How do you know what content to publish when there are demands from multiple stakeholders? Or you are trying to reach different audiences? Maybe the status quo for your organisation is conflicting priorities and competing agendas. It's a challenge to prioritise content when there are many people involved.
It can be frustrating when someone doesn’t show any interest in content, but on the other hand, that old adage of ‘too many cooks’ can cause stress and confusion too. Except, swap cooks for stakeholders.
The simple truth is, you can’t please all the people all the time. That’s true in all areas of life, content included. A democratic vote won’t have the outcome everyone wants. The main message on the homepage won’t be the one everyone wants. That featured article? Not everyone’s priority.
To navigate these challenges, manage expectations, and the difficult conversations that will inevitably arise when you have to say ‘no’, or ‘not yet', you can use collaborative prioritisation methods to determine what to focus on, and when.
In this article, I’ll share five practical prioritisation methods you can use with stakeholders, clients, and subject matter experts to inform your content strategy – including a simple, powerful question you can ask to quickly validate or remove content requests.
Each of these methods is collaborative and will help align your teams around a considered, informed and prioritised list of content requirements. There are a couple of acronyms here, but fear not, I’ll explain them all in detail:
RICE is an acronym for:
This is a scoring system developed at Intercom to help them prioritise ideas on their product roadmap. The RICE method invites content teams to assess their priorities in relation to the available resources, audience and expected return on investment.
The four factors of RICE are relevant and applicable to content too.
Understanding the audience your content is for should include knowing who they are, what channels you can best reach them on, what the size of the audience is and any other information relevant to targeting. Size alone may not serve as intelligent enough criteria. You may decide that reaching as many people as possible is considered the goal, or perhaps a smaller but more qualified and relevant audience is the preferred outcome.
This can be challenging to determine before the content is published, but drawing on data and analytics from previous content can guide this discussion. There may also be insights gained from previous content that will set the expectations for the impact of new or repurposed content. For example, if an article is published to a help centre, it may be expected to reduce support tickets or customer queries regarding the issue it addresses.
Confidence is subjective and challenging to facilitate a balanced conversation around. If it is harder to reach a general consensus about the confidence in the content being discussed, the other criteria in the RICE method may be able to collectively determine the priorities. Elements to consider around confidence include available resource, scope, and deadlines.
Being able to estimate the effort required to deliver content is also subjective and can be tough for people to make educated calculations. Chances are any estimates are going to be lower than the reality. Make it clear what tasks you are discussing in relation to effort. Is it the creation of content? Or perhaps it is broken down into specific workflow stages such as create, review, edit, approve, publish, etc. Maybe effort also extends to post-publishing and includes distribution, measurement, and governance of content.
RICE is a method I’ve previously used at GatherContent whereby content was assessed with the four criteria in mind and given a score out of ten for reach, impact, confidence, and effort. So a score of eight for Reach meant I was confident that content would reach the most people, compared to a content item with a score of three for Reach.
Thinking about content in this way made it easier to determine what content would reach the most people, have the biggest impact in terms of ROI and meeting business and/or audience goals, how confident we would be in delivering this content within the set requirements, and the effort that would be needed.
RICE can guide teams in prioritisation discussions, but there may be conflicting opinions as to what number to give each criteria in relation to the content being discussed. Perhaps Person A thinks the content will require little effort, but Person B thinks it will take a lot of effort. The aim here is to find a general consensus and have a structure for conversations. Rather than discussions being an open forum, RICE keeps the focus on four crucial factors as an agenda for prioritisation.
The MoSCoW method helps teams assess and prioritise content based on the following:
For content, this could result in decisions such as:
This method could be a well-facilitated conversation or more of a practical exercise in a workshop setting. If you have a content inventory or list of content requirements, you can assign Must, Should, Could, and Won’t and then filter by each to generate your prioritised lists. From there you can assign owners and deadlines too to start creating a delivery plan for the content. This method helps separate the essentials from the desirables in terms of ‘nice to haves’ and ‘we really need this.’
We talk about this method in our free Content Strategy and Delivery Masterclass.
These are two separate ideas but I’ve rolled them into one as they work well together. ‘Bubble sorting’ means sorting content into two piles and comparing one piece against another. This helps eliminate content that isn’t valuable, or maybe you might notice that some parts are repeated across content, so you can edit and scrap pieces accordingly.
Stack ranking is just a fancy way of saying ‘a fast, numbered to-do list.’ Once you’ve got your most important pieces of content from comparing, you can then further whittle this down by ranking content in order of priority. It’s simple. When you’re ranking content, think about things like time tracking, and how long it will take to produce a piece of content, and the cost of delay.
This is another good prioritisation matrix, and this technique involves stakeholders voting with dot stickers to help determine content importance and priority. Here, you take a list of content pieces, or website pages, and write them on post-it notes and stick them on a board or the wall. Then get people to put one to five dots against each idea in order of priority. So you could have:
This is a good, simple way to assess priorities across different departments and increase discussions, reduce silos and synchronise agendas. It’s engaging, hands-on and visual.
This technique also stops people from just saying ‘all of them are important’ and forces us to consider, categorise and whittle down content in a way that is diplomatic and gets everyone’s voice heard. It gives stakeholders a chance to share their priorities, and then work out what content aligns with wider, shared business goals.
'The five whys' is a technique used in all kinds of fields from medicine to film production to determine the root reason or cause behind something. It’s used famously by Toyota and its development is attributed to Six Sigma business process improvement methodology.
When applied to content production and prioritising content, the analyst asks the stakeholder five times ‘why.’ As in, ‘why does it really?’ until the deeper importance underneath is established. First of all, you need to define why. Then get asking your teams. For example:
Brainstorming like this means the answers reveal whether a piece of content is really necessary. Asking ‘why’ over and over in different ways forces stakeholders to really think about the reasons behind content choices.
Again, this method helps people collaborate effectively as everyone can offer different whys. It encourages deeper discussion and facilitates discussion across departments.
It may seem like a lot of effort to prioritise content in the ways above, but it’s an activity that is worthwhile to ensure your content is purposeful and meets user needs. It also helps you to uncover what’s best for the organisation; understanding your pain points and opportunities early on in the content creation process.
Organisations usually have lots and lots of content to think about, across multiple platforms, channels, departments and audiences. If you adopt one of the structured techniques we’ve given for prioritising content collaboratively, you’re on the right track for project scopes and timelines, setting realistic deadlines and managing expectations; working with the resources you actually have, not the resources you think you have.
If you prioritise content, you can get also then better stuff out to your audiences faster, and you don’t waste time discussing, planning and producing content that is low-value, high-cost and low-priority. Once you start to audit and prioritise your content backlog, you’ll be amazed at how much low-priority content probably goes out in your organisation, or how many missed opportunities there might have been if you hadn’t.
Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways,WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and ContentOps at leading industry events.