The Myth of the Perfect Content Strategy Methodology
I had the pleasure of attending Confab2012 this past week where, as a conference newbie, my brain was overloaded with content strategy takeaways and insights. I even got to share my perspective on my first 100 days as a content strategist during an 8 minute Lightning Talk.
Unfortunately, the Talk meant that I had to miss Corey Vilhauer’s “Myth of the Perfect Methodology” session. Luckily, Corey shared some of his insights with me afterwards.
KD: First of all, I’m so sorry (again!) for missing your session! Thanks for filling me in a bit.
So first of all, what exactly is the myth of content strategy?
CV: When I talk about the “myth” of content strategy, I mean as it regards to methodology. Because we are all different – our clients are different, our work habits are different, our companies are different – it’s impossible to work with a “universal methodology.” I can’t take the methodology YOU’VE created and use it at my company. We all need to develop our own personal sets of processes.
KD: When it comes to dispelling the myth, what’s your #1 argument for the content strategy traditionalists?
CV: Once it’s said out loud, it doesn’t take much to dispel those who are trying to define a universal methodology – content strategists realize that we change and adapt our methods per client and per project, but most don’t think much about it. My presentation really focused on realizing just how much we change and adapt our methods and to change and adapt our personal methodologies to reflect that. It’s about communication.
KD: Amen to that! Team Content wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a flexible/adaptable methodology.
Do you have any go-to methodologies or resources that seem to work as a good foundation in “build your own” strategies?
CV: Any published book on content strategy works as a solid foundation. I’m partial to Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategy, and Shelly Bowen has posted a list of content strategy deliverables that is useful for developing some kind of initial context.
Once you’ve pulled together the list of what’s expected – what events, what tasks, what deliverables – you can move forward and organize them into a logical set of processes. In doing this, you’ll be asking yourself “why does this go here?” and, in turn, you’ll be discovering how each deliverable works into corporate culture, personal work habits and client expectations.
KD: So the strategy is custom-created — how do you recommend selecting a CMS to support your strategy?
CV: We select CMSs that best match the functionality within the strategy. I will admit that I get to be blissfully ignorant on the CMS side of things – Deane Barker, our director of business development – is a well-known expert in CMS and migration, so we look to his strengths for selection.
KD: So top takeaway, in a nutshell — GO :)
CV: My presentation worked along two paths, so there are two key takeaways.
1. In understanding there is no universal methodology, we are moved to create our own. It’s important that we document these methodologies in order to communicate them to those we work with.
2. We have a duty to further the industry whenever we can. We should understand that methodology is personal, and that it’s fluid, and that – most importantly – it’s worth sharing. Content work – and web work in general – builds upon those who came before us, which makes it important for us to communicate our successes and failures.
KD: Any other critical points?
1. Methodologies allow for replication. We document what we do so we can have a record of what worked – and didn’t work.
2. A methodology is not simply a list of tasks. It’s the gaps in between those tasks. Why are we doing what we do, and what do we need to know to shift and adapt as needed.
3. When you think you’ve found a perfect answer to something, think again. The unofficial tagline of content strategy is “It’s more complicated than that.”
4. Official methodology documentation can be as simple or as detailed as your methods require. The common goal is that they can effectively communicate process and adaptation.
5. Your methodology is never finished. So don’t get discouraged by how much overhead it takes to formally document it. Just get started with the basics and steal the best parts from other people.
KD: Awesome! Those are really valid points. I think as more people come to understand that we don’t need a “manifesto” as much as more collaborative, flexible processes, the industry can only grow stronger.
For notes and articles used in Corey’s presentation – including slides – go to http://www.eatingelephant.com/2012/05/confab2012.