It’s a rewarding challenge to be a part of the creation of a strategy to publish meaningful, value-generating content for an organization. Web professionals from all over are crafting new ways to reach out to the people who matter to them, while helping organizations big and small accomplish great things. It would be silly to assume that these professionals, who write about their amazing case studies and projects, do these projects all alone.
We wouldn't be able to read about such feats if these professionals didn't respect alignment, the magical force that brings stakeholders, talent and intent together.
We can theorize and hash out content strategy best practices all we want. Shoot, I’ve done it a ton. I sit around with copies of Halvorson, Jones, Kissane and read, read, read, practice, practice, practice. At some point though, I needed to put those best practices to use.
There’s the next challenge. I could hoot and holler about content all I wanted at work, but without any kind of buy-in from leadership and other departments or talent, I would get no where. We need allies to build great content. Allies come from alignment because on any sustainable content project, you never really work alone.
Alignment requires communication and maintenance.
Of course we can’t just jump in and declare– “hey everyone, let’s get in on this content development because I say so.” Any project pitch needs an purpose or an objective to fulfill for the benefit of the organization. Maybe it’s a pain to relieve or a hole to patch. A plan takes shape around this need and stakeholders, talent and other colleagues either buy it and want to see it to completion, or they make some kind of nervous “you’re crazy! That’ll never work!” face and turn to the next pitch. Or head to lunch.
Ian Alexander identifies systemic challenges inherent with project launches and prescribes methods to overcome these challenges in his post “Independence is a Myth.” The memorable part of the post for me is the emphasis on building a strong communication channel with colleagues in order to have the best chance at overcoming project launch challenges and to get to the real passion– building great content with people who care just as much about it as you do.
Communicating with your colleagues. Listening to your teammates. This is easy if you have a great team. This is challenging if you have a team that doesn’t have strong communication channels or habits.
Alignment doesn’t care about how you have a hard time talking to IT. If we can’t get the right people to believe in a project vision and communicate to get it done properly, alignment will ditch us and the project will most likely fail.
If we want alignment on our side, we need to either take advantage of or improve communications between ourselves and colleagues, stakeholders and whoever else we need to create valuable, sustainable content. It’ll take more than just communications up front. Maintaining alignment throughout the project scope is such a boon to success.
Maintain alignment by never discounting teammate feedback.
I greatly respect Hayao Miyazaki. It takes tons of people to create animation and feature films. He can somehow get everyone behind a magnificent vision from start to finish. In my opinion, there’s a ton we can learn from him in regards to building content if alignment is a key purpose in any project. The man has aligned plenty of people for a boatload of memorable projects (e.g. Totoro, Spirited Away, Porko Rosso, etc.).
In one of Miyazaki's essays "What the Scenario Means to Me," he explains in detail about how it's the "height of folly" to disregard another colleague's opinion during filmmaking. I think it's safe to say that this extends right into a content project, web development project, whatever you're working on, really.
As we get past project kickoffs, receive budgets and move projects forward, there will be times when our colleagues speak up about observations or give criticisms that they notice. Feedback, criticism and pushback are things that can be tough to hear sometimes, especially in the middle of a difficult task. For some, feedback is difficult to manage when it’s from a professional of another discipline.
Miyazaki states, “If a change suggested by another person improves the work, it is a mistake to refuse to incorporate it under the misconception that ones purview has been violated.”
Quite frankly, our purviews don’t really matter in the big picture. The whole point of the content project is to bring value to the organization and the user, right? I think Miyazaki’s on to something there.
Perhaps it’s setting rules for feedback from the get-go as well. Content strategies shouldn’t uproot the workflow of your colleagues. It’s ultimately a plan that highlights the ways web professionals can align their efforts under a sustainable method to provide value to the organization and the people who matter to them.
Striving for enrichment.
Regardless of the reason for feedback, if it’s constructive, we must pay attention to it. Content projects have the luxury of combining so many talented disciplines: UX, interface design, web design, back-end and front-end development, writers, and so many others. It’s like being a part of the X-Men of making remarkable things.
With such a volatile collection of talent, we’ll never know if something someone says could spark the fire that takes the project to a completely different height of awesome. Miyazaki’s experience dictates that, “there are countless cases in which the scenario is enriched because the writer is inspired by the drawings, or the artists’ imaginations are enriched by the scenario.”
This give and take of ideas and feedback can lead to some incredible insight and productivity. The maintenance of alignment between talent opens up more opportunity for this to occur.
Let's not make stuff for the sake of stuff.
The danger is seeing content creation through without maintenance of alignment, purpose and vision is that we’ll just make things that add to the internet’s huge pile of stuff. Things like those executive mission statements that no one reads. Maybe it’s that hidden web-based app that no one uses. Or, it’s the CEO’s blog with the semiannual posts.
Christopher Buter talks about the emerging “content bubble” and how web professionals and their clients need to change their view and treatment of valuable content. After reading his essay, I honestly believe that if we aren’t creating any content of value, we’re just adding to the mess of content that actually soils the reputation of what content can potentially achieve. (Even as I’m writing this piece, I’m thinking, “oh man, oh man, oh man, I really hope someone finds something of value from this…eep!”)
How do we avoid the pile of stuff?
I think that the differentiator between yet-another-content-project-to-become-future-headache and having a real strategy is that we take into account all of the different elements in play: existing assets, the market, organization needs, talent and resources.
We take all of that and create a realistic plan of action. We see great projects through from start to finish. The projects where we share a role of guiding a smart team of planners, developers and talent to create, maintain and govern valuable content.
We do this by all understanding the goal from the start. We’re all attuned to it– aligned with it. And of course, no one goes in alone.