Hilary Marsh, president and chief strategist at Content Company, is a seasoned content and digital strategy expert. Her work focuses on helping content-rich organizations better plan, create, and leverage their content through improved and effective content strategy.
In this episode of the Leading Learning Podcast, co-host Jeff Cobb talks with Hilary about the importance of a whole-organization content strategy, the different levels of content strategy maturity, and the rise in the role of content strategists. They also discuss content management tips and tricks and why learning businesses should view their content from the consumer’s point of view.
To tune in, listen below. To make sure you catch all future episodes, be sure to subscribe via RSS, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher Radio, iHeartRadio, PodBean, or any podcatcher service you may use (e.g., Overcast). And, if you like the podcast, be sure to give it a tweet.
Listen to the Show
Access the Transcript
Read the Show Notes
[00:00] – Intro
[01:26] – Would you tell us about the work that you do at Content Company?
Hilary works with content-rich organizations, including professional associations, nonprofits, educational institutions, and corporate intranets. Since content is what those organizations do, her work focuses on making sure that it’s published, created, and shared in a way that resonates with the intended audience.
Often these organizations create amazing programs, products, and services, but they do it with their internal subject matter expert lens. So they don’t always make sure that the people getting the information understand the importance and the value to them.
[02:54] – How did you develop your interest in content and decide to create a company devoted to effectively leveraging content?
In the organizations that Hilary works with, almost everything they do is content. A product manifests in the world as words, pictures, audio, and video. Courses, conference programs, books, magazine articles, research reports, advocacy work—all of that is content.
Hilary’s journey started when she studied journalism. She pivoted toward Internet. She saw an editorial philosophy missing. The editorial hooks content with the audience, the purpose, and a goal, which is the heart of what she does.
A Focus on Content Strategy
[05:13] – Why do you think most organizations aren’t as strategic as they could be with their content? What shift in thinking do you find usually has to occur for content to start playing the role that it could and should play?
Several years ago, Hilary and others conducted a project for the ASAE Foundation on content strategy adoption and maturity in associations. They identified different maturity levels. The more mature the organization, the greater its awareness of the value of its content.
The project identified seven different aspects of content strategy maturity:
- Content operations
- Content quality
- Audience understanding
- Content planning and collaboration
- Taxonomy and metadata
- Content structure
COVID’s Impact on Content Strategy
[07:45] – As we’re emerging from COVID, how have you seen the perspective on content change?
Before the pandemic, Hilary saw mostly each group inside an organization doing its own thing, creating its own content in its own way. Sometimes the groups would collaborate but often not. That was a challenge since often they were doing very similar things.
During the pandemic, the blur between the content and the container changed.
And so then, if you take away the package and the container that content comes in and just think about content, first of all, wow, associations are creating—or any kind of content-rich organization—are creating far more content than they really realize. And they could have an opportunity, if they choose to think more strategically about their content, to step back and say, “Wow, given how much we’re doing, are we doing too much? Are we spending our time doing the right things? Is this the right mix? Can people make heads or tails out of what we’re offering and find in that grouping of things what’s most important to them?”Hilary Marsh
COVID represented a wake-up call, a chance look at offerings from the outside in. Hilary stresses the need to develop an empathetic sense of who’s using your content and why. Don’t think about what you want to tell them from the inside out. Think about it from the outside in and what pain points your audience has.
Take a strategic outside look at what you’re producing and how it solves people’s needs because that’s what they come into your organization looking for. Nobody cares about your organizational chart. They care about their pain points and challenges.
[12:23] – When Hilary first embarked on her content strategy work, she thought most of the people contacting her would be in the communications department because her background is in communications (journalism). But she’s found that the people who contact her often work in education. That’s because often a strategic objective of a content-rich organization is to educate its audience.
[13:45] – At Tagoras, we’re experts in the global business of lifelong learning, and we use our expertise to help clients better understand their markets, connect with new customers, make the right investment decisions, and grow their learning businesses.
We achieve these goals through expert market assessment, strategy formulation, and platform selection services. If you are looking for a partner to help your learning business achieve greater reach, revenue, and impact, learn more at tagoras.com/services.
Essential Steps in Developing a Content Strategy
[14:19] – If an organization has decided it’s ready to be much more strategic about its content, what steps do you recommend they take to get things started?
One way to start is with the maturity work Hilary already mentioned. Content Company has a tool that lets you assess where you are in maturity and a crawl-walk-run adoption plan.
