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Published on September 23rd, 2010 | by Rahel Bailie

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Knowing content strategy means knowing content

A revered professor taught that our worlds are defined by our vocabularies. The broader the vocabulary I have for the concepts I understand, the larger my world will be. So it is with content strategy, and particularly with content.

I was planning to write an article on the definition of content. Well, technically, it would be another article, as I already wrote A practical definition of content.

I’ve been conducting interviews with client stakeholders this past week, and one of the questions is “what kind of content do you work with?” The answer I’m looking for is about genre (reports, minutes of meeting, project charters, and so on) but overwhelmingly, the response is about format (Word, Excel, Visio). This tells me that our vocabulary is not aligned, and their understanding of content is not the same as mine. A similar miscommunication happened in a meeting where  an information architect told me that content meant any unstructured information in an enterprise, such as email, of course. Of course. A reminder that I need to expand my vocabulary to understand and incorporate alternate definitions.

When I speak with Web content strategists, their definition of content is HTML-based marketing content destined for a website. When I speak with social media pros, their definition of content included tweets and posts and comments. In speaking with technical communicators, they slice their definition of content quite differently. It’s about genre + output. The genre could be procedural, for example, and the output could be print, PDF, a website, or a knowledge base. To a developer, content is whatever goes between the tags; just tell ’em where it needs to be routed, and they’ll get it there.

So what is content to you?


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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,



5 Responses to Knowing content strategy means knowing content

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    This is an intriguing question, and I’m anxious to see what others have to say.

    I’m pretty much with Rachel Lovinger, as quoted in your “Practical definition” article: Content is everything. Almost everything, anyway. I’d define content as data that has meaning.

    I recently asked (http://bit.ly/94eMuN) “if something isn’t known to the content-management system, is it really content?” I think that it is. Content takes all forms (white papers, articles, spreadsheets) and comes in all formats (PDF, HTML, etc.). If it has meaning for someone, then it’s content. And the content strategy needs to be powerful enough and flexible enough to encompass it.

  2. My view of content, especially when trying to determine a strategy, is that it starts as broad as all the information that supports a business goal. I start broad and then allow the customer to narrow that defintion. This way, I get a true feel for the alignment of specific content with the business strategy. Once you determine that, then you know which pieces belong in a document managment system and which pieces belong in a componenet content management system. Then you can further parse the content as to consumers and production methods and keep refining processes to align with the various components.

    A lot of work but, if everyone is talking the same language, you get a better alignment between the content and the business goals.

  3. Rahel Bailie says:

    Good points, Larry and Julio. The term “enterprise content” seemed too encompassing, and “product lifecycle content” didn’t feel right (encroaches on PLM, which is a different beast). “Business-critical content” is the best term I’ve heard so far. But even then, one could argue that the content sent round in emails is business critical, so drawing the line is always a dodgy business. I do agree that finding a common vocabulary – and that means doing it for every, single situation – is an important part of a successful project.

  4. Interesting question. The definition in your other post of “content is contextualized data” is fine in the BI sense of “Get the right information, to the right people, at the right time.”

    Seems that Content Strategy operates in more dimensions and a new twist on the idea of information is indeed needed. I’ve been using the term “Content Assets” as more descriptive than just “Content.” Asset begs the value questions:

    What is the value of this information?
    How valuable is this information?
    Who values the information?
    Can this information be re-purposed for more value?

    The last question leads to Multi-Channel Communications, where viewing information as simply some piece of content is limiting. Your last post link raises this difference in silos versus flexibility.

    Yes, we need to expand the definition of Content to show clients how it can be flexed for more value in more ways in more channels.

  5. rahelab says:

    David, indeed you are so right. I’ve been using the term “content assets” and talking about content as a corporate asset for a while now, and there is often this look of the penny dropping for people who hadn’t thought of it that way explicitly, though they may have had an implicit understanding of that.

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