When you start with an existing design template, it's tempting to fill in all the fields because they're in front of you. It's rare that we take the time to think critically about content, how it is organized, and how many words are really needed to get the point across.
By reframing the challenge in front of you, and taking a "content first" approach, you are able to consider what content is essential (from a user perspective). You can also think about different ways to break it into chunks, which can be organized in different ways across various platforms. Thinking content- first allows you to be more strategic when thinking about long-term goals.
Determine who your key decision makers are
It's naive to think that what you write will be perfect on the first attempt. The best content—like design—takes finesse and refinement to be truly effective. You'll also need to know who the key stakeholders and decision-makers are on a project. On a small project, you may be the designer and content head all in one. On a larger project, you may have five different teams you need to check in with before anything gets signed off.
It's important to involve key players and decision-makers early in the process. There's nothing more frustrating than thinking you've finished a project to realize that a key person was left out. Not only are they annoyed at you, but it's also more work that you didn't plan on.
Even if the project you're working won't directly impact someone on, say, the communications team, if you feel like it's a new feature that could benefit them, there's no harm in trying to get their feedback in the process as well.
Moral of the story: involve key people early in the process. Learn as much as you can from them about the goals and don't be afraid to run ideas or alternatives by them.
Consider the big picture
The better understanding you have of the problem early on, the more likely you'll be able to find solutions that will work. As much as possible you want to have a good idea of the big picture you're looking at, and the entire content ecosystem, as well as the context you're focusing on.
The more you know about the situation you're designing or writing for, you'll have a better understanding of any additional experts or writers you need to pull in. Depending on the project, this could include:
SME (Subject Matter Experts) – this could be an expert in any field
SEO Experts – experts in search engine optimization
Copywriters – people hired to write for other companies, often with a marketing focus
Contributing writers – external authors hired to write web content or blog posts
Content doesn't just happen magically. ✨ In addition to creating content, someone will have to:
Review – collect feedback and thoughts from others on the project
Revise – consider if there is an internal or external copy editor
Approve – sign-off from key decision makers
Implement – upload it to the site (not everyone will know how to use the CMS (Content Management System))
Maintain – makes sure it's up-to-date (This is especially important with events listings)
Depending on the scope of the project, these roles may very well be filled by different employees or even external freelancers. You'll need to consider how content will be managed throughout the project, and you don't want to wait until the end to consider it or let anything slip through the cracks.
Use an editorial calendar to stay on track
An editorial or content calendar can be a great tool to help you manage all the different types of content you're dealing with. Depending on your personal preference, you may approach your calendar in list form, or schedule it into an actual calendar (once again, the shared aspect of GoogleDocs and GoogleCal are great for working on a team).
Depending on the product you're working on, certain holidays may be key to keep in mind, and affect the type of announcements and promotions you push. A calendar can help you plan out your posts, and consider the different channels (website, social media, push notifications, etc.) and the messaging you want to use on each).
Calendars are also very useful for consistency. Here's how one team at MailChimp approaches their content calendar:
MailChimp created a content calendar for managing social media within a shared calendar online. View it full size in the article on their blog.
When working on a calendar, always consider dates, the content element (is it intro text, caption text, or a blog post?), and who is responsible for creating it. Focus on your priorities to start, but you also may want to consider how you can save future ideas in your calendar so you can revisit them when you have time.
Remember, there's no one way to go about creating an editorial or content calendar. Don't be afraid to experiment, and ask around as you meet professionals in the industry.
The different kinds of content you may encounter will become more clear in the chapters to come.
Be sure to include key decision-makers and people directly involved in the content you're writing early in the process.
Content will need to be written, reviewed, revised, approved, implemented, and maintained. Consider this process and who is involved early on.
An editorial calendar is a useful tool for helping you stay on track and manage your project(s).