Start with discovery. Who are you, and who’s your audience? That two-pronged approach lets determine whether your content is working to achieve your organizational objectives and your audience’s needs.
[15:36] – What tips and tricks do you have for organizations that struggle with ongoing content management?
Focus on who your audience is, what they need, what their purpose is, and what success looks like. Newness can be overrated. Effective content meets that audience’s needs. Your audience likely won’t remember what they read six months ago.
Remember that you can offer content at different levels of depth and apply different lenses to the same topic.
Success metrics are important. What do you want to happen as a result of publishing the content? Why do you want someone to learn what you’re sharing?
It might be because you’ve heard the same question from multiple audience members or uncovered information that you want to summarize for your particular audience. There many different reasons that might lead you to create content.
But always you have to think about who’s the audience, why do they need this, and what does success look like? And then you’ll see what to create more of, what to create less of. What are gaps that you might want to start creating content about? And then there’s the hardest question of all: What to stop?Hilary Marsh
The “what to stop” question is important because organizations often create things without knowing if it’s working. Use metrics to inform your decisions about topic, format, length, channel, and how to share content.
Reusing and Repurposing Content
[18:36] – Sometimes organizations create a piece of content, put it out once, and then let it fade away. But often the organization simply needs to put that piece of content back out again. What are your thoughts?
Don’t be afraid to share content again. Even if people remember the content, they’ll often appreciated being reminded about it.
There’s also the possibility of repurposing content. Hilary shares an example from the National Association of Realtors repurposing content that comes from its code of ethics.
One article with five bullet points can become five articles, each diving more deeply into one of those points. Five articles can also be boiled into one overview.
Some people want a higher-level view, and some people want a deeper view.
Content Manager Role
[21:16] – How do you find opportunities for connecting, reusing, or repurposing content across different departments or units in an organization? Are you finding more organizations have a dedicated content manager role?
The content strategy profession is growing. Sometimes people doing this work don’t have a content management title, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes the content person isn’t a content manage but at a higher level, and Hilary believes they often need to be at a higher level to have the strategic influence and organizational impact that they should.
The content person needs to ensure that the individuals planning and creating the content work together and have the audience’s and organization’s needs in mind.
Pricing: Free Vs. Paid Content
[23:15] – How do you think about the relationship between free content and paid content? What tips might you offer to an organization managing a portfolio that includes both free and paid content and that has competitors on both fronts?
There are multiple ways to approach this. One is to study what your competitors are doing and do an apples-to-apples comparison where you can. Decide whether your balance should be more free content, which has great SEO benefits. More people can find your content; more people can use it. You might decide that you want to offer a few teaser pieces of free content and put a limit on how many things individuals can consume.
Another approach is called the bite, the snack, and the meal.
- The bite might be an overview or a piece of content that covers the basics and helps the individual decide whether to go deeper or not. This might be a headline.
- The snack could be be the description of an article or report.
- The meal could be the entire article or report.
Some organizations decide the bite is free, and the snack and meal are paid.
Think about content as a whole outside of the bounds of what department created it. If you plan it together, then you can make organization-wide decisions and create a collective, overarching business model.
Hilary describes this type of cross-department collaboration using an orchestra metaphor.
If an orchestra, if every musician and every section play their own piece of music at their own time in their own way, it would be cacophony. And yet if they come together and play the same piece of music together, the sound is far richer and deeper than it could have been with anyone alone. And a lot of times I feel like we are the former, and we need to be the latter. And the connector isn’t the content strategist person. It’s the content strategy. So whoever owns that strategy, however it’s owned, that’s what brings people together as that philosophical conductor.Hilary Marsh
The Consumer Standpoint: Managing Content Consumption
[29:47] – How do you approach your own management and consumption of content so it isn’t a cacophony?
Hilary employs multipe strategies:
- Strategically unsubscribe.
- Be mindful about who to follow and when on social media. Turn notifications on and off on Twitter.
- Take advantage of personalization options.
[33:07] – Wrap-up
To make sure you don’t miss new episodes, we encourage you to subscribe via RSS, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher Radio, iHeartRadio, PodBean, or any podcatcher service you may use (e.g., Overcast). Subscribing also gives us some data on the impact of this particular part of our content strategy.
We’d also be grateful if you would take a minute to rate us on Apple Podcasts at https://www.leadinglearning.com/apple or wherever you listen. We personally appreciate reviews and ratings, and they help us show up when people search for content on leading a learning business.
Episodes on Related Topics: