Creating a Living Document for Content Strategy: An Interview with AM&P 2017 Speaker Meg White

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By Stewart Wills

At this year’s AM&P Annual Meeting, Meg White — the managing editor of REALTOR Magazine, published by the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) — will give a talk titled "How to Build a Rock-Solid Content Strategy Tool for Free.” Session attendees will "learn how to create a living document that helps hold writers, marketers, social media managers, designers, and editors accountable for excellence.” See how White’s system developed over four years and how it continues to adapt to current challenges.

We caught up with Meg to learn a bit more about what she will be sharing with the audience.

Sidebar: Tell us a little more about the presentation you’ll be giving.

White: I’ll be talking about how I kind of stumbled into a content strategy in a roundabout way. I created a document just to help me do my work when I started a new job at NAR about five years ago, and it grew into this content strategy tool that everyone on our team uses. We use it to collaborate. It plays a role in our analytics. It helps us decide what to cover in the future.

So I want to show the folks at the AM&P meeting that they don’t need, necessarily, to spend a lot of money on a content strategy tool. They can create one for free — it just takes putting some thought into it and preparing it.

Sidebar: You said you "stumbled into it,” and that you built it to deal with your own work. What specific needs did you start addressing?

White: When I started at NAR, I struggled right away with the idea that part of my responsibility was to keep our website fresh and to promote what we were doing on social media. There was really no way for me to keep track of what had already been promoted, what had been in which areas of the website, and what we were promoting there. I just foresaw this task driving me insane. I realized I needed a tool for this.

So it started out very simply so that we could keep track of where our print content had already shown up online. And it’s expanded to encompass a great deal of our online-only content as well as print content, keeping track of what’s showing up in other channels like newsletters. It has really grown over the years.

Sidebar: In the summary for your talk, you note that the content strategy system you’ve created is a living document — what does that mean?

White: The best tool in your toolbox, honestly, is Google Docs or some other shared platform. Everyone can access it, everyone is able to update it — you’re not just relying on one person’s knowledge about a piece of content. That’s part of what I mean by "living.” It’s in a place everyone can get to. You’re not sending around an updated version of your editorial calendar anymore.

It’s also a living document because you’re working with a tool that’s dynamic — that can change not only based on changes in the content, but also year to year. You might find out through this tool, for example, that you don’t really need to track LinkedIn shares anymore, that you want to shift to a new metric. So it’s a living document in two ways — both in terms of having a bunch of staff all contributing to it and knowing where it all is, and also in being able to react to the changing nature of media.

Sidebar: Building this, and making it a more general tool for editorial planning, was a four-year process. What was the biggest single hurdle in making this happen?

White: I’d say that initially, the hardest thing was getting people comfortable with being involved. I created this document, and so of course it made sense to me. I’d been using Google’s suite of products for a long time and was comfortable with the technology. So the challenge was just getting buy-in with the whole editorial group — saying to them, "This is a resource for you,” and demonstrating that it was there for them and that it could answer their questions maybe faster than I could. Getting that buy-in initially was a bit of a challenge.

Sidebar: Were there any lessons learned or findings over the course of the project that you found particularly interesting or memorable?

White: Every year we create a new sheet, and I think we’ve changed something that we’re tracking or reporting on every year. So it’s constantly changing. For example, for 2017, we added a space for writers and editors to give notes about how to promote their content in social media — so that our social-media person knows what the story’s about, or what the writer thinks will be the most salient point to share on social, because that’s not always apparent in the headline.

But I would say that every year we learn something new. The document today looks very different from how it looked in 2012. And that’s just a reflection of our needs and how they’re changing.

Sidebar: Beyond just making planning trackable, are there other benefits from this system that you’ll be sharing with the audience at AM&P 2017?

White: One thing is that this can help editors demonstrate their value, and the value of their efforts, to people who are not in the editorial meetings. It’s a really great tool for talking about what you do and quantifying that, because a lot of social media and similar tasks are kind of invisible to people who aren’t constantly watching it. Being able to show that there’s value in what we’re doing, and having the data to back it up, can be powerful.

Stewart Wills, Ph.D., is editor and content director of Optics & Photonics News, a publication of the Optical Society. Association Media & Publishing thanks Stewart for lending his talent to advance coverage of the Annual Meeting.

For more information or to register for the AM&P 2017 Annual Meeting, click here.

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