Content Strategy with Margot Bloomstein

By Marli Mesibov

As a user experience design firm, Above the Fold often forms relationships with many experts in related fields. Margot Bloomstein, founder of Appropriate, Inc., specializes in content strategy, which can play a big role in the user’s experience. We sat down with Margot recently, to hear her perspective on content strategy in the broader scheme of user interface and user experience design.

Marli: Margot, let’s start off with the basics. How do you define content strategy to your clients?

Margot: A content strategy is your plan for meeting the needs of your target audience and organizational brand through the common denominator of communication in a medium over time. The plan needs to account for several key questions:

  • What content types best tell the story?
  • How will we get this content—who will create or aggregate it, and determine when it’s no longer relevant?
  • What are the goals and messaging, and at what frequency?
  • How do we manage and govern all that?

Sounds scary, right?! These are big, political questions, and we haven’t even addressed more tactical issues like keywords and character counts yet. Clearly, content strategy isn’t just something we can write off as “the client’s problem.”

Marli: Absolutely! Obviously there are also a number of different methods for building a content strategy. How do you like to start off?

Margot: Content strategy is a broad umbrella. Some content strategists address content strategy for content management, and others focus more on taxonomy and the semantic web. As for me, I combine experience in design and content strategy to focus more on messaging and articulating the vision of a brand through content strategy. I start by working with my clients to establish a hierarchy of brand attributes and communication goals, then determine content types and attributes to realize those goals. From there, we’ll conduct a content audit and create a prescriptive content matrix to outline the specific content needs, and develop tactical editorial style guidelines and an editorial calendar to chart the “how” and “when.”

Marli: Let’s look at the bigger picture now. How do you see content strategy within the greater sphere of user experience?

Margot: In supporting the “three-legged stool” of user experience, visual design and information architecture are only two legs. Content strategy counter-balances them as the third leg to create a truly consistent, comprehensive user experience. If you only address the look-and-feel and structure of an experience, but fail to address the content and communication it conveys, your website doesn’t really foster a unified user experience. And like sitting on a two-legged stool, your target audience is going to feel pretty wobbly in the experience.

Marli: That’s a good point. Content strategy is an important part of the total user experience package. Where do you see it coming into play in the design process?

Margot: Content strategy comes into play early on. As you consider a brand realignment, website overhaul, or new social media campaign, you first need to determine your communication goals for those changes: Why do this? What does this investment need to accomplish? Prioritize those communication goals in a message architecture before you consider tactics.

Speaking tactically, there are elements of planning, editorial workflow, and collaboration with other areas of practice that occur throughout the broader interactive process. Whether you adopt a more agile or traditional waterfall process, a message architecture can kick off the process. At the same time, user research can begin, and your SEO specialist may want to start keyword research. Drive all of that thinking into initial design brainstorms; visual design comps and initial value proposition copy both should draw direction from the message architecture. As you start to create the site map and wireframes, your content strategist can help ground the process in reality by sharing the content audit and prescriptive content matrix.

Marli: And once you begin using a Content Strategy, how do you measure its effectiveness?

Margot: As a tightly integrated part of the user experience design process, content strategy and its impact on ROI can be tough to suss out—but you just need to look harder. Measure ROI by checking other metrics: if you launch a new site with a robust FAQ section and see a drop in calls to your customer service reps, that’s testament to the success of the new content and its accessibility on the site.

Here’s another scenario: if your message architecture prioritizes building the brand’s thought leadership, perhaps you prescribe new content types like factoids, blog posts on industry topics, and guest posts on other influential industry blogs. How do you measure the ROI? Check the lift in calls from journalists who cover the beat and the number of times trade publications cite the company and quote its leaders—and monitor changes to general sentiment in social media. The metrics are out there; we just need to connect the dots between content strategy and impact.

Marli: It’s been wonderful talking with you Margot. I just have one more question – what’s the best part of working as a content strategist?

Margot: I’m charged by working with great clients and an amazing community of other content strategists—we challenge, mentor, and egg each other on. What more could you want?

Margot Bloomstein is principal of Appropriate, Inc., an independent brand and content strategy consultancy based in Boston. Find her on Twitter at @mbloomstein.

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