Hands up, if you’ve heard “nobody reads manuals anyway” or “the guide is just a necessary evil” or “our product is so easy that it doesn’t need documentation”. OK, I see hands in the air.

No, no, and no.

User guidance is part of the product and has an impact on the manufacturer’s brand just like the product itself. The approach where guides are just that pile of paper you throw away after opening the sales box should be abandoned (in the same location where all those easy products that don’t need documentation are placed). Marketing has known for years that content and content creation are an asset to any company, and you don’t need to surf much before spotting your first “content collaboration” label.

User guidance and all other support content should be as strategically planned as marketing content and they too should have their content strategy.

I heard someone asking what is a content strategy.

Let’s look at some definitions. These three were the first hits in Google on the day of writing (5 June).

  • “Content strategy refers to the management of pretty much any tangible media that you create and own: written, visual, downloadable — you name it. Content strategy is the piece of your marketing plan that continuously demonstrates who you are and the expertise you bring to your industry.” (Hubspot)
  • “ … content strategy delves deeper into (in Kristina Halvorson’s words) the ‘creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.’ Note that content strategy often goes beyond the scope of a content marketing strategy, as it helps businesses manage all of the content they have.” (Content Marketing Institute)
  • “Content strategy focuses on the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of content.  Content not only includes the words on the page but also the images and multimedia that are used. Ensuring that you have useful and usable content, that is well structured, and easily found is vital to improving the user experience of a website.”  (Usability.gov)

Content strategy is often seen in marketing or with website content, but support content is content too.

The content strategy for support content describes the governance model for content. It describes how the company wants handle their customer support in the future and goes through the entire life-cycle of content from planning to creation, delivery, updates, archiving, and removal.

When doing content strategy work, you clarify what content does your company produce in your organisations and teams. Each content type that you produce is investigated using a set of questions. The list of questions – in my favourite “this is not rocket science” way – can be fairly traditional: what, who, why, for whom, when, how, through which, what’s related, and so on.

As an example, let’s look at a content type called user guide. You might want to use at least the following questions:

  • Who creates this content?
  • Why is this particular content created?
  • From whom is this content created? What is the audience?
  • How is this content created?
  • How is this content produced?
  • When is this content updated?
  • When is this content archived and/or deleted?
  • What other content types are related to this one? How do they impact each other?

To recap:

When you have the answers to the same questions for each content type, you can compare the content and their related processes and better see how each content supports the company’s strategic goals. Because that’s what they need to do – why would a company waste their resources to something that doesn’t help it to reach their goals?

Content strategy is tightly knit with the company’s strategy and its future plans related to customer support. The content strategy is different if the content is delivered as PDFs using USB drives or if it’s delivered from a portal to IoT devices and smart glasses using metadata. For this work, you’d need to know what is your environment going to be in one, three, or five years from now. OK, everyone have their crystal balls ready…?

– Laura