By Meghan Casey published October 29, 2015

Content Strategy 101 for Content Marketers: Your Questions Answered

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While I love working as a content strategist, I recognize that many content marketers might not fully appreciate the role that content strategy can play – the power it can have – in your content marketing. After participating in the CMI Content Strategy 101 Twitter chat, I welcomed the opportunity to answer more questions.

What key content strategy concepts should content marketers know?

Content strategy is about providing the right content, to the right people, at the right times – for the right reasons.

#Contentstrategy is providing the right content to the right people at the right times – for the right reasons Click To Tweet

Content strategy requires:

  • Prioritizing audiences (right people)
  • Understanding what they really need or expect (right content)
  • Being smart about when and where you share your content to meet them where they are or are likely to go (right times)

Finally, “right reasons” refers to how content helps your business and why you’re creating it in the first place. Really think about this. Your money may be better spent improving your products or sending out coupons than in creating content. Be honest with yourself.

Can all content marketing projects benefit from content strategy?

Yes. Content strategy is about deciding what to do (and what not to do) with limited financial, time, and human resources. A core content strategy statement can help you make smart decisions about what to produce and share.

Not sure what a core content strategy statement is? The short answer is that it’s a strategy statement that helps you say no to ideas that don’t make sense and yes to ideas that have the best chance at helping you achieve business goals.

Content strategy requires involvement from multiple groups. Whom should you include and how do you get buy-in?

Getting buy-in is a key to success. You need people who can speak for the C-suite and people who will make the strategy happen. One of the first things I do with new clients is walk them through a tool I developed called a stakeholder matrix. Besides collecting the names and titles of people who have a stake in the project, this matrix helps me understand the roles they play, for example, whether they’re influencers or decision-makers, and whether they set strategy or implement it. This matrix helps me understand what each stakeholder cares about most.

You need to identify and include the people who might derail your project. Keep an eye out for hidden stakeholders. Then, make sure all stakeholders know why their input is necessary, and respect their time.


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What tools do content strategists use to understand audience?

A lot depends on how much time and budget you can get to do research. I think everyone should own a copy of Just Enough Research by Erika Hall for ideas on getting the dirt on audience needs.

You have to uncover what the audience needs and expects as well as how people behave. People might tell you they think a four-part series on beard weaving sounds neat. That doesn’t mean they’ll tune in.

Our assumptions about what our audiences want are often wrong. You can’t find that out unless you ask the right questions. One way to figure out what questions to ask is to follow the user understanding matrix detailed in The Content Strategy Toolkit. Document what you want to know, why you want to know it, what you assume, and what you think you know. It’s a good way to formulate your user-research questions and get a handle on the user insights you already have.

What is governance, and why is it something content marketers need to understand?

Governance, at its core, is about preserving your content strategy and evolving it as business goals and user needs shift. That means people need strategic and day-to-day authority to say no to things that don’t make sense for the strategy. You need a framework for stakeholders to evaluate proposed content projects and ideas, and to make strategy-based decisions.

To put a governance model in place, it’s important to consider four key aspects:

  • Authority: Who is empowered to make decisions about your website?
  • Planning: How will you plan for content overhaul efforts – from launch to ongoing maintenance?
  • Tools: What tools (guidelines, checklists, priorities, editorial calendars, etc.) will you use to make sure that your content is on-strategy and that your content strategy stays relevant?

What are the first steps to figuring out why your content isn’t working so you can improve it?

The first step is to hypothesize. What do you think is wrong? You probably have a good idea. Then make a plan to validate your hypothesis. You might suspect, for example, that much of the content you’ve published isn’t something your audience would rely on your brand for.

In the plan, suggest multiple validation methods. You might review analytics, talk to your audience, and look at best practices. Or you might analyze on-site search terms and ask users what sources they trust on the topics your content addresses.

How do you measure content effectiveness?

At the risk of people rolling their eyes at me, I’m going to say that we need to stop measuring engagement. Unless you can tie engagement to a business goal – like lead generation, conversion, or preference – engagement does not matter.

To figure out whether your content is working, find out how it impacts meaningful business goals. Watch for patterns in leads and conversions, talk to your support and sales folks, and ask your users or your target users.

How do you find the right content strategist for your project?

First, let me say that you might not need one. Content strategy isn’t necessarily a job. It’s an approach – a thought process.

Melissa Breker of Content Strategy Inc. put together a handy list of content strategy skill sets. She shares tips for hiring a content strategist as well as the list of skills or attributes you need covered. Use her list as a starting point to put together a job posting or to evaluate the skill sets of the people in the roles you already have.

Summary

I enjoyed the opportunity to answer your questions on content strategy. Before we conclude, let me share a few takeaways:

  • Developing your strategy doesn’t have to be painful.
  • As you figure out what ideas to say no to, know that your content marketing efforts are maturing and becoming more strategic.
  • The more strategic your content decisions become, the more your organization or clients will thank you for being good stewards of their time and money – and the more your readers will appreciate you, too.

Want more? Sign up for the Content Strategy for Marketers weekly email newsletter. Every Saturday we send an email pointing to our latest posts on intelligent content and content strategy along with an exclusive letter from CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose.

Cover image via pixabay.com 

Author: Meghan Casey

Meghan Casey is the lead content strategist at Brain Traffic , the world’s leading agency devoted exclusively to content. She helps a variety of clients — start-ups, nonprofits, colleges and universities, Fortune 50 companies, and everything in between — solve the messy content problems most organizations encounter every day. She has also helped The Nerdery, a software-development shop, build content strategy into their user experience practice.

Meghan is a trainer and speaker on content strategy topics. She once inspired workshop participants to spontaneously do the wave. Yep, that really happened. She has been working with content and communications since 1996. Her book The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right was published by Peachpit in June. You can follow her random musings, some of which are about content strategy, on Twitter @meghscase.

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  • http://www.bigskywords.com/ Greg Strandberg

    I feel there needed to be more on determining if your content is effective or not. Talking to your audience can be worthless. I remember a post I put up in November 2013 asking “what do you want to read.” Wow, those crickets were loud.

    I still think looking at what your competitors are doing is best. If you really are keyed-into your niche, you’ll know the top sites that produce quality content on a regular basis.

    It’s also hard to go wrong with reproducing, expanding, or making new on your “evergreen posts.” Remember, these don’t have to be getting tons of hits every month. If it’s doing well now and has been for a few weeks, obviously you were onto something.

    • meghscase

      I guess the question is what you mean by something “doing well.” Views, likes, and shares don’t necessarily mean it’s helping your business goals. People might love the article you posted on dressing your cat up for Halloween, but does that make them buy anything from you? Regarding the first part of your post, asking people what they want to read is indeed a pretty worthless question. Talking to your audience is about asking them meaningful questions about their lives, challenges, behaviors, etc., so that you can suss out what topics make sense to produce content on — as long as those topics also align with your brand and goals.

  • Amber

    I really enjoyed attending the Content Strategy 101 workshop at CMWorld15! Your book is now one of my work bibles and I’m working on implementing this process with my agency and clients. Love, love, love! Thanks for sharing.

    • meghscase

      I’m so glad to hear that, Amber!

  • Karel Paragh

    Thank you for this article. Especially the sentence ” Content strategy isn’t necessarily a job. It’s an approach ” got me thinking! Regards, Karel Koes Hiranjgarbh Missier Paragh

    • meghscase

      I think it’s one of the most important things. We all can and should play a role in content strategy, whether we call ourselves content strategists or not. I often make recommendations to clients about adding responsibilities for content strategy tasks to existing job descriptions. They need to be done, but not necessarily by a content strategist.