Beyond templates, trainings, and threats: how do we get content that works?

Sara Wachter-Boettcher runs a content strategy consultancy based in Philadelphia. She is the editor in chief of A List Apart magazine and the author of Content Everywhere, a book about creating flexible, mobile-ready content. She also offers in-house workshops to clients like Trek Bicycles, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Harvard, and speaks at web conferences worldwide. Find her on Twitter @sara_ann_marie or at

If you’ve worked on the web for more than five minutes, you’ve probably tried to settle an argument over homepage real estate, unearthed an abandoned junkyard full of PDFs, or created frustrated documents trying to stop people from publishing crappy content. At least, I have.

In the 10 years I’ve worked with online content—at least seven of them since I started calling myself a content strategist—I’ve tried everything to get teams to make clear content decisions, produce what they actually need, and stick to it over time. I don't think I'm alone. As an industry, we've made content templates, governance documents, style guides, and a million other tools to tell people what they “should” be doing.

So why’s it still so hard? Why do we struggle to get people to write in chunks instead of blobs, to publish content their users actually need, to use content models and metadata effectively?

What I’ve come to realize is that the biggest challenge in our projects isn't articulating a vision or designing a model. It’s not even the technology (thought plenty of organizations are still tied to CMSes that make mobile—and everything else—difficult). The real gap is facilitating the content process: aligning, educating, empowering, and coordinating all the people who influence, create, approve, and manage content so they can actually get things done.

After all, as much as you and I might love content, we can't be the only ones moving our content from messy to modular. We need everyone to get on board—even when the results are imperfect. And that means looking at content strategy as more than a document, a model, or a rulebook. Instead of trying to dictate how the content should work (and then being frustrated when no one follows along), it's time we learn to orchestrate content instead.

That's the topic of my recent talk, Orchestrating Content. In it, I share the principles of facilitating content work, and show you how to get an ensemble cast of team members rallied around shared priorities and goals from the start. I also share examples of activities you can use right now with executives, content creators, project managers, and everyone in between to get them moving—together—toward modular, responsive, future-friendly content.

Watch the video from the *How* Interactive Design Conference below. To actually watch it, click on the image below and scroll down to Orchestrating Content – fourth from the bottom. (Unfortunately, there's no direct link. Yes, we are very sorry. And yes, it's worth the effort.)

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