Published in Sept/Oct 2017
Marketers are proficient in using a content engagement cycle – a practice in which they decide when to engage with who and with what kind of content during the customer journey. They plan months and even quarters ahead in order to create a content strategy that aligns with business goals and engages their audience pre- and post-sale.
L&D professionals, on the other hand, often only think about one single training program instead of looking at the entire learner journey and experience. Mapping out the learner lifecycle and assigning content that engages them along the way does not only help create unforgettable learning experiences, but also helps with the transfer of knowledge after a training session ends.
It’s time for L&D professionals to take a page out of marketing’s playbook and look at how to create engaging and thought-provoking content, how to plan content for the next quarters or even year, and how this strategy helps drive performance. Digital education success, a concept that combines marketing and customer success best practices with L&D principles, allows every L&D professional to create learning experiences that stick, are measurable and make a difference in a learner’s journey.
What Is a Content Strategy?
According to Kristina Halvorson, CEO and founder of Brain Traffic, content strategy is the “creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” It looks at content as a business asset. “Content” includes written content, images and multimedia. Ultimately, having a strategy in place helps create meaningful, engaging and sustainable content, and allows to identify the right content at the right time for the right audience. It is easy to determine what content already exists, what content should be created and, more importantly, why it should be created. Putting measurements in place allows to see which content is in high demand, and which content has barely been touched.
First Step Toward a Content Strategy
The basis for a content strategy could be a simple shared document that your team can work on collaboratively. Creating the right format, however, takes time and requires research from your end. A great starting point is Brain Traffic’s Content Strategy Quad, describing the people and content-oriented components L&D professionals should keep in mind when creating content. At the center is the core content strategy, the central idea for using content to achieve an organization’s business goals or, in this case, L&D’s goals. There are four components to achieve that strategy effectively:
- Substance: What kind of content do we need (e.g., topics, types, sources, voice and tone)? Substance fulfills business objectives by meeting the audience’s needs.
- Structure: How is content prioritized, organized, formatted and displayed? Structure makes content findable and usable.
- Workflow: What processes, tools and human resources are required for content initiatives? Workflow creates efficiencies across content properties.
- Governance: How are key decisions about content and content strategy made (i.e., policies, standards, guidelines)? Governance empowers, facilitates and aligns.
At first glance, these categories seem rather marketing heavy. However, L&D professionals do need to think about substance, structure, workflow and governance. For example, a content strategy could align training initiatives with quarterly product releases (topic), whereas one part of this initiative is an internal excitement strategy (structure) run by the marketing department (workflow), and another part is the actual face-to-face training session accompanied with hands-on exercises and role-plays. The content itself is provided by product managers and being maintained by the HR department (governance).
Implementing a Content Strategy
Many L&D professionals create learning based on the ADDIE model – an outdated way of approaching content when considering marketing to give your training a boost. Nevertheless, it is a great starting point and, in combination with the seven steps of creating a content strategy, the solution that digital education success is aiming for.
Identify learning content requirements. Explore if training is needed (sometimes a communication will do) and, if it is, what content will help fill the gap. For example, after successful completion of onboarding, the staff still don’t perform as expected. Analyzing the reasoning behind this by interviewing stakeholders, gathering historic documentation and evaluating the content environment (i.e., where and how the content is being consumed), will lay the foundation for a content strategy.
Develop a content strategy. Following ADDIE, L&D professionals would dive into the design of a course. When it comes to the content lifecycle, an additional step should be added, namely determining topical ownership areas and processes for content creation. For example, who writes content for staff onboarding vs. content for process updates? To achieve this, it is best to include a sourcing plan and, most importantly, determine a voice and branding for each topic.
Develop the content plan. After strategizing, you will either realize that you have everything you need or that some sources are missing. For example, you might want to recommend staffing solutions to help write content or bring in a specialist to do so. Most important of all, create a communication plan that includes responsibilities and timelines for everyone, as well as content or learning management system distribution and customization. Use any of the free online project management tools to help plan this stage and work collaboratively with your team.
Create structured and engaging content that is reusable. For example, content for process updates will most likely find its way to the onboarding program. If marketing created an e-book for clients, leverage this and create engaging webinars for your staff. Collaborate with coworkers who are responsible for writing such content.
Deliver the right content at the right time and place. For example, not everyone needs to attend the latest product update training if they are already aware of the content and using this knowledge successfully every day. For those learners who need training, identify if they will access it online, on their desktops or tablets, or prefer face-to-face sessions. Leverage historical data, Google Analytics, your learning platform or your intranet’s metrics to identify how and when content is being accessed.
Measure training success. Both ADDIE and a content strategy measure (content) success. For example, is staff able to talk about the newest product update and decrease call duration times based on the right content delivered at the right time? The best way to create successful measures is to align them to your business objectives and ensure that they are realistic and attainable. If the training doesn’t hit the mark, the content wasn’t on par and needs to be revisited.
Keep content fresh and up to date. Maintenance is a step hidden in the evaluation stage of the ADDIE model and often overlooked. Manage content in a definitive source, plan for periodic audits, continuously improve high-value learning content, and set regular intervals for maintenance.
The Modern Learner
Modern learners want information right at their fingertips when the need arises, and they want to apply it in that moment of need. A thorough content strategy will help identify exactly what content is needed to drive an individual’s performance.
Put measurements in place, such as video views or click-through rates, and leverage your learning platform’s metrics to be able to see which content is in high demand, and which content has barely been touched. Don’t be afraid of deleting content you don’t need anymore, but recycle wherever you can. Leverage digital education success to become an excellent L&D content creator and keep the learner’s journey in mind at all times. This will allow you to create learning experiences that stick.