‘If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?’
We probably all know the famous philosophical thought experiment about observation and perception. But what’s it got to do with content strategy? Well, I think it might provide a good reality check for content strategists too:
‘If a content strategy is created in an organisation and stakeholders don’t look at it, does it make an impact?’
As content practitioners, we’re experts in communication. But many of us are making some key communication mistakes when it comes to talking about our work: we don’t tell the right people, we don’t talk loud enough, or we don’t sell our work the right way. And that can be a big problem.
Why crafting your strategy is only half the job
The problem with content is that it comes into contact with pretty much every part of an organisation. The responsibility might sit with you as the content practitioner, but there’s other teams ‘doing content’ in one way or another too: marketing, PR, SEO, paid media, social, UX, design, customer service, brand, HR. So if you have a strategy, guidelines, a process, a content planner etc, you need to make sure all those teams are onboard.
Making your content strategy famous and getting people to act on it is half the challenge – maybe 90% of the challenge if you work in a large, global or complex organisation. I know that sounds daunting – especially if you’ve just sunk months of effort into crafting a strategy and thought you were on the home stretch. And I’m not going to lie – it’s hard work. You need to get people to read it, understand it, engage with it, and execute it – even (especially) your detractors.
There’s good news though: your content skills put you in a great position to succeed. Getting to really understand your user, creating a the right messaging, and having an effective content plan will help you to engage your stakeholders and make your strategy more useful, usable and actionable.
What to do to make your strategy stick
There are three key things that you need to do if you want to make your strategy really stick in your organisation:
- Know your audience
- Give them reasons to believe
- Make them look
1. Know your audience
Just like you’d want to know your user before you create your content strategy or write some copy, you need to know your stakeholders before you share your strategy. Find out who they are, what they’re responsible for, what their goals and pain points are. A stakeholder interview early on in your strategy process is vital, and regular check-ins to keep in touch and up-to-date will pay dividends too. Capture all the information you gather in a stakeholder matrix – there’s a good template in The Content Strategy Toolkit by Meghan Casey.
Look out for your champions – the people who ‘just get it’ and are onboard. You can ask them to help you spread the word and get others engaged, through case studies, joint communications or inviting them to speak at your meetings.
Be sure to pay even more attention to the people that challenge you. Talk to them, really listen to what they tell you, and be prepared to act on their feedback. In my experience, people are resistant when they have a concern that they feel hasn’t been properly addressed. It can be difficult, but sometimes this kind of critique can highlight your blind spots and enrich your work. And on those occasions where you just don’t agree with a stakeholder and can’t accommodate what they want, having taken the time to listen to them might still win you some good will.
2. Give them reasons to believe
Spending time with your stakeholders and finding out what they care about will help you to ‘pitch’ your strategy the right way.
Take a look at your stakeholder matrix and think about what people would want to hear about a strategy. Think about the problems it might help them solve, the goals it might help them achieve, the insights, tools or templates they can really use. For example, if they’ve told you that they want to reduce their paid media spend, make sure you highlight how your strategy will help them increase organic traffic. Make sure you show your working out, how you came up with your approach and why you’re confident it will work. If you can, share success stories, from testing or early adopters.
Based on that, map out a set of messages that will give your stakeholders logical and emotional reasons to believe in your strategy or whatever it is you want them to adopt.
3. Make them look
With resonant messaging in place, you’re ready for the final step – to make them look. You need to get your strategy in front of people, you need them to digest it, understand how it relates to them, and act on it. If you’re asking them to start doing things differently, saving your work as PDF on a shared drive and emailing them the link probably isn’t going to be enough to make that change happen.
You need to make sure that your strategy itself is useful, usable and delightful. The right solution will depend on what your colleagues are like, what tends to cut through at your organisation, and what tools are already embedded.
If you have an intranet or wiki that’s well-used, try creating your strategy there so that people can easily access it. You could alternatively build your own wiki or website, like MailChimp’s Voice and Tone or Shopify’s Polaris, which can be a great way to make your work easy to bookmark, share, search and navigate.
If Slack is big at your organisation, you could make your strategy into an interactive Slackbot. My former colleagues in the content team at Brilliant Noise did this with our style guide – you can type the slash command ‘/words’ and the bot uses a webhook to query the wiki version of the guide and return an answer in Slack. I’ve also work on a similar Chrome extension for a client, where the team did almost all their work in their browser. Both tools keep a log of all queries, so you can see what people are looking for, and develop or update things as a result.
Printing some beautifully-designed hard copies can have a big impact in a digital world too. Leave them on desks, by the coffee machine - people will pick them up, flick through and even steal them if they look good enough.
Finally, don’t forget to get some face-time in. Run training sessions or lunch and learns. Start having ‘office hours’ where people can drop in and ask questions. Book in one-to-one sessions with the people you want to get onboard. Making the effort to go and talk to people, answer their questions and listen to their feedback can help to win people over.
How you’ll know you’ve been successful
So how do you know if all this extra effort has work? I’d argue that most content strategies or deliverables should have some kind of internal success metric in place, as well as external ones. You need to know if your stakeholders are reading it, acting on it and how they feel about it, because that’s a crucial step towards your strategy actually solving the problem or meeting the goals it was created to address.
The very first thing to do is to try and get an idea of whether people have actually looked at it or not. If you use a digital solution to share your work, make sure you can track it, and keep an eye on visits and repeat visits.
Keeping in touch with your stakeholders is important too. Ask them what they’re doing differently, mine them for stories and anecdotes. You can then go and look at the data to see if those behaviour changes are having an impact any KPIs and metrics. Keeping track of things in a timeline can help you spot changes that correlate and investigate whether there’s causation. In larger organisations, you might want to send out a survey to measure awareness, attitudes, and Net Promoter Score (NPS) at regular intervals, to help you understand what impact you’re having too.
What success looks like: a quick case study
I’ll finish with an example of what can happen when you get this right. I followed this approach for a huge global client a few years ago: our team went on a world tour to get to know our stakeholders; we created the strategy collaboratively and communicated in a way that made it seem like an opportunity, not a threat; we ran regular face-to-face meetings and workshops to embed the strategy and a new process. After just a few months, we saw an increase in the efficiency of content production of 500% and an increase in content engagement of 200%
Hopefully this shows that it’s not enough just create a strategy, you need to roll it out and onboard people too. To make your strategy stick, get to know your stakeholders, tell them why your strategy will help them with the things they care about, and then share it in a useful, usable, delightful format. That way, when your content strategy falls, someone will definitely hear it.