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June 23, 2015

Content Creation: The Power of a Plan

June 23, 2015

Content creation is often seen as the necessary evil of a website project. It can feel daunting and overwhelming, with the added pressure of knowing that your content can make or break a website experience – which makes high-quality, engaging content a must. At SmallBox, we work hard to eliminate the frustration by equipping our clients with things like a content strategy that includes prompts and suggestions for relevant content and even imagery to include on each page of a website, as well as a nifty software tool called Gather Content that allows you to keep content organized in one place, assign authors for specific pages, and incorporates a review workflow. We do our best to set expectations around the time investment needed to create and revise content – and want the content phase to be a smooth and even enjoyable process for our clients.

We recently had a super successful content creation phase for the newly launched damien.org. The Damien Center team was a content Dream Team, churning out strong content and hitting every content deadline like a rock star. Definitely an accomplishment to celebrate! I spoke with Kimberly Reynolds, their Marketing Manager, who courageously led the content charge and made it look easy. We wanted to know if she had any tips or tricks to share that would benefit other companies that are about to embark on the content creation journey. 

What process (formal or informal) did you have for managing content creation?

Kimberly Reynolds: Our content development process was a little bit of both (formal and informal) – lots of communication, friendly and timely reminders, and a great deal of collaboration. We began priming those we would need assistance from several weeks prior to when we actually began the content creation process, so we wouldn't be sneaking up on them and unexpectedly dominating their time. We wanted them to know the process would require their attention and quick turnaround, so that expectation was there from the beginning, which I think ultimately made those who were helping us much more understanding when the requests started coming in.

Early on in the process, Melissa (our Director of Development and Communications) and I also began carving out meetings at least twice a week to review the content process, which meant we always had dedicated time to address it and keep the process moving forward. I used a combination of existing content from our old website or other marketing materials, new content I wrote, and the prompts Drew gave in Gather Content to provide each person with a starting point to create what I needed from them. For each page or section needed, I used Microsoft Word to send them those items in a straightforward manner, and then I sent Outlook invitations with the requested return date. Anything that wasn't being worked on by another department fell on my plate, so I took this time to create content as well.

Another crucial step was building in some extra time for our Compliance and Quality Assurance Director to take a look through the web content as it came back to me to be sure we were being accurate about everything – from HIV info to TDC program details. That didn't really contribute to us meeting the content deadline, and in fact probably made it that much more challenging, but it was a really valuable step and means our content is providing the most accurate information to our readers.

After all of that, I took some time to edit and revise the content, and Melissa and I worked together on it prior to submitting it to Drew for edits via Gather Content. Throughout the whole process I kept lists of where all of the content was living at the time (basically which step it was on and who was working on it) in order to keep track of everything. From there it was just a back and forth between us and SmallBox to nail down final edits – and the rest is history!

Did you use any tools/software?

KR: Just Gather Content and Microsoft as described above!

How did you keep people motivated to get their content written?

KR: I tried to make it as easy for them as I could by giving starter content or at least the prompts. Both Melissa and I also tried to be really upfront about the quick turn-around we would need on this so everyone would be expecting that and not be surprised or put off when I requested it. I think being nice goes a long way as well, so throughout the process I tried to make sure everyone knew how grateful we were for their help. As a credit to our staff, however, they were gracious and did their absolute best to help with meeting our deadlines!

What was the hardest part of content creation?

KR: This is probably obvious, but creating the new pages on the site was the hardest part! Having a blank slate to work with was exciting but intimidating. So much of the content had a starting point elsewhere, so it was really a matter of upcyling, repurposing, and reworking something to fit the site's needs. But for new pages, we had a great opportunity to give our website visitors what they've been looking for – and what's really cool now is to see the payoff on those pages. Our analytics have shown that some of the new pages are among the most highly visited, so the challenge was worth it.

Anything about the content creation and/or website process that surprised you?

KR: One thing that didn't necessarily surprise me but just continues to be a good reminder is that what your website says can and does completely change the experience for the visitor. Are you friendly and approachable in your tone, choice of words, and overall approach? Then that's what your readers will think of you. Or maybe you want to be perceived as creative, or professional, or anything else – you can say the same thing a hundred different ways, and it makes a difference which one you choose. Collaborating both internally with our team and externally with Drew and the SmallBox team gave us the opportunity to really refine that aspect of our site as well as our brand identity.

Anything that was challenging?

KR: We had a lot of hands in this project – and I'm thankful for that! – so it was a lot of coordination. I should also give our staff credit for their patience with me, to that end.

If you were ever in a website project again, what would you do differently in the content creation process?

KR: Hmm, great question! Well, I would definitely work with SmallBox again. One thing I'd probably do differently would be to refine my own electronic naming and filing system for content as it existed at different phases of the project. It made sense to ME, but with so many wheels turning at once, better organization on the back end might have helped, and establishing that right at the beginning would be the time to do it.

And since we are celebrating the launch of your website, what's your favorite feature/page on the new damien.org?

KR: Oh to choose only one! I love that the site is not just a prettier version of the old site – it is a site informed by research and data, effectively organized, and optimized for both readers and search engines. As far as features, the addition of photos as a focal point of the site makes a world of difference. I also love the new pages that didn't exist on the old site, like HIV 101, that make so much sense for us to provide and, I think, really make a difference for the reader in terms of understanding us as an agency and HIV in general.

We are grateful for our partnership with The Damien Center and very excited with how the new website turned out!

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