to add information like how many jobs we have in a relevant topic area.”

2. Content Is So Critical It Requires Leadership at Multiple Levels

What’s your organization’s level of content maturity? If your organization is serious about maturing your content capacity and practice, you will need content leadership at individual, team, and corporate levels. Our friends share a range of handy perspectives.

Tracy Wilson of HowStuffWorks explains, “One of the most important things in a manager role is hiring the right people. I know a lot of people who are in theater, and they will talk about how directing a play is largely about casting the right people. If you cast the wrong people, then your job as a director is going to be much harder. That same idea applies to a website, also. If your staff is not the right fit for your website, then it’s going to be much harder to manage that team.”

Michaela Hackner of Capital One also notes, “You first need to show up (and keep showing up) and be of service over everything else, when and where your content teams need you. Showing up doesn’t always mean doing; listening and perspective are often much more important. Try to see the world from 10,000 feet; leaders have perspective and gather enough information.”

Really complex organization? Carlos Abler of 3M offers how content strategy and leadership happen at multiple levels.

Conglomerates such as 3M offer, within a single organization, an opportunity to create publishing synergies across verticals that would normally be divided between truly separate companies. So the opportunity to develop a unified content strategy manifesting federations anchored by audiences, publications, production, and content management and so forth is huge.”

Read about 3M’s content capacity at these four levels: corporate, services, business groups, and divisions.

3. Get Your Digital House in Order

Set it and forget it does not work for digital and content governance. If you’re not auditing and analyzing content on a regular basis or involving the right stakeholders in content decisions, you’re setting yourself up for big problems and even failure. Take a cue from these contributors.

Scott Rosenberg of Intel offers, “By starting with a content reduction initiative, Intel was able to accelerate the broad implementation of its governance framework across the company. In moving consultation around strategy, capabilities, and governance upstream in the launch process, we moved from 80% of governance engagements occurring after development to 60% occurring before development—huge progress in a short period.”

Additionally, content expert Georgy Cohen explains, “To create true accountability, we need consistent process, defined roles and responsibilities, and empowerment through tools and knowledge. But getting there requires significant cultural change, and you can’t achieve that overnight. After all, digital governance needs to be realistic and sustainable in order to be successful. We can’t just draft well-meaning guidelines, hand them down via memo or edict, and expect everyone to embrace them with open arms.”

4. Employees Need the Right Content to Do Their Jobs and to Share the Love

Delivering the right content to the right employees at the right time can make them more productive and efficient. That you might know. What you might not know is that also empowers employees to advocate for your company or brand. Content can give you a lot of bang for your buck in terms of employee retention, engagement, and influence on attracting new employees. Take note of these perspectives.

A central mission for Cerner is to empower employees: “Our brand advocates are passionate about our mission to change health care, and we greatly benefit from the collective footprint of our team members. They continually build our brand through their interactions with each other, with clients and prospects, and in the communities where they work and live,” explains Mallory Murray, Cerner’s Internal Communications Lead. To achieve this visibility, Cerner’s CTS Workforce Enablement Manager Lance Yoder explains, “Before you can expect employee advocacy to work, you must first cultivate a strong sharing culture and an environment of trust. We accomplish this foundation through uCern Connect, our social business platform built on Jive. Associates have created more than 225,000 pieces of content so far in 2016, and this platform centers around how associates actually work.”

5. Think You Know Your Content Audience? Think Again

You know what they say happens when you assume. Ass … u … me … we all look bad. It’s difficult to offer the right content without understanding your audiences, users, or customers. Our content friends offer useful viewpoints.

Heather Taylor of The Economist, for example, shares a surprising insight about customers and audiences for B2B marketing: “Myth #1: Products and services should be the basis of B2B content marketing. While content marketers continue to churn out content based on the services they are selling, business professionals are looking for more. They are looking for inspiration.” Read the other three content myths she blasts here.

Additionally, Susanna Guzman of CFA Institute notes the value of defining the user journey. “We consider the following to be four significantly positive returns on our investments:

  • New and productive relationships between staff who don’t otherwise have occasion to work together.
  • A step or two closer to a model of collaborative content stewardship rather than ownership.
  • Deeper understanding of our clients around the world: what their lives are like, what concerns them, and what information they need.
  • A greater organizational appreciation of the connection between content and business objectives.”

6. Content Demands Many Types of Creativity

As every aspect of content becomes more complex … from deciding what content to create to figuring out how to deliver it to planning a delightful experience with it … creativity becomes essential. And content creativity is not simply about what story to tell or what catchy phrase or compelling image to create. It’s also about solving complex problems, where technology, content, and people intersect. Our friends generously share two interesting perspectives.

Michael Haggerty-Villa notes about Disney’s approach: “Websites, apps, and in-park kiosks play an important part in supporting MagicBands and other Disney park innovations. And content strategists collaborate with creative and technical teams to help bring these tools to life.”

Additionally, Sam Rosen shares the impressive brand, problem solving, and media creativity that went into a highly successful partnership between Netflix and The Atlantic in this piece.

7. Know When to Optimize (and Know When to Run)

To paraphrase Kenny Rogers’ famous song “The Gambler,” it pays to know when content is worth optimizing or improving. The reward is more impact and value from that content. But, there is a risk … investing in optimizing content with limited value, or what I call polishing a turd. Our friends offer some words of wisdom …

Erin Everhart of The Home Depot notes, “It’s easy to put up a display ad when there’s a hot promo attached to it, but we’re constantly trying to be more deliberate in our media placements to better tell The Home Depot story. It’s things like getting deeper than demographics, leveraging insights from our first-party data to better predict shopping patterns, and layering on accessible third-party data to fill in gaps, but I can’t do any of that until I truly understand the product all of that content will go to support.”

Jeff Greer explains the impact of plain language for Blue Cross Blue Shield: “Content strategy may not be able to solve the complexity of the product design, but simpler, plain-language vocabulary will get people more interested in their health insurance and greatly increase content usefulness for consumers.”

Joseph Dickerson of Microsoft predicted the renewed importance of microcopy for user experience in 2016. He wasn’t wrong in stating, “As the app landscape becomes increasingly competitive and apps look increasingly alike, content becomes a key differentiator. Issues such as providing clear, compelling messages will be the difference between success and failure for many new apps and initiatives. Content is a critical part of the experience that people have with technology in all its forms (mobile, desktop, TV, voice). Smart companies will pay very close attention to content issues – voice, clarity, usefulness, and much more.”

All 2016 Outside Contributions

Here’s the whole set of articles and more, packed with content insights contributed by friends of Content Science.

Articles

Q+As

Book Excerpts

The Author

Colleen Jones is the founder and CEO of Content Science, a growing content intelligence and strategy company based in Atlanta GA. Content Science owns Content Science Review, Content Science Academy, and the content effectiveness software ContentWRX.  Colleen regularly consults with executives and practitioners to improve their strategy and processes for content. She shares insights and guidance from her experience regularly on Content Science Review, at events around the world, and in highly rated books such as Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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