By Marcia Riefer Johnston published July 28, 2016

How to Get Your Fast Content Out of the Slow Lane

Fast-Content-Out-Of-Slow-Lane

Two weeks. That’s how long it takes a certain financial-services company to post a tweet.

“If it takes you two weeks to get a tweet out, you’re doing it wrong.” So says Robert Rose, CMI’s chief content adviser, who told this story at the Intelligent Content Conference in his talk, Structured Experiences: Content at the Speed of Culture.

He urges brands to differentiate between content that merits a full-blown vetting process, content that needs to get out there now, and content that falls somewhere in between.

Even in regulated industries, when it comes to content, one speed does not fit all. While some kinds of content – white papers, for example – take months to create, approve, and distribute, other kinds of content need to fly out in a matter of hours or even minutes.

In his talk, Robert mentioned a company that has created separate approval tracks based on traffic-light colors:

  • Red-light content is slow. It requires completion of all tasks in the approval workflow.
  • Yellow-light content is fast. It bypasses certain tasks in the approval workflow.
  • Green-light content is ready to go. It bypasses the whole approval workflow.

Robert clarified in an email that this company has even programmed its CMS to flag red-light and yellow-light content. Green-light content gets no flag; it just gets published.

Some businesses have no such tracks. All their content moves at one speed: slow. Those businesses miss opportunities and waste resources. As Robert said,

They treat all content with the same kind of governance. They treat every piece of content like an ad. Every white paper, every blog post, every tweet, every piece of content has to go through the same review process.

Don’t be one of those businesses.

How do you get your fast content out of the slow lane? How do you help each piece of content – across all product lines and departments – find its way into the world at the appropriate speed? Robert has some ideas for you.

All ideas and quotations, unless otherwise attributed, come from Robert’s ICC talk and my subsequent conversations with him.

Mixed-metaphor alert: You may have noticed that terms like “slow lane,” “fast track,” and “bypass” don’t exactly map to the traffic-light analogy. In some ways, traffic lanes represent this multispeed concept better than traffic-light colors. You might even argue that the yellow light creates some cognitive dissonance as a symbol of fast content because yellow means “slow down.” I’m sticking with the traffic light anyhow since it works for one company and since green works especially well for content that can go straight through without slowing down for anything. Pick your metaphor – whatever it takes to get your content moving at the right speed.

Slow content: Get it right

Marcia_TrafficLights-RedSlow content may take many weeks to develop and approve. Robert calls this “heavy-duty content.” It may be new content. Considered content. Substantial, long-form content. Content that’s heavily structured or highly personalized based on customer data. Content that requires extra care related to privacy or security. Content that must meet regulatory requirements. Or content that was provided by a freelancer.

Slow content requires heavy governance. It usually has “a lot of hands in the pot.” It will be around for a while, and you want it to be stable. After it’s approved, you don’t want to make changes. Robert describes it as evergreen, foundational, cornerstone content.

Examples: White papers, e-books, long-form video projects, personalized account content, product documentation.

Strategy: Where appropriate, follow rigorous processes for developing, reviewing, approving, categorizing, tagging, optimizing, distributing, and archiving. Take your time. Get the details right.

Technology: Slow content is typically part of your core data-management (or content management) systems. You need maximum control, maximum security, maximum privacy protection.

Fast content: Keep the workflow tight

Marcia_TrafficLights-YellowFast content has lower stakes than slow content. Fast content still requires research, and the information may be substantial, but there are fewer regulatory requirements and fewer potential liabilities. Legal review may be unnecessary.

Typically, fast content doesn’t need to stand the test of time the way that slow content does. It may be topical, trendy, newsy.

Fast content may exist solely to build a base of subscribers, to boost engagement, or to build relationships. It requires a light workflow. Light taxonomies (categorizing and tagging). Light governance.

This kind of content may have been repurposed with some changes, or it may be deemed “fast” based on other rules worked out between the content group and the governance folks. It’s easy to turn on and off. It’s “as easy and flexible as a media buy, not something that will take six months to set up and get a CMS in place for.”

