5 Things I Learned from The Language of Content Strategy

Mar 21, 2014

Article ImageIn February Scott Abel and Rahel Bailie released a book they co-edited, The Language of Content Strategy.  Bringing together 52 content experts to define the important terms that content strategists often toss around -- such as content quality assurance, content flow, and transclusion -- and why they are important, Abel and Bailie created a much-needed guide for the industry. As a relative newbie to the field of content strategy this book was a great resource, but this will be valuable to industry veterans as well. Perhaps even more interesting is the story behind the book. According to co-editor Scott Abel, "we crowd-sourced the book, authored in a wiki using XML, and multi-channel published it to the web..." They created an ebook, printed book, flash cards, and incorporated audio, all in 90 days and on a budget. He adds, "It's really a content marketing project that is made possible by advanced content creation and management practices. And, it's a publishing project that demonstrates what is possible -- even on a low budget."

There is plenty to be learned from The Language of Content Strategy, even for people who aren't content strategists. Publishers should take note of how quickly this book came together with the help of readily available technology, but for me -- as a social media coordinator -- there were a few other lessons to be learned.

  • One size does not fit all in the world of content strategy. "A content strategy will assess an organization's current state, understand the ideal future state, recognize where the gaps are, and develop an implementation roadmap," writes Bailie. This isn't a new idea, but after reading this book I came away with a better understanding. I work with multiple publications and the same "strategy" does not work for each entity. Taking the time to find out what content each publication has, how often new content is produced, and where we want to go with our content will help create a strategy for spreading the content consistently in the future.
  • The importance of planning ahead. After reading the book and speaking with Abel, I learned more about the process and it had me thinking about how I could make this approach work for me. The editors used a wiki to gather all of the contributors' information. All the information was semantically identified as it was put into the wiki and adding additional classifications was easy. For example, because the terms and definitions were classified beforehand Abel and Bailie were able to easily make additional material, like flashcards, by pulling the items that were classified as terms and definitions. In other words, a little planning made it easy to re-use content.
  • Without an editorial calendar you will be lost. As Mat Szwajkos says in the book, an editorial calendar is important because it "Ensures that important publishing milestones are recognized and activities planned so that content publishing remains manageable." The key word here is "manageable." With so much content to share in multiple formats, a schedule is invaluable. I decided to start with a basic Google Calendar, which has helped me break down much larger campaigns into more manageable tasks.
  • Never stop learning. Even if you have been in the content business for 20 years, the vocabulary and terminology have grown and changed. Just like technology, industry lingo changes. New challenges rise up. The Language of Content Strategy offers a single, go-to source for content professionals who find themselves constantly bombarded with new terms.
  • Experts abound. Finally -- and perhaps most importantly -- this book introduced me to a bevy of experts that I didn't know. The Twitter handle for each contributor was provided, so I can now follow them, and continue to learn beyond their contribution. Not only did this add value to me, the reader, but it will mean the time and effort of each contributor will pay off dividends long into the future. (Again, a little planning paid off for everyone.)

After reading through the terms and concepts I realized how much I didn't know about content strategy.  Instead of being overwhelmed by everything I don't know, I'm starting where I am, and moving forward. Creating a strategy that moves our brands closer to where we want to be in the future, and finding it less daunting -- knowing I have a reference guide to turn to when I have questions.