Book review: Enterprise Content Strategy

When I attended the Information Development World conference I picked up a copy of Val Swisher’s Global Content Strategy: A Primer. I had just been asked to figure out what it would take to translate our product documentation and UI text, so I needed to learn as much as possible about translation and localization, as quickly as possible.

Global Content Strategy fits that requirement perfectly. It’s concise and to the point, and after reading it I was able to pt together a viable strategy, and talk to localization contractors without sounding like an idiot (always a huge fear of mine).

But this is a review of a different book.

My content strategy education so far

So when Scott Abel asked for reviewers for a new XML Press book, I raised my hand immediately. I love the idea of slim guidebooks that cut straight to the point, where every sentence is a useful piece of information. Since I’m responsible for a lot of my company’s customer-facing content, and since the company doesn’t have anyone in charge of enterprise content strategy, it seemed like something that I’d better learn more about.

I’ve already read a few books on content strategy: I started with Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategy, which is a good introduction to the theory of content strategy. Then I read Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, which adds to that theory and includes practical information. I’ve also read Margot Bloomstein’s Content Strategy at Work, but by that point I was feeling a little overloaded. They’re all good books, but you probably don’t have to read all three back-to-back.

At that time, I was responsible for building a knowledge base of product documentation. I’d been reading about (and implementing) information architecture theory, and this was when content strategy was starting to take off.

I have to admit that I was, at first, put off by what I took as a dismissal of technical writers by the content strategy crowd. I felt like those of us in technical communications had already worked through a lot of these ideas, and we weren’t getting credit for that. But then I realized that was because we’re often terrible about communicating these ideas to other groups. We keep this information to ourselves either because we’re being overly protective, or we assume that no one else will get it. So there was a very good reason for people to start championing these ideas to the entire corporate structure.

Back to my point: I’ve read about content strategy theory, and I definitely agree with the need for enterprise-wide content strategy. And I’ve put that knowledge into practice, but in a haphazard way that was better than nothing, but wasn’t wide-ranging or consistent enough. Largely because other than performing content audits and working with other customer-facing teams to make sure that everything had consistent branding and (mostly) consistent style and tone, I wasn’t sure what else I needed to do.

Enterprise content strategy

In Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide, Kevin Nichols assumes that you recognize the value of creating an enterprise-wide content strategy. He doesn’t spent time explaining why you want to do that. Read Kissane or Halvorson’s books for that argument.

Instead, he dives into the what and how. What do you need to do, and how do you need to do it. Which is how you get a 129-page book (minus the glossary, which is also very good) that is a thorough guide to all of the processes involved. Mr. Nichols tells you which parts are going to need more work, and which need more collaboration.

This book is an instruction manual for building enterprise content strategy. He divides the process into eight steps (and a ninth Governance step that oversees everything). For each step, he clearly explains what the requirements are and what the output will be.

Read this book with a pen handy. I’ve underlined, circled, and written notes on nearly every page.

Also useful for non-CS techcomm

Even if you aren’t involved in building your company’s content strategy…but honestly, are you sure you aren’t? You probably want to be involved, or at least pick up some content strategy skills. Trust me, they’re valuable.

Even if you’re sure you’re not involved, just the “Performing stakeholder interviews” section of the “Assess Phase” chapter is worth the price of the book. These 10 pages of sample questions to ask different business units are vital for any content strategist, but you can use them to build templates for interviewing subject matter experts for content creation.

Conclusion

Get this book if you’ve been asked to take to take on a content strategist role, if you see that as a need to be fulfilled, or if you just want to learn how it’s done. The author and editor have pared the content down to the essential information required to plan and implement a solid enterprise content strategy.

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One thought on “Book review: Enterprise Content Strategy

  1. I’ve been lurching towards what turns out to be CS for years now, working in that haphazard way you mention. We made some good progress when we used doc to clearly define and publicize dependencies among stakeholders. Now folks know who is responsible for what and everyone is really interested in the doc/content because they consistently get what they need. The pressure is really on. Thanks for hacking this path clear for me. I’ll be back here cribbing notes and sharpening your machete when it gets dull.

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