Content Strategy: A Roadmap for Technical Communicators (via Scriptorium Publishing)

This weekend, I finally had a chance to listen to the Content Strategy for Technical Communication webinar, previously recorded by Scriptorium Publishing Services.

Sarah O’Keefe, well-regarded thought leader and consultant in the technical communication community, provides a road map for technical communicators to apply the emerging methodology known as content strategy to the requirements and deliverables that are more specific to the technical communication discipline.

Content Strategy for Technical Communication

In her introduction, O’Keefe observes that most current definitions of content strategy focus mainly on web content. Throughout her presentation, O’Keefe applies the overarching principles of content strategy directly to the information products that technical communicators traditionally deliver, including localized content, print, embedded help, context-sensitive help, and code comments.

O’Keefe further notes that content strategy for technical communicators must account for many complex challenges, including multiple outputs, regulated content, coordination with product development/product management, and conditionality/versioning issues for content that is applicable to multiple products and audiences.

O’Keefe defines content strategy for technical communication, in this way:

…a plan for developing, delivering, deploying, and destroying your information.

The rest of O”Keefe’s presentation  provides an over-arching methodology for content strategy, including identifying gaps in the workflow, considering the business drivers (time, quality, and money), and proposing new content requirements for the amended workflow.

Content Strategy Tactics

After discussing the methodology, O’Keefe describes the various tactics (for example, Technical Communication, Community, Localization, Training, and Traceability/FDA Validation) that would need to be part of the overall content strategy.

The 4Ds for Technical Communicators

O’Keefe then goes on to provide a roadmap for the specific activities (the 4 Ds–developing, delivering, deploying, and destroying information), which she recommends would occur as part of content strategy, within the technical communication piece of the overall plan.

To learn more about Content strategy for technical communication, check out the webinar,  or  view these additional webinars from Scriptorium Publishing.

My Reaction: Content Strategy & Product Management

O’Keefe’s slides are an important resource not just for technical communicators, but for all communicators who are trying to sync up content delivery, in the best interest of our customers. I agree with Sarah, when says that content strategy is more than a buzzword and goes above and beyond traditional project management or information architecture. Content strategy is a coordinated plan between the disciplines, which shows where an organization intends to put its content development efforts.

Personally, I would forsee those responsible for each of the tactics Sarah mentioned (including Technical Communication, Community, Localization, Training, and Traceability/FDA Validation) each being held accountable for taking a first pass at the content strategy for that respective tactic. (The organizational units and groups responsible for developing content, who are not mentioned in this list of tactics, would supply this kind of plan as well.)

Ultimately, someone in a centralized position of authority, with executive buy-in, would coordinate the respective plans, eliminate redundancies between the various tactics (or interests), and gain cross-functional buy-in to maintain optimal content delivery. Importantly, these decisions would involve customer analysis and input.

As content and the product have finally become inseparable, I can’t help but think the best centralization of decision-making about content would naturally be within Product Management (as opposed to Marketing, Development/QA, Customer Support, or IT).

A complete content strategy framework requires a holistic understanding of all the disciplines’ respective objectives for content delivery. Typically, this holistic function resides in Product Management and is enforced via Project Management.

Today, I don’t know many members from Product Management or the various content disciplines (including my own) who are specialized enough in the multi-dimensional objectives required of the emerging content strategist, or who have the bandwidth or inclination to take on the content strategist’s complete function. However, technical communicators (and please forgive my bias) are the experienced publishers who are currently working on most cross-functional teams, and are already supporting more than one corporate objective, via their existing content delivery responsibilities.

If technical communicators step up and provide the kind of analysis Sarah proposes (starting with our own content deliverables), we are already positioned to start filling the void in content leadership and to model best practices for content reuse and collaborative writing to the other disciplines. Organizations might also consider moving the technical communication group, to wherever it is in the company that is responsible for this emerging centralized role, and in need of the holistic vision, publishing experience, and coordination skills which technical communicators already bring to the table.

Your take? Where does the coordination of content strategy best belong in the organization? Who has the skills? How can technical communicators incorporate content strategy, in their existing roles? Who should we report to?

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Product Documentation as Strategic Content

When you think of technical documentation, do you think of images of the ’90s, “when software shipped on CDs, in boxes, with thousand-page user manuals that were costly to create and bordered on useless to the end user?” Well, think again. So advises Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch, in a recent Forbes article.

Describing the evolution of the user manual, Fulkerson recalls ten years ago, when documentation was considered a cost center. In contrast, today’s product and services documentation is a core business asset that can drive revenues.

