Author Erin Kissane On Content Strategy [INTERVIEW]

Content strategist and author of “The Elements of Content Strategy,” Erin Kissane took some time out after her SWSW panel to share some of her insights about content strategies for brands.

Check out our interview with Kissane below:

What are the most important things brands should bear in mind when creating a content strategy?

First, we must all recognize that if we don’t serve our users — by easing their work, entertaining them, or genuinely making their lives more awesome — nothing else you do matters. Your brand is what matters most to you, but they don’t care about you. They care about them. And on the web, you don’t have a captive audience. So you serve the user or you become irrelevant.

Second, we should admit that publishing really great stuff on a regular basis over the long term is genuinely hard. You need good processes and tools, and you need to introduce discipline into the process so that you’re not just guessing, not just flailing around throwing random stuff onto the web.

What exactly is a content strategy? Is it just the latest buzz phrase?

If you’re a brand with an online presence, you’re probably publishing a lot of things: website copy, content-heavy interactive features, blogs, social network stuff. You need a plan for keeping track of all of it, making sure it all has a purpose, and ensuring that it’s actually serving that purpose.

That’s content strategy.

In truth, there are other things involved in content strategy in other contexts — huge enterprise documentation/knowledge management stuff, for example, but the part that matters for most brands is essentially a hybrid of communication strategy and publishing planning, with a stiff dose of user-friendly design thrown in.

Is it a buzz phrase? I don’t know. It’s a decent description of the thing that I do every day for companies and institutions and publications, and clients are really hungry for the work. Twenty years into the evolution of the web, organizations have realized that content matters for everyone who wants to do business or gain attention, and someone needs to wrangle it. It’s not “just” editing or planning or content management, but it includes aspects of all of those things.

I kind of don’t care what we call it, as long as we do it well.

What are the most common content strategy pitfalls that companies should avoid?

Two major pitfalls:

1. Trying to build a content strategy without knowing who you’re trying to serve and what they really want and need from you. The way around this is to spend some time thinking about and studying your users/readers/customers before you do anything else, and then make sure that whatever you create serves core user needs, instead of just broadcasting “messages” that you hope will stick.

2. Doing too much. The web doesn’t have fixed boundaries, so a lot of companies put huge quantities of content online and then ignore it — or they churn out a ton of stuff that no one’s looking at or using. The web is limitless, but attention is bounded and in very short supply. Show respect for your users’ attention by making it easy for them to find and use what they need. Don’t try to do everything. Do something only you can do — content people love and can’t find elsewhere — and you’ll win.

A lot of these things sound like common sense, but then you look at the content that’s out there, and you see that companies and institutions that should really know better aren’t attending to these basics.

Content strategy can get much deeper and more sophisticated, but there’s no point in trying to implement elaborate measurement and analytics systems, for example, if you don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish — and whether or not your users care.

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