The content strategy advocate

The board game Snakes and Ladders

Trying to bang the web content strategy drum from within an organisation is not without its ups and downs – rather like a game of snakes and ladders. There will be occasions when you believe the message is sinking in. You may have heard faint whispers of increased budget slices, felt an increased level of support from your colleagues, or perhaps a number of key decision-makers appear to be displaying a greater amount of interest. But all it can take is a loss of key personnel, momentum, or courage to send you tumbling back down again.

It’s more than likely that there will be others within the organisation who already understand the value and benefits that a consistent, user-centric, and engaging web content strategy can bring, but perhaps they’ve grown accustomed to the existing in-house practices and patterns of work. To you their processes may seem time-consuming and sporadic, but for them they’re manageable. Just.

To help kick-start and build a feeling of attachment, responsibility, and respect towards the content I believe it’s important to try to canvass the opinions of as many departments as possible. What changes, no matter how small, would make an immediate impact during their interactions with the organisation’s web content? Is the CMS an unwieldy, cumbersome beast? Perhaps the current publishing process moves too slowly? An all-inclusive, community-driven shaping of the content strategy is more likely to result in a positive reception and a smoother adoption from everyone involved.

Clearly though, for any significant changes to take place, it’s the people holding the purse strings that ultimately need convincing of how a better approach to their web content can benefit the organisation. To avoid misinterpretation I think it’s vital to get across as early as possible that what you’re proposing isn’t just to merely re-write or -organise the web content (it may not even require it) but you’re also aiming to develop a sustainable long-term plan with the focus trained on a more efficient way for your colleagues to publish and maintain the web content, as well as bringing it closer to the organisation’s and your audience’s key goals.

Taking some small steps

If you’re acutely aware that one, or more, of your competitors are making much better use of their web content then conducting a competitive analysis of each of their online publishing channels (website, social media channels, e-mail marketing…) can help measure how wide that gap is.

Conducting a qualitative content audit can also help provide a snapshot of the state of the organisation’s existing content and ultimately analyse whether it’s useful, usable, enjoyable, and persuasive to your audience [1]. By taking a sample and rating how well each individual piece helps your audience to complete key tasks, you can begin to measure what likely impact the wider content is having on them.

An interesting lo-fi interactive session with stakeholders could be to completely ignore all the organisation’s existing web content and start again with a pen and paper (or whiteboard) and discuss what, in their mind, constitutes a successful visit to the website. Perhaps it’s the purchasing of a product? Making a donation? Maybe it’s the completion of a web form? Once a list has been drawn up ask them to complete a selection of the tasks on the website and let them examine themselves whether the existing content is a help or hindrance (the content might not be the only problem).

Creating and introducing smaller elements of a content maintenance plan, such as an editorial calendar, will help to ease in an improved culture of content management – whilst helping to anticipate future content types and allowing everyone to cope better with periods of high publishing intensity. An organisation-wide web style guide will also help to develop and sustain a controlled message tone – delivering a consistent voice across all web publishing platforms.

While long-term it’s going to take far more than an editorial calendar and a style guide, these small early gains can at least begin to set everyone on the correct path. But you’re going to need both the support of your colleagues and indeed the recognition from the stakeholders that a problem even exists to develop a sustainable web content strategy for a large organisation. That, unfortunately, may take some time. To echo the words of Kristina Halvorson in her latest Brain Traffic blog entry.

Be. Patient. Don’t be in a huge rush, and don’t lose hope.

I couldn’t agree more.


Richard Ingram, Social Web Diamond Play the game – the Content Advocate (1.16 MB)


  1. Page 54 – Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson, New Riders 2009

Recommended reading

  • Chapter 12 – Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson, New Riders 2009
  • Chapter 17 – Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (3rd Edition), Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, O’Reilly 2006
  • “Content Strategy: What’s In It For You?” – Margot Bloomstein’s presentation to the Content Strategists of New York City, 11 Feb 2010

4 thoughts on “The content strategy advocate

  1. Johnston Ayala

    Hey Richard,

    I just wanted to drop you a line to say I really enjoy your site, ideas, and models. Keep it up! I also just got my content strategy site up (filled in above), so swing by and check it out when you have a chance. Thanks for your work and and talk to you soon!



  2. Noreen Compton

    You’ve hit the problem – well, one of them, anyway – on the head. It ultimately comes down to budgets and convincing organizations to put money into something called “content stragety” (“don’t we already have a writer?”). Companies want to see how it will help their bottom line.

    I can’t count how many times I’ve been told that “content is always a problem at the end of a project,” yet when budgets are drawn up, content is giving short shrift.

  3. Richard Post author

    Johnson, thank you for the kind words. I read you’re setting up a content strategy meetup in Austin, TX. Good luck with that.

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