6 Qs with Kristina Halvorson, author of ‘Content Strategy for the Web’

Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, published in 2009, is simply one of the most important, influential and inspiring books for anybody writing for the web or running a social media account. I’ve loaned out my highlighted copy so many times I need to put a tracking device on it (though many people decided to get their own copy anyway) and it’s the kind of reference that merits rereading from time to time to get back to foundations. Halvorson’s impact extends beyond the book as the firm she founded and leads, Brain Traffic, organizes a wonderful series of Confab conferences, with the next being Confab Higher Ed in New Orleans this November (where I’m speaking).

I recently had the opportunity to ask Halvorson six questions, where she discusses why she wrote the book, offers advice for those implementing content strategy and gives a marvelous turnaround example worth seeing.

TN: You’ve probably heard this question before so I apologize, but for the sake of those reading the blog: What’s your working definition of content strategy?

kristina

Image courtesy of contentstrategy.com

Kristina Halvorson: For seven years, I’ve been saying, “Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.” That definition still holds, I think, but Brain Traffic’s “quad” (which includes substance, structure, workflow, and governance) provides a larger, more flexible framework for talking about content strategy.

To be honest, this question actually makes me want to go hide under my bed. There are so many smart, experienced people who answer it in several different ways. For what it’s worth, I still use my short and sweet definition simply because it helps people find a way into the conversation. It’s not overwhelmingly technical or … big.

TN: I think many of us consider your book and tips crucial to content strategy, but clearly it took a while for anybody to articulate it. What drew you to the concept of content strategy and led you to writing the book?

KH: In 2007, Brain Traffic was a healthy little web copywriting agency. I’d been writing for the web for 10 years by that point, and I was getting sick of getting called in at the 11th hour to fill in the lorem ipsum in the wireframes. We never seemed to have the time, budget, or information required to do content right. I decided to start approaching projects more as a consultant than a project manager. In fact, I started using the title “interactive content strategist” … and here I thought I’d made it up! At some point, I figured out content strategy was A THING that existed long before I started using the title. Unfortunately, I could only find a few people out there talking about the topic (Rachel Lovinger, Colleen Jones, and Jeff MacIntyre, for example). So, I felt like there was a real opportunity to get a larger conversation going. That’s why I wrote the book.

TN: Introducing content strategies into organizations is important, but are there any mistakes people should avoid when beginning the process?

KH: Yes, two in particular.

First, you are going to have one hell of a time helping people understand the difference between content strategy and content marketing. “Content marketing strategy” starts with the assumption that content marketing is the right thing to do—that sort of is the antithesis of good content strategy. It’s important to help people understand that, look, content isn’t something we just decide to crank out on an assembly line; it needs strategic consideration that has to start with business outcomes, user needs, and a diagnosis of our current-state content challenges and opportunities. Only then can we make an informed decision about where we are going to focus our content efforts. So don’t make the mistake of starting out with any assumptions about what needs to happen with your content—in marketing, websites, support, corporate communications, social media channels. You simply don’t know until you have a clear understanding of where you are now, and where you need to be.

Second, don’t go in there acting like you know what’s best for everyone. No one cares if content strategy is “the right thing to do.” Most of the time, they care about their own job performance and whatever audience they’re trying to serve. Listen, listen, listen, listen. Tailor your content strategy “sales pitch” to whatever pain people are suffering, or whatever hot topic they’re all fired up about. It’s not about your ideas. It’s about creating and sustaining excellent content that satisfies business and customer needs. That’s it.

TN: Non-writers in general receive often the idea of content strategy well, but after a while they may stray from the path. What tips do you have to keep the content strategy fire burning across the organization?

KH: Again: keep people focused on how content strategy activities—whether in UX, the CMS, or the enterprise as a whole—are solving pain points and opening up new opportunities. It’s crucial that you advertise your activities and successes—even small ones—every step of your content strategy journey. The best success stories I know are the ones where people made time to “roadshow” what they were doing in content strategy and how it was making a difference.

TN: Do you have a favorite turnaround/success story (or stories) on an institution(s) whose content went from a mess to one of the best?

KH: The gov.uk website is every content strategist’s dream success story. They took very complex content nobody could find or understand, and made it clear, accessible, and useful for an entire country. They got an entire GOVERNMENT on board to make government content—which is notoriously structured based on internal org structures—to be based entirely on user needs.

TN: Does the success of Content Strategy for the Web and of related things like the Confab conferences surprise you at all?

KH: Honestly? No. This conversation was way, way overdue. We all needed something to rally around—a simple, straightforward story for why content is hard and what we can do about it. I am proud to have helped tell that story early on, along with of a lot of people who openly shared their ideas and experiences. (This continues to be something so fantastic about the content strategy community!)

1 Comment

Filed under Web, words

One response to “6 Qs with Kristina Halvorson, author of ‘Content Strategy for the Web’

  1. Pingback: ‘Listen, listen, listen, listen’: Advice from content expert Kristina Halvorson | refreshing oswego

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s