The Story Behind Content Strategy Alliance Best Practices Guidebook and Free Templates and Tools
Is it Open Source Content Strategy? (paraphrasing here a recent tweet from Rahel Bailie) I don’t know if that is the correct definition. But it fits. What I do know is that Noreen Compton and Steven Grindlay had a dream: Create an organization to support and advance the field of content and content strategy for any business or organization that wants to better its content. When Noreen Compton asked me to join Content Strategy Alliance (CSA) last year, I was more than happy to help. I worked with them and a team to create a more defined mission around what that would mean.
I was asked to chair what was termed the “Best Practices” initiative. The initial meeting was all over the place. Everyone had their own visions. All were valid.
I asked that we all take a step back…And so, we created a charter for CSA. CSA had already been widely successful with the 2014 Content Strategy Survey Report and it had another survey, The 2014 Content Strategy Business Survey underway when I joined. After we got the charter in place defining the mission of CSA, we decided the first thing to tackle would be amassing what we felt were best practices in templates and tools that were lacking in the content strategy universe. In addition to that, we all agreed that we should share this knowledge freely and make it entirely accessible. We intentionally decided against profiting from it. I was just completing a second book, Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide, but the intent of that book was to position an effective framework for enterprise content strategy; it was not a deep dive into the templates or tools to execute such an effort. The CSA Best Practices Initiative effort filled that void.
We —and the we here was a team of seasoned content strategists with years of experience mentioned below, and we did try to get as many as we could to join—amassed all of our collective knowledge to create a set of templates that we felt were critical for any content strategy or content marketing effort. We met once a week for over a year and went back and forth on thousands of emails. Each week we had individuals on the team—who volunteered based on their own experience—work on specific templates. We created the templates, then reviewed each, offered feedback and iterated. Generally we completed around five templates per week and reviewed collective feedback together. It was quite an amazing venture. We were all volunteers. We all had fulltime jobs. As Global Lead for Content Strategy at Sapient at that time, I personally was in a different city each week when I dialed into the conference meeting every Tuesday at 8:00 p.m EST. Frequently, I dialed in from airport lounges where I attempted to facilitate the meeting speaking as softly as I could.
In December, we had all the templates completed. We then decided that it was necessary to create a guidebook to support the templates. Some folks had documented steps to create the templates, others had not, and in all, we had all these different levels of information and nothing seemed consistent. We spent the next four months getting a guide in place. After all that effort, in April we thought: Viola, we are complete! But all of this knowledge was still all over the place, regardless of how much we tried to create standards around it. Our efforts existed in various formats and nothing was standardized.
Steven Grindlay offered to produce the effort in a stylized format. He created a branding for it, and put it into a polished product. We reviewed it and we released a collective sigh of: “Oh Crap!!!” We had spent months collecting and refining the information, but we failed to realize that so many voices and tones and varying degrees of information existed. We had not reviewed it as a collective whole. In short, we failed to embrace a content style guide, copy decks and proper process reviews. Cobbler’s shoes anyone? If we were going to have a “best practices” initiative for content strategy, then we had to create consistent and quality content.
So after it was in production, we had to go back and review, and review, and review again. Noreen Compton insisted that we adhere to a unified voice. I wanted to just release it, but I knew she was right. In April we got the tone right; in May, we standardized the branding of 40 templates; in June we cleaned up everything else; and in July it was links and template IDs. Then we thought we could launch and we realized that WordPress links were dated. If only we had bought that one plug-in…Long story but we FINALLY launched in the first week of August.
The rest will hopefully be history. We all worked our asses off to create a guidebook and set of the most comprehensive tools that exist in the content strategy universe and these are all free.
It is my personal belief that all of this effort can help organizations improve their content. If nothing else, it will help you realize what you have to do to have better content.
If these efforts help you at all in figuring out how to improve your content, then I feel as if this work was successful. If you don’t feel that it does, then please reach out to me personally and tell me why.
On a final note, this effort is not complete. We will continue to refine it, publish updates and more tools and templates and more guidance on how to do content strategy in a manner that will benefit your mission and your user’s and consumer’s needs!
The team that made this happen: