Think about a car—a precision piece of machinery, forged from steel with state-of-the-art design and cutting-edge engineering. But when we add a driver, full of initiative, feelings, and distraction, we introduce the opportunity for human error. That precision piece of machinery can go veering off the road in a heartbeat.

So goes our content strategy. Well thought out on paper and reflecting all appropriate considerations of business goals, communications objectives, and resource sustainability, it can quickly encounter a PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair—meaning, a human) and similarly go veering off course.

In order to ensure that the people charged with executing our content strategy— rom the high-most stakeholders to the “lowly” content editors—are invested in upholding it, we need to work hard to foster a supportive culture and empower individuals to be informed, thoughtful stewards of content.

To extend our car metaphor, the rubber really hits the road when we talk about content decision-making. So how can we ensure that day-to-day, on-the-ground decisions about content remain closely tied to our overarching strategy? We can start by honoring…

The Content Lifecycle

I see the content lifecycle as having six phases:

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  • Plan: Source and vet ideas for appropriateness, aligned with goals and reinforced by analysis
  • Create: Determine format, structure, substance, and components
  • Publish: Select platforms; determine desired actions; identify success metrics
  • Promote: Determine where and how; identify reuse strategy
  • Measure: Track performance; collect data from multiple sources
  • Analyze: Gauge outcomes against success metrics; glean takeaways for future planning

Through this prism, the content lifecycle is driven by using content ROI to inform future content decisions, with the goal of yielding stronger outcomes in the future. But in reflecting an idealized publishing process, what this lifecycle diagram fails to take into account are the motivations of the human actors responsible for carrying out these tasks. Decision-making can be messy. To make it more efficient and effective, we need to culturally reinforce the human touchpoints along this publishing cycle.

The next step is to convince stakeholders and team members just how important a data-driven mindset is for your organization’s content to be effective through…

Fostering Brand Awareness and Buy-In

Storytelling is a cultural function. Is your organizational culture inclined and structured to support the kind of storytelling your content strategy demands? What if the idea of strategic brand storytelling is foreign to your organization? Time to begin the process of culture change, and that means two things: forming relationships and spreading awareness. Get connected and drop knowledge.

The more you can place your high-level content strategy in front of people in accessible ways so they understand what you are trying to communicate, why, and how they are a part of it, the more effective they will be. This requires ongoing socialization and reinforcement. The University of Washington created a helpful brand pyramid for an at-a-glance understanding of their brand:

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And when the University of Texas at Austin redesigned their homepage in 2014, they developed a presentation (PPT) breaking down the homepage by brand, goals, and audiences to inform the internal community about the content strategy behind the homepage and how they executed it. Transparency is essential to cultivating not only buy-in, but trust and engagement.

Making the outcomes of your content strategy more tangible to those responsible for executing it can increase their ongoing sense of investment in the process. Some ways to reinforce this include:

  • Establish check-ins with stakeholders, both individually and at group meetings, demonstrating content success and reach.
  • Create incentives and easy conduits for people to share information and promote stories.
  • Appoint “ambassadors” in units across your organization to be on the front lines of what’s going on and relay information. Track who gives you great content leads and show them the content ROI.
  • Gain access to other editorial decision-making processes and find opportunities to adapt or reuse content/ideas.

These two elements will help lay the groundwork for your data-driven content decisions. By nurturing a data-driven mindset throughout your team and organization, your editorial decision-making will become simpler. You’ll also be well on your way to creating content that your audience will value and develop an editorial process that your content team will appreciate and understand. Win-win.

Read Part 2 and learn about four ongoing processes that will help your team build a data-driven culture that supports editorial decision-making.

The Author

With more than a decade of higher ed communications experience to her name, Georgiana Cohen is currently employed as Associate Creative Director, Digital Strategy, at OHO Interactive. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Boston University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Journalism. Georgiana is a frequent speaker on topics relating to web content and digital communications and a published freelance writer.


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