Author: Kristina Halvorson & Melissa Rach
Publisher: New Riders
Audience: Those responsible for an organisation's presence on the web
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
For a second edition, this book has made a lot of changes.
When I read the first edition of this book the idea of "content strategy" was new to me, as well as to most readers. Things have changed a good deal in the five years since the original version was published and so rather than simply tack on a couple of additional chapters this book has evolved.
It has even modified its definition of content strategy which it now summarizes as being what:
"guides your plans for the creation, delivery and governance of useful usable content."
The new edition has a second author, Mellissa Rach but still has a unified voice, and comes with a preface by Facebook's first Content Strategist, Sarah Cancilla, which gives the impression of a testimonial for the book's first author Kristina Halvorsen to justify her claims to be "the world's leading advocate for content strategy".
The book now has four sections each with three chapters. The first part has the title Reality and in its introductory paragraph suggests "Let's put your content to work". I was pleased to find that its first chapter still made the case for less content rather than more and that the essential approach of asking lots of questions is still in evidence throughout the book. Chapter 2 of the book outlines the Problem - listing treating content like a commodity, failing to plan and not taking account of the political nature of content.
The next chapter starts to consider the Solution - and this is where Content Strategy is first discussed in depth - what is does, who does it and how it differs from related disciplines including web writing, information architecture, search engine optimization and content management strategy.
The second section is concerned with Discovery and has chapters on Alignment, which covers stakeholders and how to get them on board as part of a team; Audit which advocates a deep-dive examination of your existing content; and Analysis which focuses attention on all the factors that have an impact on your content.
The next three chapters are grouped under the section headed Strategy, starting in Chapter 7 with Core - "the guiding-light that keeps you moving in the right direction. We are told that an effective core strategy is flexible, aspirational, memorable, motivational and inclusive. There's also a diagram - a circle with core at the center and four quadrants surrounding it Substance, which are the topic of Chapter 8 and Workflow and Governance, which are discussed in Chapter 9.
For many reader Chapter 8, titled Content is likely be considered as the "real meat" of this book. It looks at audience - defining your users and prioritizing them; messaging - the information you want to convey; topics - the subjects to be covered and the way they interrelate; purpose - with the examples persuade, inform, validate, instruct and entertain, some advice about voice and tone and some suggestions for sources - where content comes from. There isn't anything ground-breaking in the look at substance but the second half of the chapter, on structure, is more insightful even though it is relatively short.
Chapter 9, with the title People, brings us to the question of who is to do what. It has an initial section on "Defining Ownership of Roles" and then turns to "Designing Workflow and Governance Processes” which suggests a highly complex process. This chapter then get practical with suggestions for helpful tools, based mainly on the ubiquitous spreadsheet. They include an editorial calendar, a content requirements checklist, a content inventory and maintenance log, a measurement scorecard and measurement history.
The final section, Success, has three short chapters. Chapter 10 Persuasion is about how to get other people to accept, and to pay for, content strategy now that you, the reader, is convinced about it. Then in Chapter 11, Advocacy, you are urged to spread the word about content strategy and there's a list of people regarded as established contents strategist whose blogs you should read. The message of "Spread the Word" re-iterated in Chapter 12, Hero. These final two chapters seemed to me to be "needy" and I even felt that they undermined the impression I had gained in earlier parts of the book that it had gained in confidence and become more prescriptive and less tentative than the original edition.
In conclusion, if you are new to the idea of content strategy this is a worthwhile read but, despite the inclusion of new material and enough of a revamp to make it seem thoroughly revised, I can't recommend it to those who were convinced by the first edition.