I'm reading a lot of terrific ideas here, but they are all proposed TACTICS.
Without a unifying content strategy, these tactics will inevitably be taken on as one-off efforts, which result in the same inconsistencies and redundancies that exist today.
Over the years, we have all attempted to “fix” our content with visual rebrands, website redesigns, new CMS technology, rewrites, and other tactical approaches. None of these things actually serve the CONTENT, itself. You can’t cram content into technology; technology must serve the content. You can’t build a better user experience for bad content; it’s inherently impossible to do so. You can’t redesign the home page and hope that it will make the terrible IA and content behind it more palatable. You can’t keep waiting to deal with content in the eleventh hour, only to launch with what you had and hope to fix it later. It never happens.
A holistic content strategy will provide an articulate, shared vision across all agencies about how content will help them fulfill their core missions as well as serve their audience needs.
That core strategy must exist in order to inform the following:
- Guidelines that help project owners and stakeholders to ask **the right questions** about content (what you have, what you need and WHY, who is responsible, what the impacts are on how content is currently created and consumed). These questions must always be asked as early in any project process as possible, rather than being dealt with in the eleventh hour.
- Consistent, effective processes for identifying, creating and approving content SUBSTANCER: what content should be about (topics, tasks), who it is for, and how it should sound (voice, tone, readability)
- A solid, **content-focused** approach to creating STRUCTURE: how content is organized, structured, and accessed. This is critically important now as we face complex, ever-changing multi-platform and multi-channel requirements. Without the appropriate metadata schema and tagging processes, our content will continue to be trapped in PDFs and separate HTML pages. This isn’t sustainable, as we can’t be constantly recreating that content for mobile, tablet, and other future platforms.
- A process for designing and managing WORKFLOW. Current content is distributed across multiple siloes within each agency and department. Who is responsible for wrangling it all? What are the appropriate roles, responsibilities and skillsets for creating and managing content over time? How does content flow through the workplace? What happens to content once it has been published or delivered?
- Shared policies, standards, and guidelines for content GOVERNANCE. This is the most often overlooked component when it comes to content, and it should be planned for up front. Not only must there be well-documented and well-communicated policies and guidelines for content, but there must also be an internal infrastructure that supports the ongoing oversight of content. How often do we audit and update content? Who are the people that have a say in decisions about content and content strategy? Who is empowered to say “no”?
Content strategy isn’t a new practice, but it has been receiving an enormous amount of attention over the past two years. Why? Because it is the only way we will ever be able to deliver the content our audiences deserve: usable, relevant, timely, engaging, easy-to-understand content that they can actually use. Our government MUST invest in this process in order to ensure ongoing improvement of their interactive content in the years to come.
- Kristina Halvorson
CEO, Brain Traffic
Author, Content Strategy for the Web
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