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Creating a content strategy in a fast-moving world

3 July 2013

Everything, everywhere, we are bombarded with messaging, advertising, information and warnings.

These communications come in a host of different forms: audible; moving and still images; interactions; systems to adhere to. Established comms channels have specific and well-known alerts to get us to look outside our own little world; your mobile has ring tones for voice, another tone for text. Images flash and capture your attention using a full range of hooks that appeal to your basic instincts.

As charities, we need a content strategy that lets us deliver our information in a way that identifies, anticipates and satisfies customer requirements profitably (as the Chartered Institute of Marketing puts it).

At Arthritis Research UK, it’s important that we put as much thought and commitment into the publishing of our information as our researchers put into the amazing work they do. Developing our content strategy has allowed us to do this.

Welcome to the broadcast ecosystem

Our information customers are adept at judging what will be useful to them and what won’t, and their willingness to search it out is decreasing. As information – rather than marketing – suppliers, we need to work hard to find and supply our customers when they are ready to receive and benefit from our information, make emotional contact, or open their wallets. This new world is frequently referred to as the “broadcast ecosystem”.

The approach to publishing in the broadcast ecosystem is quite different from the passive, olde-world approach to information publishing (building a website, doing some Search Engine Optimisation, and then waiting to be found). It brings huge challenges, especially to those taking this work on themselves rather than relying on a full-service agency. How can this be done without blowing the budget or tying up valuable staff time?

Don’t underestimate your customer

Our customers live in the broadcast ecosystem and you should not underestimate the complex nature of their behaviour, need for information, and their ability to connect with you or your “rivals”. I know several 70 year-olds, each with a tablet, mobile phone, pause-and-rewind TV, digital radio and more, while some 20 year-olds have limited Internet access, only use quick messaging services, and rarely watch TV.

Consider what you want to say, and who your target audiences are. At Arthritis Research UK we are lucky in that we know what our “information” customers want to read about. We have a clearly-defined offline publishing process which is peer-reviewed and already has a good reputation.

To be able to enter the ecosystem, the challenge is to get information across the different channels to our customers at the right moment, and in the right format. This challenge is also not one that is frozen in time with clear routes and targets; it moves and changes. We have just reached a 30% mobile/70% static spilt in the devices our customers are using, so we need to have an information repository that is not bound to a specific delivery mechanism.

How to COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere

To meet this challenge, we are using COPE principles (Create Once, Publish Everywhere), combined with a “broadcast thinking”, to get the right content out in the right format. COPE is built on semantic, or structured, content rules. This allows you to create information in a structured manner while storing it in a “vanilla” format that can then be used in a broadcast CMS. The broadcast thinking comes in the way we deliver the structured information, and for this we bow to the XML gods.

We started by standardising our information into a regular and consistent format and creating a clear taxonomy to divide it into ordered categories. We created a group of individual component types: for example, arthritis conditions, drugs that treat conditions, treatments, hints and tips. We included fundraising events in this exercise as they are an important component type. Each individual component type is then broken down and given:

  • a title
  • a description
  • a 140-character short description
  • an introduction
  • a long description and
  • links to other media, including images and video.

Every time we add a drug or a new treatment we complete the appropriate form and store the data as an XML file in our CMS. There are around 200 arthritis conditions and each one is added using the condition form.

Pulling content together from different components

Instead of writing a web page about arthritis, treatments and drugs, we pull the individual component types together and display them as a whole page. This means as we move across different channels, we can display our core content in a very flexible and responsive way. We can, eventually, display as much or as little of each component type as we like depending on the customer need, connectivity and device. Hopefully it will also mean that as new devices come along, or as we deal with the complexities of the existing ones, we won’t be held back by the way we managed our information in the first place. We are, to a large degree, “delivery agnostic” – that is, we can use our content across all common channels without having to adapt it for each.

I love what we’re able to do at Arthritis Research UK, and I can talk for hours about how we got to this point. The next step will be to push this out across multiple channels, and to bring the whole organisation with us, to which I say to myself, good luck.

Zoe Camper

head of digital, Arthritis Research UK

Zoë is Head of Digital for Arthritis Research UK, she has worked in the Internet industry since 1994. She is also an elected fellow of the RSA.