By Shayna Keyles
Content strategists should be able to bring any plan to life, according to the Content Strategy Dream Team. The three experienced content strategy experts, introduced below, laid out the steps to success in a dynamic program jointly sponsored by SF IABC and the Content Strategy Meetup, and generously hosted by Weber Shandwick in April.
- Megan Conley, CEO and Founder of Social Tribe, jokingly called herself the “blacksheep” of the content world because of her focus on social. She and her team execute social strategies for B2B companies, providing community, channel, and management support.
- Michael Spinella, Digital Content Strategist for Facebook, shared about his content strategy skills in the agency world before he switched to an in-house position. He mainly supports marketing and sales campaigns and provides content to advertisers.
- Judy Lewenthal Daniel is VP of Content at Weber Shandwick, SF. Previously, she was a business news journalist but now offers a twist on storytelling through earned, owned, and paid content.
Fielding questions from the audience, the Dream Team took the stage to share their insights, and led a riveting conversation about the ways to manage a team for best results: get buy-in, sell the idea, and then make it happen.
Figure out what’s standing in the way.
There are a multitude of reasons why your audience might be resistant to a new strategy. Maybe they’ve been playing towards an SEO strategy when the product doesn’t match the proposed keywords. Maybe there’s an educational disconnect among the key stakeholders. Or maybe they’re skeptical simply because you’ve proposed something new and they’re worried about the potential consequences of straying from tradition.
Ask the right questions.
Figure out who is initiating the discussion about content within an organization. Are they thinking about the goals of the business? Consumer needs? Their personal needs?
Once you’ve determined who is directing the push for content, determine what they are aiming to accomplish. Do they want to garner more visibility for the brand? Generate more leads? Drive engagement? Or do they simply want to create more content because they heard it would be a good idea?
It is essential to understand the motivation behind achieving your content goals and who directs those goals. If you cannot determine who wants to implement change and what that change is supposed to accomplish, you will not be able to construct a strategy.
The sooner you can identify your goals, the better. Use these clearly defined goals as a reference point three months or three years down the line. You should be able to point back to your original goals and see your evolving strategy matching up with those goals.
Define success and measure it.
Success doesn’t look the same to any two people, and it certainly doesn’t look the same to any two organizations. Based on the goals you have identified and the needs of your stakeholders, create a definition of success. Once you’ve defined what success looks like for your organization, find the appropriate measuring sticks so you can track progress.
Before tracking, set your benchmark, so you can better track your process. Then determine how you will track your KPIs and determine what tools you will use to do the tracking. (Here’s a great beginner’s guide on how to establish an effective benchmark.)
Here are a few examples of “successes” and ways to track them:
- High website traffic: track the number of visitors, time spent on site, or the scroll rate
- Increased social presence: track shares, followers, reach, or engagement
- Conversions: track downloads, registrations on-site, or sales
- Brand visibility: track PR coverage, contributed content, 3rd party content, or syndication
- Customer satisfaction: use customer surveys or customer service reporting
Keep in mind that you can’t automate all KPIs, especially for more abstract goals such as becoming a respected thought leader in the B2B space. You may measure website traffic, syndication, and social presence, but that won’t give you a complete picture of whether your goal has been successful; it is also important to engage in social listening, to read articles as they come out, and to otherwise actively search for measures of success.
Evaluate your stakeholders.
It’s always tough to get the right people together and to align them towards a single goal, but in order to sell a winning content strategy, you need to identify different groups of the “right people”.
- Who do you need to sell the strategy to?
- Who will actually be executing the strategy?
- Who is the strategy going to make look good when it succeeds?
All of these different people have skin in the game but for different reasons. You need to sell the strategy to each of these groups in relevant terms. Meet with each stakeholder, learn his or her needs, and figure out how to incorporate them into the strategy (or why they cannot be incorporated into the strategy). Meet with the people who will be implementing the strategy to glean ideas and help them accomplish goals with little resistance.
Many content strategies are thrashed by a whirlwind of internal politics that can put progress on hold for months, or even indefinitely. As a content strategist, it’s your job to diminish political turmoil by using your knowledge of business objectives to influence action.
Make sure that all stakeholders get something out of the proposed strategy. When stakeholders are struggling with certain ideas, refer back to the goals that were established at the beginning of the process and aim for compromises that will highlight those goals.
Herd the elephants.
Sometimes, handling stakeholders can be likened to herding elephants. Your stakeholders all likely have their own ideas of how things should be run, many of which conflict with the ideas of other stakeholders. They might have diverging ideas that won’t budge, or so many ideas hitting against each other that they get in the way.
Meeting pushback is inevitable in any strategic endeavor. As a content strategist, remember that your role also includes managing people and moving stubborn things out of the way. Ideas will clash and ideas will stay put, but as a content strategist, it’s your job to get things moving in an orderly fashion and see it through to the finish line.
Make it happen.
Create a plan of attack.
Now that you’ve got everyone on board, it’s time to get your plan rolling. A successful content strategy absolutely needs two things:
- Flexibility: be open to changing opinions, circumstances, and leadership.
- Open communication: make sure that all stakeholders can share progress and ideas. Group conversations allow for transparency.
With those rules in mind, you can put together your execution plan. Of course, you’ll want to tailor your plan to the structure of your organization and to the nature of your plan, but here are a few things you will want to consider.
- Is there a content management system?
- Who is managing each step of each process?
- Who is reviewing the content before it goes live?
- What is automated and what is manual?
- How is content being distributed, and through what channels?
- Who is designing content layouts? Will you be using templates?
- Who is writing what types of content?
Clearly define the plan and make sure all key stakeholders fully understand what needs to happen and when it needs to happen. Above all, make sure everyone knows the role he or she will be playing, what that role encompasses, and who needs to interact with that role.
As time goes on, you will be able to identify pain points and love points, or areas of the plan that work and areas that do not work. For example, your original communications channel might have been through SmartSheets spreadsheets, but only one of your stakeholders is an enthusiastic spreadsheet user. Consider switching to a more inclusive platform such as Slack or even Google Hangouts.
You need the right tools not just for securing your communications channels but also for tracking your KPIs, putting out content, and generally making your clients’ roles easier and better. Don’t be afraid to introduce new tools. New systems will always be met with resistance, but it will be easier for you to gain buy-in if you’ve already established a foundational relationship with stakeholders early on in the content strategy process. But remember: shiny new tools aren’t always the best ones. While one client may prefer using Asana or ToDoist to create a content calendar, another might produce perfectly good work with Microsoft Excel.
Make millions of backup plans.
If you’re executing a content strategy in a large-scale organization with multiple stakeholders involved, you’re bound to run into multiple hurdles. Some stakeholders may take on more roles than they are qualified to accept or may accept roles that they will never have time to fulfill. As the content strategist, you must account for these discrepancies and fill in the blanks.
For example, if the CEO agreed to write blog posts every Friday but hasn’t written a single post, figure out why not. Is the CEO unable to get ideas onto the paper? Can you work with ghostwriters? Is this person simply too busy to address the need? Is it possible to bring in freelancers to close the gap?
Content strategists don’t have a straightforward job. They must repeatedly gain buy-in, understand and define the goals of an organization and the individuals that make it up, and delegate to avoid challenges. They are people managers as much as they are content managers. And at the end of the day, they will do whatever it takes to get to the finish line.