According to Fulkerson, here are ways technical documentation is critical to your business:

Documentation as a Sales Tool and Revenue Generator. Fulkerson reports that for some companies, documentation is bringing in over 50% of qualified leads, through organic search results. At MindTouch, 70% plus of site traffic comes from organic sources, with the documentation generating more than half of overall site traffic. More impressive, MindTouch documentation drives over half of all lead generation.

Documentation as Customer Experience. Good documentation drives down support costs and drastically improves your customer experience, Fulkerson asserts.  According to Forrester research, the average call center call can cost a business as little as $5.50 on average, or as much as $50 per call. For technical issues, support costs can go as high as $150 per call. If a customer consults a piece of documentation or a forum instead, the average cost is usually less than a dollar. “In fact,” Fulkerson explains, “Forrester’s research indicates that the average is about 10 cents.”

In the complete article, Fulkerson goes on to explain how product documentation, especially API documentation, also helps build relationships.

In summary, today’s documentation isn’t “just about the bottom line–it’s about “business strategy and outmaneuvering competitors in your market.” Fulkerson’s key points apply to the enterprise, all the way down to the least technical businesses in the country. 

Content Strategy Takeaway: “If you’re not paying attention [to your product and services documentation], you’re going to lose, and lose hard,” Fulkerson predicts.

Source: Forbes. Read the full article: The Evolution of User Manuals.

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Content Strategy for Technical Content (according to Rahel Anne Bailie)

I’m not sure how many folks here may have noticed, but I recently dropped “Technical and Marketing Communication,” from the title of this blog. Though I’ll still be blogging about both technical and marketing communication topics, the direction I’m moving in these days is much broader than a single discipline (or two)…In the same vein, it took me a long time to settle on a tag-line here at Content for a Convergent World, but I finally found one I really like—Content Strategy, Development, and Management.

(For anyone who was watching closely, you may have noticed, especially during the fall and early winter months, that I changed my tag-line, in an almost weekly [sometimes daily, if you were watching very closely] display of creative indecision…I’ve kept this latest tag-line in place for many months and feel like it finally captures the diversity of my professional interests, in a simultaneously cohesive and focused way.)

On SlideShare, I recently found presentations from Rahel Anne Bailie (@rahelab on Twitter), Content Strategist and CM Consultant, from Intentional Design, which reinforce this blog’s inclusive direction and tie in with the vision I had, when I first set down my thoughts in About This Blog, more than a year ago.

In this retrospective, I pay special homage to Content Wrangler Scott Abel, who has featured Bailie, at his own blog in the post, Rahel Bailie Provides A Content Strategy Primer, and who has greatly influenced my thinking, about the direction of technical communication. In particular, I read Nicky Bleiel’s guest-post (Convergence Technical Communication: Strategies for Incorporating Web 2.0) at Abel’s blog , about the same time I was launching this blog. I find myself still referring back to those ideas, especially as I recommit to this more cross-disciplinary, holistic direction.

Bailie’s presentation describes all the themes I’m trying to capture here, including content convergence, as well as the role of the content strategist in devising strategies, rooted in business requirements, for developing and managing portable content, including subscriptions, marketing content, engineering content, tech comm content, training content, support center content, CRM content, RSS feeds, and user-generated content.

I especially loved Bailie’s eloquent description of the content strategist’s T-thinking mind-set, described as “convergent, synergistic thinking”…convergent, synergistic thinking…yep, that’s what I’m aiming for, here, at Content for a Convergent World…convergent, synergistic thinking, for Enterprise 2.0, and beyond…Another hat tip to Scott Abel, Nicky Bleiel, and Rahel Anne Bailie—for their inspiration and leadership, and for being content strategists, long before content strategy was cool.

Here are some quick notes, from Bailie’s presentation.

What Is Content Convergence?

Content convergence is a move away from content silos (single-use, linear content), paired with content integration, which is combining content from multiple sources. Content convergence means portability—mixing and matching content to fit new contexts. Complex contexts demand concise content…Shape content around a single concept. The ability to re-use content across context increases content value.

To be portable, content needs to:

  • Be structured.
  • Have semantic properties.
  • Be findable (searchable).
  • Conform to standards.

What is Content Strategy?

Content strategy = devising strategies, rooted in business requirements, for portable content.

Content Strategists, Described

  • Content strategists are T-shaped thinkers, good at convergent, synergistic thinking (thinking outside the box).
  • Questions content strategists explore:
    • What are the touch points?
    • What can be automated for users?
    • What are the preferences of your audiences?
    • What is required by regulatory?
    • What is the best you can provide, in practicality?
    • How creative can you be?

Examples of Portable Content

Blog posts, images, Twitter posts, upcoming product releases, user-generated content, visitor login, ratings information, e-commerce data, audio files, and product descriptions.

 View more presentations from Rahel Anne Bailie.

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Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog