Integrating content strategy into software development
After ten years dominating the action camera market, GoPro turned its sights on software. I was hired onto the User Experience Design team to integrate content strategy into the software design process from the ground up.
Implementing UX and content processes
As the first content lead in GoPro’s upstart software group, I walked into a company still finding its sea legs when it came to designing and developing software. There were no consistent design processes in place. Documentation was scattered and siloed across platforms. App content standards were nonexistent. And there was a general lack of trust, stemming from simply not knowing each other, between groups. So I started by getting to know the teams. I set up meetings, interviewed people, cornered folks in the kitchen, and just listened for awhile. Over time, we began to develop relationships and build trust both within and outside of the software group.
No one around me really knew what a content strategist could do for software development (and the more I reached out to my colleagues in the field, the more it became clear lots of smart companies didn’t yet understand that product content strategy was even a thing). So I worked closely with our product, design, and engineering teams to document and define how UX and content strategy would fit into an agile development process.
Documenting the processes that did exist revealed a lot of wasted effort, so I spent a good deal of time streamlining workflows to improve delivery. By bringing content strategy into the design process earlier, we were able to head off lots of wheel spinning, re-work, and hair pulling that once were common at the tail-end of sprints.
Creating tools to empower non-writers
After helping define a set of universal design principles across the company, I led the development of specific guidelines for app interface content. If you’ve ever tried to change a tire while your car is speeding down the fast lane, you may have an idea of just how challenging this can be.
Content standards and guidelines not only define the high-level personality of the software, they directly impact usability. By the time I left, our style guide covered voice and tone, accessibility, localization, specific messaging components like error and confirmation messages, and more. Better still, we implemented an agile-ish process for adding new styles and updating existing ones. This gives the system the ability to evolve as GoPro’s brand and software matures, rather than requiring a complete reboot with every incoming manager.
A content-forward user experience
Within my first year, the UX design team doubled in size, with the organization around it growing even faster. Content strategy was finally being addressed earlier in the feature development cycle, which meant that copywriting wouldn’t be asked to solve what were ostensibly UX issues later in the sprint. I could ask some of the more architectural questions that helped reveal gaps and important use cases and opportunities to simplify the overall experience.
We also used content and UX documentation to align the teams. When designing the popular QuikStories release, for example, I mapped the messaging architecture to the back-end order of operations, so we could better problem-solve how engineering would impact the status messages appearing throughout the user experience (and vice versa).
The result was a smoother flow, where status messaging served to reinforce the experience, rather than interrupt it. Et voilà:
Creating a competitive advantage through content
CoLab Co-op is a digital agency owned by its workers. Having already worked with them on client projects, I was all-in when they asked me to help with their own content strategy. With a little qualitative research and competitive analysis, we were able to translate the differentiators that set them apart into a content strategy that drives their brand positioning.
A research-driven messaging architecture
We started with a series of one-on-one interviews with past and current clients. These revealed important insights about what mattered to them, where they turned for expertise, and how they evaluated success. This information helped us identify areas of opportunity and differentiation for CoLab.
The interviews revealed a number of patterns, particularly around the kinds of information clients look for at different stages of their engagement with CoLab. Gaps became clear, and opportunities for more appropriate content began to stand out. I translated all of this into a content matrix to guide the team when investing in new content and communications channels. With the Matrix, CoLabbers can prioritize their efforts based on capacity.
Finally, I mapped out a site structure and basic messaging architecture that focused on their values-based competitive advantage. The team used this material to build out their final website; it was a great example of how a solid content strategy can empower internal teams to do their best work.
Free advice and strong opinions on content and UX
My email update is safely occasional (like a sundae).
Designing content for social impact
Net Impact was founded to help MBA students bring sustainability to business. Twenty years in, it was beginning to show its age. I was hired onto the marketing team to help modernize the organization’s brand and digital communications. By the end of my tenure, I was overseeing all digital channels, and membership had more than doubled to 40,000+ emerging leaders across the globe.
Rolling out a global rebrand
What started as a support group of MBA students looking to bring a social conscience to the business world had grown into a global network of students and working professionals committed to bringing social and environmental change to the workplace. We needed to evolve the brand, not reinvent it. Bringing in the incredible Free Range Studios, we conducted a cross-organizational exploration of Net Impact’s values and brand principles. I drove creative direction of the new identity, and its application to all of our existing materials — letterhead, reports and publications, email templates and, of course, netimpact.org.
With 300+ volunteer-led chapters across the globe, rolling out a brand update of this size required a full-on culture shift. We boosted adoption by providing chapters with customized brand kits that included logo variations for different applications, a style guide, and design templates for chapter events and social media channels. We also conducted a series of training sessions to make sure staff and chapter leaders were comfortable with the new brand elements.
