At this stage of the game, there is no argument that content marketing is the way to go. Content is key to search engine optimization (SEO), the fuel for social media engagement (when people are sharing, after all, they are primarily sharing content), and, at its best, blurs the lines between paid and earned media.
But, voluminous as it may be, the content created, curated and distributed by the marketing department is only the tip of the corporate content iceberg.
For this reason, your company needs more than a content marketing strategy; it needs a comprehensive content strategy.
What is a Content Strategy?
It's common today to hear that "everyone is a publisher." And if you think about things from a strictly marketing communications standpoint, this is undeniably and obviously true. Whenever you make content public—on your blog, on YouTube, on Facebook, on Twitter, on SlideShare, etc.—you publish it. Having a strategy to cover all this publishing activity makes absolute sense.
What many companies miss, however, is the fact that publishing is in fact happening across the entire enterprise. Product groups, for example, produce and publish loads of content: technical documentation; customer support documentation; developer support documentation; sales support documentation; not to mention any content that may live within the products themselves (instructions, welcome screens, help screens, tips, guides, etc.).
If we then look out beyond the content created by and for the core business, we soon realize that the whole organization is essentially a content machine. Finance produces content. HR produces content. IT produces content. And if you think that these internal policy and procedure documents aren't published in the same way as the content coming out of the marketing and product functions, simply recall that actual publication is really just a misguided click or a malicious leak away.
Richard Sheffield, author of The Web Content Strategist’s Bible, calls content strategy (as opposed to content marketing strategy) "a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a digital development project.” Replace "a digital development project" with "the entire enterprise" and you have a working definition of the kind of strategy I'm talking about.
Why Do You Need a Content Strategy?
The main reason you need a content strategy is to make sure that all the content you produce across your entire organization is working as hard as it can for you.
A content strategy ensures that the content you create tells a consistent and compelling story. When crafting this story, you simply can't connect the dots if content exists in silos and no one has visibility to what other parts of the organization are doing content-wise.
Creating a comprehensive content strategy for your organization means cultivating a real organizational awareness of what the content being created says, intentionally or unintentionally, about the organization. Given the push for increased transparency, knowing what the world will see when content becomes public, either deliberately or inadvertently, will allow you both to better shape the inherent message and plan for any potential crises.
Finally, your marketing department is constantly looking for ways to capitalize on the expertise and insight hidden within your organization. A solid strategy ensures that marketing knows who is saying what and provides that function with a steady stream of new content and new content ideas.
Furthermore, even if the content created within individual product groups is only intended for specific customers, once in the wild, it will come to represent the company as a whole. For all the stewards of the brand, a comprehensive content strategy is key to effectively managing and directing the organization's overall perception in the marketplace.
What Should Your Content Strategy Cover?
At a very high level, an enterprise content strategy should cover the following:
Business Goals Content Will Support
Your content strategy should clearly layout the connection between content and business goals.
Content from marketing and the product teams will, as a matter of course, be tied fairly closely to specific business goals for specific products or business units. Such goals will inevitably include things like new customer acquisition and market expansion, channel support, existing customer support and retention.
The business goals of the content produced by functional teams will be operational in nature and include things like increased productivity, process improvement, cost savings, and effective recruitment.
Brand Goals Content Will Support
In addition to furthering the business goals outlined above, the main way that content created across the enterprise can support brand goals is to ensure that it is written in a voice that consistently reflects the established brand values.
If one of your brand values is customer-centricity, for example, internal content should reflect that both in how it refers to external customers as well as in how it addresses its internal audience.
Explicitly defining the brand voice and providing examples that demonstrate how it should best be expressed internally and externally are essential to a meaningful content strategy document.
Framework for Content Execution
Organizations generally have no trouble figuring out that they need a lot of content. What they do struggle with, however, is figuring out how to produce it all and produce it all well (that is, in accordance with the business and brand goals the content is meant to support).
The content strategy should provide both a roadmap of content needs, including an editorial calendar, as well as an overview of sources (internal subject matter experts, for example) and resources (staff, freelancers, staffing partners) for its creation.
Maintenance and Management
Finally, all this content needs to be managed (conceived, created, distributed) and maintained over time (updated as needed, archived). The content strategy should guide the organization's approach to content management, from the technology used to the processes required to make the most of that technology.
What Should You Do Next?
Chances are that your organization, especially the marketing function, will already have an articulated strategy for its content efforts. Likewise, the product groups will at least have incorporated content elements into projects associated with the launch, marketing and support of various products.
It is not likely, however, that your organization has something like a "Chief Content Officer," someone responsible for developing and implementing the strategy outlined above.
Until the organizational need is so acute that such a role emerges, you can take some initial steps in that direction by bringing together the people responsible for content in specific functional areas. Even if relatively informal at first, such a "content council" can help start the conversations necessary to unify content across the enterprise.
Next, you can create a basic content dashboard by rolling up the individual content plans and strategies into one shared document. This document will at least give everyone an overview of the diverse, ongoing content efforts and allow people to spot opportunities for sharing, reuse and consolidation.
Finally, you can begin devising "proofs of concept" for a content leadership role at the highest levels of the organization. Such proofs may consist of figuring out ways to repurpose customer support content as customer acquisition content, sharing resources across department to develop a consistent brand voice, or applying effective content development processes from one department to another.
Content is the New Normal
As time goes on, organizations aren't going to be producing less content. They will be producing more.
The sooner your company can get ahead of this inevitability and manage it in a thoughtful, comprehensive and strategic fashion, the better it will be for your business, your content and your customers.