Explore the benefits of technical content strategy and how having one can improve the user and contributor experience of your open source community projects.
If you search for content strategy in your favorite search engine, I bet that you find that it is a term more strongly associated with marketing content than with technical content. However, a technical content strategy is a powerful way to align stakeholders around content goals for your open source project. In this article, I explore the benefits of technical content strategy and how having one can improve the user and contributor experience of your community projects.
When developing a content strategy, you should consider your goals. The goals differ depending on the user. For the marketing team, the goal of content strategy is to attract and connect with existing and potential customers by using content. Marketing content strategists aim to engage customers and develop relationships with the brand.
The goal of technical content strategists is to guide users with technical content that helps them achieve their goals. It should provide them with just enough information to successfully complete their task.
Creating a content strategy
So how do you create a content strategy that helps you achieve your goal? You can do this by having someone on your project take the role of content strategist. Their task is to document what user content is created, where it is published, how users can find it, and how it can be maintained, published, and retired. The content strategy should be available where contributors can find it easily.
Content types and publication locations
The first step to creating content is to get to know the project’s audience. Identifying users is best done with all project stakeholders contributing, so there is a shared understanding of who the users are and what their goals are. A tip for open source content strategies is to consider your contributor personas as well as your end-user consumer personas.
A good content strategy is grounded in meeting the user’s needs. The project’s content should not tell users everything the content creator knows about something. The content should tell the user just enough to complete a task. When the personas are identified and documented, the strategist considers what types of content help these personas be successful. For example, can the user needs be met completely with microcopy in the user interface, or do they need more detailed documentation? Is the contributor onboarding workflow best demonstrated in a video or a blog with screenshots?
While considering what content types to create, the strategist also looks at where the content should be published so your personas can easily find it. The strategist needs to consider how content creators should progressively disclose information if it is not possible to keep the user in their context. For example, if the user is struggling to understand a log file, you can link them to more information on the project’s documentation website.
The strategy should give guidance to help decisions about what types of content might best solve the user’s problem. The content creator should be challenged to ask themselves what content type best meets the user’s needs in the moment. Do they need a new documentation article on the website? Could the user friction point be avoided with a clear error or log message, a better UI label, or other content type? You should make clear that sometimes the answer to a problem isn’t always to create more content.
Content reviews and retirement
Now that you have a strategy for what types of content you want and where to publish them, you need to consider governance. The first part of this process is to decide what types of reviews your content requires before publishing. For example, does it require a content plan review, subject matter expert review, editorial review, peer author reviews, or copy reviews. You should also decide how reviews and approvals are tracked.
The second aspect of governance is to decide on a schedule for retirement or archival of content. The strategist should document how content is reviewed for retirement in the future. You should decide if content needs to be retired annually or before every new version release. You should also consider if the content needs to be accessible in some format for users using older versions.
If you are creating a content strategy for an existing project, the chances are high that your project already has some content. As part of the creation process, the content strategist should audit this content, and consider if it is still current and useful. If it is out of date, it should be retired or archived.
A content strategy is beneficial for everyone
Now that you have a content strategy for your project, you should see how it benefits your users, contributors, and your project as a whole.
Project end users
At the heart of the content strategy is the audience. The strategy is centered on the personas interacting with the project. It considers how you can provide them with easily findable information in a consumable format that helps them complete their goals. End users benefit from a content experience that is built around their needs. It should also be self-service so they can solve problems independently.
Content consumers, just like end users, benefit from self-service content. New contributors to the project benefit from content designed to onboard them to the project quickly and with ease. The experienced contributor persona gets content that helps them learn about new features of the project. They can also get help with more technically challenging areas. Contributor personas benefit from having accessible reference information. This information can describe the interfaces and features that are available to them to use, build on, and use to interact with the product or service.
The contributors to your project are also the people creating the content that your users consume. Content strategy can help them to understand and feel empathy for user personas, their goals, and use cases. Giving contributors a common understanding of the user’s content needs and the types of content that satisfies them supports the creation of a consistent content experience.
Creating a strategy helps all content creators easily understand and align with the content vision. It keeps them focused on creating high-value content that reduces user friction.
In an ideal world, your project would have all the resources needed to create the ideal content experience for your users as envisioned in your strategy. Unfortunately, we live in the real world with conflicting priorities and resource-constrained projects. The good news is that a user-centered content strategy gives the team a shared vision of the content experience. This strategy helps build a content foundation that the project can iterate with each release. It also helps the team make more informed decisions about content.
Your project also benefits from accessible documentation that better serves your users. Your content experience helps users recognize and realize the value of what you have created.
Implement a content strategy
Your content strategy should be a living artifact, guiding content decisions for the project. With this in mind, it should be revisited frequently and tweaked to reflect what is working or not working for your users. Keeping it current enhances your content experience and improves its effectiveness in guiding your users to success.
I believe that the practice of content strategy should be more widely adopted in the technical world as it is a powerful tool. It can help you create a better experience for all of your users. The experience should consider each user’s needs, workflow, pain points, and emotions. This helps projects deliver the right content in the right place at the right time.
By: Emily O’Neill
Originally published at Opensource
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