Be sure to first read How to Build a Data-Driven Culture to Support Editorial Decision-Making: Part 1.
Last week, we shared how to help begin building a data-driven culture at your organization through awareness of the content lifecycle and brand storytelling to stakeholders and all team members who touch content in some way. By fostering a data-driven content mindset, you will help continually emphasize the importance of content to help reach goals and unify your company culture around a strong, clear, and data-driven content vision and strategy.
This week, we’re adding four more layers to the foundation we laid last week in order to further support data-driven editorial decision-making. These elements are ongoing and must become part of your routine in order to maintain a data-driven culture.
Simply put, an editorial calendar is a tool for planning, organizing, and scheduling content against one or multiple platforms. It is so much more than a calendar for assigning content to days of the week — it can function as an engine of accountability for our content strategy. You can use an editorial calendar to track applications and uses of story ideas, deadlines, workflow, and generally facilitate day-to-day editorial decision-making.
Editorial calendars work as an online complement to offline editorial meetings, allowing communicators a place to list, organize, and prioritize content and not use valuable meeting time to repeat those details. They also create consolidated internal awareness of what’s happening across platforms. More profoundly, they can be used to align content planning with overall communications objectives and target audiences.
Some possible components of an editorial calendar include:
Editorial calendars can also work as an institutional publication history, allowing you to track content performance as a point of reference for future editorial decision-making.
You can pre-populate and align an editorial calendar with certain milestones and recurring content opportunities. Be sure to follow up internally about the outcomes of those events and assess for editorial value.
Also, as you develop a site-wide taxonomy and content reuse strategy, account for that in your editorial calendar. Know where your website has content expectations and ensure you are creating content that meets them.
Editorial meetings (or content planning meetings) can be incredibly powerful events. They present a unique in-person opportunity to reinforce a content strategy with the people who are on the front lines of executing it.
Sadly, putting the appropriate people in a room does not guarantee productive things will happen. I’ve been at many an editorial meeting that eventually yields to furtive Facebook browsing and distracted day-dreaming because the participants are not being meaningfully engaged around the task at hand. Going around the room reading story lists or content plans that are nearly or fully baked, minimizing opportunity for collaboration, enhancement, or efficiency? Been there, done that. Yawn. A missed opportunity:
There are a few key goals for an editorial meeting in my mind:
Editorial meetings should not be dominated by whoever schedules or leads it—the most influential force in the room should be the established content strategy that attendees are charged with supporting. Best practices for meetings, such as agendas, minutes, and sufficient promotion, will help ensure success. These meetings also present a great opportunity to revisit shared goals, guidelines, and editorial priorities, to ensure they remain appropriate. You may also consider inviting a range of people from across your organization to build buy-in, promote transparency, and facilitate learning.
We must measure content in order to plan content. And it’s not enough to have a pile of numbers collected by Google Analytics on call. We need to be proactive in measuring our content performance against defined success metrics in order to determine the effectiveness of our efforts—our content ROI, if you will.
Once we know the questions we want to ask about our content, that will guide how we harness the power of analytics tools to inform our content decision-making process.
In an era where “content marketing” is the new hotness, it is easy to buy into the idea that volume trumps all — the more you flood the market with “engaging, relevant” content, the better off you will be. But one of my adages is value, not volume. By gauging the true value and effectiveness of our content—both for short-term communications needs and more evergreen applications — we will be able to be both more efficient and more impactful in our efforts.
One of my favorite (and simple) approaches to guiding this effort is the measurement model popularized by analytics guru Avinash Kaushik. For any given digital property or section thereof, you can ask this set of questions:
For example, a college homepage might have this as a measurement framework:
By drilling down from high-level business objectives to specific user segments, we gain a powerful sense of how to measure and develop our content.
Content strategy means setting priorities. We can’t be all things to all people, or create all content at once. Having criteria in place by which we assess the value of certain content ideas helps ensure that content decisions will reflect our strategy, not the desires of an individual or the climate of a particular day. Without criteria, decision-making would happen in a vacuum.
I love it when organizations issue clear guidelines and criteria about what content is appropriate for which purposes. One of my favorite examples is the comprehensive set of criteria that the University of Nevada Las Vegas shares for what content can go in their homepage slider. Not only do they describe what is acceptable, but they also define what is not acceptable. I also love how, in soliciting stories from their community, the Rutgers School of Social Work provides comprehensive guidelines about the types of information that makes for a good story. Similarly, the University of Wisconsin-Madison issues guidelines about preferred topics, style, length, and format.
The Core Strategy Statement exercise is a great way to succinctly capture and prioritize your goals and audiences, and that statement can serve as the basis against which you evaluate content. Using a content scorecard approach (explained by Meghan Casey in her book “The Content Strategy Toolkit”), you can evaluate certain content ideas or projects against these defined priorities and assign points for a high, medium, or low ranking. Very quickly, you can assign a numeric value to proposed content work and prioritize its merit.
Numbers are helpful because they are concrete and easy to grasp. They take the emotion and personality out of a decision, especially when that number is generated as the sum of values assigned against defined criteria. The more you can create these kinds of matrices and scorecards to guide content decision-making, the more you can defend yourself against whims and wishes.
You may also consider adapting the content scorecard approach popularized by Content Strategy Inc. to guide content decision-making rather than content auditing and assessment.
Now that you’re armed with these six tactics:
you’re well on your way to building a data-driven culture to support editorial decision-making.
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