How to Hold a Content Strategy Meeting

Good content strategy is key for user experience

Imagine two library websites. Each one has a page about their late fees. One library website quotes university policy at length before going on to describe the different kinds of late fees in dense paragraphs, using library jargon (“recalled stacks books”) without defining it. The other library website uses a table to display the different kinds of late fees, defines each type of material, and clearly states when the user will be charged. Which page sounds like it would be more useful and readable to a stressed-out patron who wants to know why they’ve been charged $30?

Putting yourself in the user’s shoes in order to consider what content would be most useful to them, as well as how it should be displayed, is a cornerstone of content strategy. What does that mean? A well-known UX firm, the Nielsen Norman Group, defines content strategy as “the ongoing practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable, and effective content about a particular topic or set of topics. … A content strategy ensures that every piece of content in the experience serves and sustains a legitimate purpose.”

Library websites often have a lot of content that can quickly get out of hand. Research guides and policy pages can be particularly hard to wrangle, given their complexity and tendency to become outdated. Having a content strategy for these kinds of pages can help ensure that users find your website to be useful, readable, and up to date.

Agenda for a content strategy meeting

When you identify a kind of content that needs some strategy, it’s a good idea to schedule a content strategy meeting with important stakeholders. For instance, if your goal is to improve a convoluted set of pages about data management plans, you’ll want to make sure the people who wrote those pages are in the room, along with anyone else who might be invested, such as the librarian who consults with researchers about grants. Make sure not to scope this project too widely—it’s easier to manage a few content strategies for specific areas of your website rather than trying to tackle the entire website at once.

Once you’re in the room together, you’ll facilitate a collaborative brainstorm, leading the group through four questions:

  • Who are your users?

  • What are they in the middle of doing when they get to your content?

  • What are the main objectives for this page/website? (High-level goals)

  • What are the functional requirements needed to fulfill the objectives? (Page components, functionality, and what you need to get it done)

When I’ve led content strategy meetings with my colleague at NC State University Libraries Meredith Wynn, we’ve found it useful to make a big table on a whiteboard or on a spreadsheet projected on a big screen. For example, when discussing pages related to software available in the library:

Your usersWhat they’re doing when they get to your contentMain objectives for the pageFunctional requirements
Grad studentWorking on a project that requires using specialized software; needs to know where they can use itAllow the user the browse software available in the library and where they can use itList of software List of computers and locations where each piece of software is installed
First-year studentAbout to write a paper on their new laptop; wondering if they can download WordDisplay download optionsInfo or link from IT department about what software can be downloaded, by whom, and how

Often, users’ tasks will overlap. These situational personas don’t need to be comprehensive—they are tools meant to put you and your colleagues in users’ shoes and remind you that they’re using your website to fulfill a real task, not just because they love browsing A–Z software lists for their bedtime reading (probably).

Ideally, by the end of the meeting, you’ll have a list of functional requirements. In my experience, this is a really satisfying outcome to the meeting: turning an overwhelming mishmash of ideas into an achievable checklist.

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Tips for facilitating a content strategy meeting

  • Discuss your goals as a group. Ideally, you’ll all agree on an overall goal of centering users in this discussion.

  • Limit the number of attendees to six. Any more than that, and you risk having too many sidebar discussions.

  • Redirect gently when needed. If the conversation veers away from users’ needs (for instance, “our donors need to see flashy photos of happy students on this page about software”), redirect the discussion kindly but repeatedly as needed. Example: “Okay, so that’s what our donors might want. Let’s go back to talking about first-year students…”

  • Make a short-term plan about creating or updating this content. Who’s in charge of fulfilling which functional requirements? When will the draft be ready?

  • Make a long-term plan about who will update this content later, and when. For example, you might reach a consensus that you’ll meet again in six months to assess how well the new page is serving users. Or perhaps one person in the room will set a reminder on their calendar to update the page for the next semester.

Once your first content strategy succeeds in creating useful, usable web content, you’ll be hooked! It is satisfying to know that you’ve made something with your users foremost in mind.

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