Cute dog with barking bubblesWe have a terminology problem. And I think it is causing us to trip all over ourselves and misunderstand each other on a frequent basis. The term I’m talking about is Content Strategy.

It appears that we have multiple types of content strategies. I think it’s high time we started distinguishing between them.

Content Strategy for Technical Communication

In the technical content arena, there is an activity (hopefully ongoing) called content strategy. Usually, content strategy in technical communication has these components:

  • Structured authoring
  • Single-sourcing
  • Content management systems
  • Content reuse
  • XML with or without DITA
  • Multi-channel publishing

In other words, most tech comm content strategy is really about moving from unstructured content (such as Word, unstructured Frame, and so on) to structured content, most often using XML. Without XML-based structured content, single-sourcing, content reuse, and multi-channel publishing are almost impossible to do.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other ways to have a content strategy in the technical sector. You can definitely have a content strategy that includes unstructured content. But when you simply say to someone, “Oh, I do content strategy for tech comm,” the immediate implication is the list of bullets above.

If I could rename this type of strategy, I would call it structure-based content strategy. That way, we’d all know that we were talking about a strategy that evaluates the structure of content, creates models, taxonomies, workflow, governance, includes content management systems for the storage (and other features), and is quite likely dependent on some flavor of XML.

Content Strategy for Marketing and Web

Next, we have content strategy in the marketing arena. As Rob Rose skillfully points out, “[Content strategy] seeks…to manage content as a strategic asset across the entirety of the organization.”

My personal experience of content strategy in the marketing vertical is that the focus is almost exclusively on marketing content. Rarely have I seen marketing content strategies consider non-marketing types of content. For example, technical documentation, knowledge-base information, or training.

In her article, “5 Things You Need to Know About Content Strategy,” Kathy Hanbury provides very useful information for people who are developing a content strategy for marketing content. Every example she uses revolves around marketing content. None of the examples look at any other type of content. Yet, we still call this content strategy. Confusing, isnt’ it?

Sometimes, we use the term web content strategy. That’s not a bad term. At least it’s descriptive. But, once again, the web content strategies that I’ve seen are inherently marketing-focused.

If I could rename this type of strategy, I would call it marketing-based content strategy. That way, we’d all know that we were talking about a strategy that is focused on the goals of marketing content,  audits marketing content, describes governance for marketing content, and so on.

Global Content Strategy

Now we have global content strategy. And this is where things get pretty messy.

Global content strategy is focused on all of the content that needs to be managed, analyzed, modeled, developed, localized, translated, delivered, and eventually sunsetted, in multiple languages.

If your company provides content in more than one language, every type of content strategy that you undertake should include the rest of the world. In effect, there should be no such thing as “global” content strategy. Global content should never be treated separately from any other type of content.

I truly get tongue-tied when I talk about “global” content strategy and non-global content strategy. What do I call that non-global content strategy? Is it regular content strategy? (No, that doesn’t fit.) Is it source-language content strategy? Or single-language content strategy? Yes. That technically describes the difference. But the aspects of global content strategy need to be included in every type of content strategy.

If we leave the rest of the world out of our content strategy, regardless of flavor, we are doing our company and our customers a great disservice. And we are causing the company to spend way too much money for translations that are mediocre and slow to market.

When it comes to global content strategy, our terminology problem is really a peek inside a much broader issue. And that is treating global as an independent topic from everything else.

It’s All in the Words

So, Houston, we have a terminology problem. On the one hand, we have a generic term being used when we really need to be more specific. On the other hand, we have a specific term that is being used when, in actuality, it should be generic AND inclusive.  

In order for us to communicate effectively with each other, we need to have a shared terminology. And in order for us to communicate effectively with the rest of the world, we need to include all languages that we translate into, from the beginning of any content strategy undertaking.

Val Swisher
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