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How does content strategy differ from corporate communications strategy?

Different layers of a Russian doll

7 January 2011

by Diana Railton

Since posting Content strategy: the essential link, a few people have asked what the difference is between content strategy and corporate communications strategy. Are they not the same?

The answer is no, certainly not. But the two are integral and complementary, rather like a Russian doll.

Neither a corporate communications strategy nor a content strategy has a set format. Outputs differ between organisations and strategists, especially while content strategy develops as a discipline.

The aim of a communications strategy is to support an organisation’s business strategy and goals. Based on a full needs analysis, the communications strategy is usually very broad. Content strategy is one of several supporting strategies.

Disciplines

In a large organisation, corporate communications is a huge adaptable field, made up of many varied activities and disciplines. Among them are advertising, brand management, public relations, media relations, investor relations, internal communications and corporate social responsibility. Each normally has its own strategy that supports the main communications strategy.

A detailed strategy consists of plans and tactics to achieve specific measurable results. To quote Ahava Leibtag, ‘it is about having a vision for what the future will look like and creating a step-by-step process of how you’re going to get there’.

All corporate communication activities depend on a wide array of communication channels. Many are new, web based, and growing in sophistication. Never before have organisations needed to plan and manage their content so carefully.

Enter content strategy.

Gatekeeping

Content strategy is effectively a gatekeeper between communication activities and channels, as the diagram in my earlier post shows. I’ve added it at the end of this post too since it illustrates many of the points I’m going to make.

The main purpose of content strategy is to plan ahead to ensure that content on different channels serves the organisation well and adds measurable value – in keeping with the communications strategy.

As a discipline, content strategy has come into its own when applied to websites and intranets. A huge number of content providers share these channels for a wide variety of purposes. Without a systematic plan for creating, delivering, governing and curating content, chaos can ensue.

In developing a wider strategic framework and road map for content throughout an organisation, we can use many of the same principles.

Channels matrix

A channels matrix is a diagram or list of the main communication channels available to your organisation. It can be complex to put together but, for strategic planning, serves its weight in gold.

The matrix provides a base for your organisation’s content strategy. Repeating my earlier definition, inspired by Kristina Halvorson and other web content strategists, this is:

  • a plan for creating, delivering and governing your content, with specific measurable outcomes
  • a rationale for providing content through the most appropriate channels to support your organisation’s goals and meet your audiences’ needs
  • a repeatable system that manages your content throughout its lifecycle

In the matrix you can group types of channel, such as web, print, email, mobile, social media and face to face. You can show ‘web convergence’ – and how different channels interlink. For example, a speech may be videoed, the video goes on a website or YouTube, while other social media channels provide links and comments.

Using the matrix, you can provide guidance on the pros and cons of using particular channels. You can illustrate ways of mixing and matching them for different types of content. For example, if you want to make a news announcement, consider using channels a, b and c simultaneously. If you’re involved in content marketing, think about channels x, y and z – and so on.

You can also provide practical information about the teams in charge of certain channels – and the content strategy that relates to them. Although channels share many aspects of content strategy, finer details will vary. Content strategy for a website or intranet, for example, will be different to Twitter.

Communication planning

Content strategy is essentially a higher-level form of communication planning, content governance and quality control through specific channels.

It lends itself especially well to written or recorded communications. Both multimedia and social media fall into this category.

But content strategy can also help real-time, face-to-face, interactive communication, where there is an element of planning and control – such as presentations, interviews and team briefings.

Content strategy can also support the communications strategy with contingency plans for crisis communication. The channels and content procedures are ready and waiting – it’s a case of choosing and using the right ones, at the right time, in the right way.

Goals and deliverables

A content strategy will have a set of goals, ‘deliverables’ and key performance indicators. Some echo the communications strategy. Others will be supplementary and particular to different communication channels.

Aligned to the communications strategy, deliverables for a content strategy will usually include providing reference and guidance for content creators on:

  • target audiences and personas
  • key messages to underlie all corporate communications
  • brand tone of voice
  • content style guides, checklists and templates, illustrating how content for different channels needs tailoring differently

Liaising with content managers, a content strategy team can also keep a central content dashboard. This would track and monitor what content is currently showing on major channels, helping to ensure that the channels are working well together.

Content schedules (or ‘editorial calendars’) will differ channel by channel, as do content lifecycles. Most schedules should include timescales for reviewing, updating, deleting or archiving content.

Content needs regular auditing, analysing and measuring to ensure it’s adding sufficient value. What is it costing and what return on investment is it providing to the organisation?

As corporate communicators we should strive to answer these questions strategically. Content strategy provides a methodology to help us do so.

What do you think?

 
 
Photo of Russian doll by frangipani_photograph
Special thanks to Russell-Oliver Brooklands, author of Communication Goldmine, for challenging me with his questions.
Published on 7 January 2011
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  • http://www.twitter.com/prbristolblog PRBristolblog

    Very useful and I still don’t think many communications or marketing managers put enough time or effort into this sort of planning of content. They focus more on the vision and less on the planning.

    So I am clear. Would you describe content strategy as the “logistics” of content and communications strategy the road map?

    • http://www.drcc.co.uk/ Diana Railton

      I see where you’re coming from. It’s not quite so straightforward because we’re talking about strategy within strategy, hence the Russian doll analogy, and a content strategy has its own road map, aligned to the goals of the communications and business strategies. But there are a lot of elements within a content strategy that are more logistical, including governance and quality control.
      Hope that helps.