Fast content can provide you with low-risk, low-investment learning opportunities. It may include sandbox projects that you could easily abandon, projects that give you the feedback you need to decide which kinds of content to integrate into your in-house systems. For example, you might pull a successful Tumblr blog into your CMS, or you might absorb a MailChimp email list into your secure CRM system.

Robert cautions that “fast doesn’t mean sloppy. You do need to take care. Even fast content needs to be well thought out.”

He urges every brand to develop a strategy for fast content:

Even the most regulated companies can create a fast-track approach for their social experiences. In my experience, the compliance people are often happy to cooperate. They don’t want tweets backing up on their desks. They’re eager to expedite processes where they can.

Every brand needs a strategy for fast #content, says @Robert_Rose. #contentstrategy Click To Tweet

Examples: Blog posts, long-form social posts, infographics, partially repurposed content.

Strategy: Streamline your review process as much as possible while keeping appropriate oversight.

Technology: Fast content requires less control and security than slow content, so you have more freedom in your technology decisions.

Ready-to-go content: It’s already all right

Marcia_TrafficLights-GreenSome content needs no approval because it’s based on, or points to, content that has already been approved – or content that’s “so benign that it just gets published.” Ready-to-go content skips the approval workflow altogether.

The traffic-light metaphor works especially well here. Green means go!

Typically, this kind of content is timely, ephemeral, disposable.

Examples: Conversations in social channels, microblogs (like Tumblr or Twitter), coverage of live events, Instagram posts, blog posts derived from approved white papers.

Strategy: Eliminate the approval requirement wherever possible.

Technology: Ready-to-go content typically uses third-party platforms that maximize your flexibility while requiring little or no investment in technology.

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Conclusion

Smart companies approve content at various speeds depending on what’s at stake:

  • Some content must creep along through the full approval workflow.
  • Some content can hop into a fast track to approval.
  • Some content can shoot right out with no approval at all.

How does your organization get its fast content out of the slow lane? Please share your approach in a comment.

For more strategies that can help your content hit the right speed, sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers weekly email newsletter, which features exclusive insights from CMI’s Chief Content Adviser Robert Rose. If you’re like many other marketers we meet, you’ll come to look forward to his thoughts every Saturday.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

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  • http://www.vinishgarg.com/ Vinish Garg

    This is such a useful article, a practical approach to prioritize content publishing and distribution to keep the ball rolling. Marcia, your notes on strategy and technology are super useful, thanks for making it so clear.

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Vinish, Your comment makes my day. Glad you found value here.

  • rogercparker

    Dear Marcia and Robert: I just reread this from a broader CM perspective, i.e. posts from businesses of all sizes. I’d like to suggest a deeper follow-up approach, perhaps a more visual comparison of examples of fast and slow, especially from the “evergreen” perspective. (I’m sure JK could help with an Infographic. g)

    Perhaps other readers would appreciate reading more about fast and slow, especially from a time-investment/long-term ROI perspective. More “when” and “how” tips, etc.

    What’s interesting, btw, is that the title of one of the top business/psychology books in recent years was Thinking Fast and Slow.

    Anyway, an inspiring post!
    Roger

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Thanks for the ideas, Roger, and for taking time to comment.

    • http://www.adaptivemarketer.com Robert Rose

      Roger….. Thank you for the kind words… And yes there probably is an opportunity for something more visual… There is some deeper thinking here – and (hopefully) my actual presentation at Intelligent Content dug a bit deeper.. (to be meta for a moment) There’s only so much depth you can get into in a blog post – or even a one hour session….

      As you appropriately note – there is more to discuss here… Just as an example, one of the things I’ve been using as a guidepost here is Stuart Brand’s Pace Change Model – which is a wonderful model to look at in terms of how you think of an in depth content strategy… If you can create a content flow in business that matches the Fashion, Commerce, Infrastructure, Culture and Nature models – it truly can enable both Fast and Slow thinking… Fun discussion to have in Cleveland!! See you soon my friend…

      • rogercparker

        Dear Robert:
        Thank you for your detailed response, especially the reference to Stuart Brand’s Pace Change Model which I was unaware of. On all levels, this is an exciting time to be involved in content marketing!
        Roger