Feedback loops helped us make sure that long-standing members felt engaged in the rebrand process. Local chapters got better tools to help their grassroots organizing. And most importantly both members and non-members finally experienced a cohesive, consistent brand as they moved through our various channels.
Designing an author-friendly CMS
As part of Net Impact’s rebranding initiative, we knew we had to tackle the antiquated website. An open-source content management system had already been selected when I joined the project but architecture, content models, and workflows had yet to be scoped. I started by overhauling the information architecture, then led our development team’s full customization of the CMS.
For years, program staff had free reign over the site; anyone could add new content, new pages, and even entire sections. You can imagine the result: massive bloat, inconsistent architecture, and wildly questionable page design. But preventing program staff from adding content simply wasn’t realistic; it was a political grenade and, more importantly, their programs were rapidly changing and involved lots of time-sensitive information. They needed to be able to update content themselves.
So I dug in with team leads to understand their timelines, internal processes, and the types of content they typically worked with. Using that information, together with the content audits I conducted on the old site, I designed content models for each section of the site (right down to the various plug-and-play widgets that would appear sitewide). These informed my wireframes, which our design and dev teams then implemented as templates in the CMS. This would ensure that new posts and pages were visually consistent and on-brand.
From there, I designed a role-based publishing workflow. The system allowed program teams to update the site directly in the new CMS and submit changes or new content for review. We even included help text on the authoring side to remind staff of our editorial styles. This made the review process much quicker.
In fact, we managed to reduce time-to-publication for teams from two weeks to two days. But what really floats my boat is that program staff reported feeling more confident in their ability to produce great content for their membership.
Giving site visitors the user experience they want
As we built out the architecture and CMS for Net Impact’s new site, we also mercilessly pruned and redesigned content based on our earlier audience analysis.
Working closely with our career program team, I helped translate focus group research into the online Career Center. I guided and contributed to the production of how-tos, member success stories, exercises, and other interactive content to help career-switchers find their path. Stories from the Field, a series of short videos embedded throughout the section, shared first-person accounts to inspire visitors. Shareable across social media, the stories brought member experiences and advice to life.
In addition to original content, I also looked for ways to repurpose existing content to other formats and channels. Could we unlock the valuable content buried in an archive of old webinars, for example? Absolutely. I developed a slideshow series highlighting key takeaways from each call. The slideshows were then posted throughout the site and on social media.
Repurposing existing content and adapting it to a more accessible channel does several things. Net Impact is able to reach more changemakers, and call attention to complementary programming. It also allows its membership to connect with the content the way they want to.
Aligning digital channels
By the time I was asked to run our digital channels, we had multiple social media accounts, an active blog, an email list in the tens of thousands, earned and placed media, and numerous content channels like Vimeo, Slideshare and of course, netimpact.org. There were lots of staff creating content but few standards, little coordination, and a lot of extra work. I knew we needed a formal content strategy.
We started with a performance measurement plan to help us understand what was working and what wasn’t. Based on this data and our organization’s strategic goals, I mapped out an appropriate content mix that emphasized some channels over others. And, perhaps most importantly, I developed an editorial planning process that empowered our program teams to develop content that fed our overall strategy, rather than competing with it (read about the process on the Salsa Labs blog).
With these efforts, social media reach grew by 47% and drove 58% more web traffic to netimpact.org year-over-year. With the new editorial process, our blog content kept visitors on netimpact.org twice as long as the site average. This kind of engagement deepened members’ relationships with the organization, making people want to talk about their experience across the channels where we were reaching them. One small example came at the 2012 Net Impact Conference, when our social media efforts paid off as thousands of #NI12 attendees flooded Twitter. Collectively, we got Net Impact’s flagship event officially trending, getting the message out to hundreds of thousands new and existing followers.
Even beer deserves a content strategy
Before the craft beer revolution, you’d be lucky to select from a couple of imports at the hotel bar. But Starwood Resorts wanted to give beer the respect it deserved. So it rolled out a new strategy for the hundreds of Four Points by Sheraton locations around the world. Four Points would focus on craft brews in all of its bars and restaurants.
Developing a curriculum that goes down smooth
“It’s amazing how much I thought I knew. Now, I can definitely make a more educated suggestion to a guest.”
Have a project you’d like some help with?
I generally work on a project or retainer basis. We can also do phone consultation packages, or you can bring me in for half- or full-day facilitation workshops. Shoot, I may even join as staff if it makes sense for the job at hand, or we fall in love with each other (it’s been known to happen).