Validating a work plan, even a high-level strategic one, is key to success in the fields of both content strategy and project management. Obviously, if you have no constraints and an unlimited budget, then you have no need to challenge such a wonderland existence. But, alas, most of us live in the real world, ruled at least by the triple constraints – schedule, cost, and scope/quality. And some would argue that our constraints number even more.
Note: This blog is the third in a five-part series that examines how the elements of the content strategist role both parallel and intersect those of the project manager’s role. See part 2, published in May 2019.
So validating the efficacy of a strategic plan becomes more of a requirement than a luxury. For content strategy, the simplest validations are the most obvious ones:
- What are the priorities for your organization? For your audiences?
- What does the data tell you?
- What deadlines must you meet?
- How can you pull this off with the resources you have?
It’s probably best to tackle the questions in order.
- The first question speaks to your core content strategy as well as to expressed project and messaging goals. Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach in their book Content Strategy for the Web reminds us that a “core strategy sets the long-term direction for all of your content-related initiatives” and thus helps you keep moving forward.
–>On the tactical, project level, you should star, highlight or otherwise begin to distinguish the must-have content work from the nice-to-have.
- The second question speaks to metrics, a topic that I plan to give more depth in a later blog. That said, for planning new content, you will find value in examining page visits to and downloads of similar content over the past six months. Include user journeys and search term rankings if possible. And if your team or the larger organization does audience surveys, carefully examine those results.
–>Look for trends over time. Did you miss something in your gap analysis? If so, add it to the work plan and give it an appropriate priority.
- The third question and fourth questions help you winnow the wheat from the chaff. If your original plan calls for 14 videos, and you have only one video expert and six weeks to complete all video work, your plan likely needs adjustment. Besides planning (e.g., creating a shot list) and filming, videos can require scripting, editing, and post-production processing – all of which are time-consuming.
–> If you can’t add resources, you’ll likely have cut the number of videos for the project.
- On the topic of resources, remember that not all content has to be home-grown (i.e., “original content”). Consider where you can aggregate existing content from outside sources and curate it for effective presentation to your users. In the book Medill on Media, Owen Youngman explains that curating content “combines intentionality, audience knowledge, filtering, and quality control.” It is a type of cherry-picking for relevance.
–>However, content curation still requires someone to do the initial work and maintain the resulting output for its life cycle.
Speaking of a content life cycle, remember as you winnow your work plan that content not only requires a development cycle – a set of iterations involving reviews and revisions – but also some kind of governance of its life after it is published. How much maintenance will the content require in the future? How long a life will the content have?
Some balancing of these considerations should be part of your planning. For instance, your team might want to consider curating short-lived content and putting some sort of trigger in place to remove it after a certain timeframe.
The outcome of this winnowing effort should be a refined, specific work plan and a content calendar, also referred to as a content-planning calendar.
The American Society of Association Executives recently reported that among professional associations, the content-planning calendar was the most commonly used of 17 content strategy tactics uncovered by an ASAE survey. (To see the list of tactics, refer to “How Are Associations Thinking About Content Strategy?”)
At this point, with your content-planning calendar in hand and your work plan refined, you will have to get buy-in from strategic stakeholders before you proceed with implementation. For that, you will have to rely on your negotiation skills and organizational processes. Good luck!
The next blog in this series will address – as previously promised – leveraging proofs of concept, incremental reviews, and other techniques for monitoring and managing your content strategy’s implementation.