Writing is at the core of nearly all content. That’s true for articles, but also for video, and even the explanations that accompany a photo essay. Writing is labor-intensive, and labor is expensive. Many firms try to control labor costs by hiring writers willing to work for less. But depressing wages is not the path to quality content. The smarter approach is to focus on ways to reduce unnecessary labor when producing content.
When a process is labor-intensive, it is hard to develop sustainable value. Each project involves dedicating people to produce something, and starting anew with the next project. Content strategy fundamentally is about streamlining the costs associated with the labor-intensity of producing content. Each item of content should ideally become less labor-intensive to produce.
Content strategy relies on three approaches to reduce the labor-intensity of content:
- Process Efficiency
The first task is to ask how an organization may be wasting time producing content. What unnecessary steps are being taken? Sometimes inefficiency is the result of a badly set up infrastructure. Perhaps a content management system requires authors to jump through too many hoops to get something published. But more often the culprit is organizational.
Content strategists examine process efficiency as part of workflow analysis and governance development, but those descriptions can disguise the true nature of the problem, which is often political. Many organizations have too many people involved in the production of content, involving too many steps, because they are unable to assign responsibility to the proper staff. They may be risk averse, and consequently add unnecessary steps to the process. They may be unwilling to empower staff to make decisions themselves, because they are unwilling to pay to hire sufficiently competent staff to do the work on their own. These problems may manifest themselves as functional deficiencies, where people complain they lack the right tools for editorial review or collaborative editing, instead of asking why those steps are necessary at all.
The second task is to ask what time is wasted on producing content that delivers little value. This involves assessing both the effort involved to create different content, and the value that the content delivers. Some content may be deemed necessary, but delivers limited business value, so ways to streamline the creation of it are merited. And some content may ultimately be deemed unnecessary, especially when it involves much effort to create and maintain.
The effort to create content reflects both how much labor is involved with creating the content, and how much time is required to keep the content up to date. An e-commerce site might have a size converter to help foreign customers. Even if foreign customers represent a small portion of sales, the effort to create the size converter is minimal, there is no maintenance involved, and so the incremental benefit is positive. The same site would be ill advised to offer advice on customs duties for different countries, since these are complex and always subject to change.
Effort must be evaluated in terms of the business value of the content. Content’s business value reflects the strategic goals that the content supports, combined with how the content performs in practice. Determining business value of content is complicated. It involves setting expectations for what the content is intended to achieve, based on its visibility and the critical impact it is expected to contribute. The performance of the content reflects its actual contribution to business goals. The interplay between expectations and current reality leads to a process of calibration, where content is evaluated according to its contribution and contribution potential. Underperforming content must be examined in terms of its realistic potential contribution, weighed against the effort involved creating and maintaining the content.
The final task is to ask how to reduce duplication of effort when creating and maintaining content. Duplication is evident when organizations produce many variations of the same content, but do so in an unsystematic and unplanned manner.
Content provides more value when a single item of content can support many variations. One can distinguish two kinds of variation: vertical and horizontal. Vertical variation looks at different ways to tell the same story. Content about a topic is broken into modules that can be combined in various ways to present the topic. Horizontal variation looks at how different stories on similar but different topics can be generated from the same basic content framework.
When duplication in content is understood, it can be planned around. Content can be reused, and the maintenance effort associated with content is reduced. Automation performs the donkeywork of piecing together the different variations as they are needed.
Writing is hard work. Unnecessary writing, reviews and rewriting are a waste of money. In order to get better value from content, one must first recognize how labor-intensive it can be. Only then can one consider how the make the creation and maintenance of content less labor-intensive, and discover how to be more productive when producing content.
In an ideal situation, an item of content requires little effort to produce, but delivers critical business benefits. The path to achieving that ideal is to develop a streamlined process centered on producing prioritized content that can be assembled from reusable components.
Value-intensive content delivers incremental benefits that exceed to the incremental effort required to create and maintain it.
— Michael Andrews