Marketers specialize in writing engaging content and leveraging real-time data to deliver that content just in time. They also plan for months and quarters ahead in order to publish content that is relevant to their audience. This concept is part of what’s known as content strategy and it isn’t just for marketers anymore. As L&D professionals, we should follow marketing’s example and create the right content for our audiences at the right time. In addition, we should leverage data to better understand what content is needed when and where, and design unforgettable learning experiences while driving performance at the same time.
What is a content strategy?
Think of a content strategy as an inventory at a grocery store. Stores keep track of what’s on their shelves and in the warehouse so they know exactly how many products they can sell. If they come close to products selling out, they order more. Imagine if stores didn’t have an inventory in place, how would they know when to order new products? How would they be able to survive? The short answer is, they probably wouldn’t.
A content strategy helps marketers plan their content engagement cycle for months at a time so they won’t have empty shelves. According to Kristina Halvorson, CEO and founder of Brain Traffic, content strategy is the “creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” It lets you manage your content as a business asset. “Content” includes the content you write, but also images and multimedia. Ultimately, having a content strategy in place helps create meaningful, engaging, and sustainable content and allows you to identify the right content at the right time for the right audience. You can easily identify what content already exists, what you should create and, more importantly, why you should create it. On top of that, leveraging data and analytics, marketers learn more about where content is being accessed and focus their efforts on particular delivery channels.
Content strategy in L&D
Transferring this idea back to L&D, we often don’t know what’s on our shelves. We have vast amounts of content with no clear oversight of where this content resides and who is responsible for it. And L&D professionals don’t necessarily plan ahead but are still order-takers. We react to needs rather than planning for sustainable content.
Thinking about the individual learner, if we don’t understand what content is available, and even more important how they are accessing this content, how can we drive an individual’s performance? How can I offer just-in-time resources that the learner actually cares about and needs in a particular moment? Just putting content onto the LMS and tracking if the learner sat through it isn’t enough anymore. L&D needs to dive deeper and understand what content is truly valuable to learners, and their preferred ways of accessing it.
Create your content strategy
There are multiple ways for you to create a content strategy. One option is to draw a parallel to what most L&D professionals are using already as a starting point: the ADDIE model.
Easy steps to get started
An easy way to start is by creating a content task force. You probably already have a lot of content in place. Often however, there is no central repository that you can reference or one person responsible for maintaining it. Step 1 is to book a room for one afternoon and get your stakeholders together. This includes, most likely, your instructional designers, your facilitators, your copywriters, and someone from marketing. Start working on combing your content and leveraging a central repository such as Google Drive or Box. Second, you want to summarize what you already have in place. Create a content strategy template. This can be a very simple Excel spreadsheet outlining, for example, content titles, descriptions, delivery channel, production timelines, measurements, and responsibilities. List the content you already have in place and that you use on a regular basis. Lastly, repurpose content. Think about upcoming training initiatives, look at the content you have and mark the pieces you can reuse or leverage with minimal changes. You will be able to see current gaps and better identify what further content is needed to drive performance.
In this stage, identify learning content requirements. Usually, L&D professionals determine if and what kind of training is needed to close a skill gap. Keeping a content strategy in mind, identify what specific content is needed to fill this gap. For example, you are aware that after onboarding your staff still doesn’t perform as expected. You decide to analyze the current content delivered in the onboarding, not the onboarding program overall. To achieve this, interview stakeholders, gather historic documentation, and of course evaluate the content environment, i.e., where will the content be consumed.
Following ADDIE, the learning solution is being designed in a second step. When it comes to content strategy though, make it a habit to add an additional step here, namely determining topical ownership areas and processes for content creation. For example, think about the onboarding program. More often than not, marketing has content in place that it shares with customers already. Use some of this content in your own learning solution. Further, who is responsible to write content for process updates vs. soft-skill training? It is best to create a resourcing plan (who is an expert to write what type of content) and, most important of all, determine your voice and branding for each topic.
Another step to follow before developing content is creating an actual content-strategy plan. After strategizing, you will either realize that you have everything you need or that some sources are missing. For example you might want to recommend staffing solutions to help write content or bring in a specialist to do so. Most important of all: you must create a communication plan that includes responsibilities and timelines for everyone, as well as content or learning management system distribution and customization. Use any of the free project management tools such as Asana or Trello to help you plan this stage.
This stage is pretty straightforward: create structured and engaging content that is reusable. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you create content. For example, if you create content for process updates, chances are that this needs to find its way to your onboarding program as well. Collaborate with your coworker who is responsible for writing such content. If you created an eBook for your clients, I am sure you can leverage this and create engaging webinars out of it. Work smart, not hard!
Next step is to deliver the content to where your audience is, meaning will they access it on their mobiles, on their desktops, or in a face-to-face session. Of course, you have already created a medium such as an eLearning module or a webinar so all you need to do now is plug this content into your learning management system and assign it to the appropriate audience. However, also think about other options of hosting your content, such as an intranet site to keep learners more engaged. Can you use YouTube and email the link to your learners? Don’t let the LMS define your delivery mode.
It is essential to measure success of the learning solution. Keeping the content strategy in mind, break up the learning solution into smaller elements and focus on the content itself. Does the content allow us to reach the objectives we have set in the beginning? Has the content been accessed as anticipated? Where in a video did learners drop off? The best way to create successful measures is to align them to your business objectives and ensure that these are realistic and attainable.
The final step in your content strategy plan is maintenance. You need to manage your content in a single source and plan for periodic audits. It is essential to continuously improve high-value learning content. If you are using a project management tool, make maintenance part of your project template and set timelines for regular follow-ups so you won’t forget.
Following the above steps can help create better learning experiences. When thinking about content creation, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. As a rule of thumb, create about 65 percent of content, curate 25 percent, and collaborate on 10 percent.