A Strategy for Avoiding the Content Dump

Don’t let your website become a wasteland of unwanted content. Two keynote speakers at ASAE’s 2013 Technology Conference & Expo share how to implement an effective strategy to create, organize, and deliver valuable content.

If you feel like you’re drowning in your own content, you’re not alone. With the quick growth and limitless space of the internet, people are creating more and more stuff to fill it, resulting in a barrage of potentially unwanted or unfindable content and a waste of resources.

Part of content strategy is asking questions like ‘How are we going to define whether our content is any good or not?’ And ‘What are we going to do if we suspect that it might not be?’

“The cost of entry [to creating content] is so much lower today that, instead of having the technology be a barrier, the technology facilitates having people do all kinds of things that they probably ought not be doing,” said Karen McGrane, founder of information architecture and user-experience firm Bond Art and Science, who, along with Kristina Halverson, owner of content strategy firm Brain Traffic, led the Content Pathway thought leader session at ASAE’s 2013 Technology Conference & Expo this week.

To help make the most of your resources and deliver the content your users want, Halverson and McGrane discussed four components of an effective content strategy:


This is the actual content itself. It’s the formats, the stories you’re telling, and the information you’re sharing. A common hang-up for many organizations, though, is an inability to define the substance of their content.

“They go in and say, ‘We have this big pile of content, and we can’t possibly know whether it’s any good or not. We don’t know what our members want. Maybe somebody wants this. Somebody wrote it at some point. I guess we should just leave it up there. Let’s do a redesign. We’ll reorganize our content. We’ll make it all shiny and new. We’ll make it responsive. That’ll solve our problems,’” McGrane said. “Part of content strategy is asking questions like ‘How are we going to define whether our content is any good or not?’ And ‘What are we going to do if we suspect that it might not be?’”


One of the biggest challenges McGrane said she finds in working with organizations is how they move beyond thinking their websites are glorified brochures and instead begin imposing the right structure on their content.

Whether it means developing the right taxonomy or figuring out the right “chunks of content” to deliver, having a good structure will help you do more with your content.

McGrane gave the example of TV Guide, which in the 1980s realized it was in more of the content-publishing business than the magazine-publishing business. So it created a system, or proto-CMS, to help structure its content—TV show descriptions—to extend its lifespan.

By organizing show descriptions (by title, genre, and so forth) and requiring short, medium, and long versions, the magazine was prepared for innovations such as the digital cable box with dynamic program guides and mobile phones that would allow users to pull up program descriptions in the palm of their hands. There was no need to go back and rewrite program descriptions for platforms that required various lengths because writers had been creating multiple versions for years.

TV Guide had no idea that any of this technology was ever going to exist, but what they did know is they would get more value from their content if they had it structured in a way that would give them some flexibility for the future,” McGrane said.

Workflow and Governance

These are the people components of content strategy, Halverson said. They are the “who” and the “how” and the “what’s next” portions of the strategy.

To help answer questions like how you are organized and what various individuals’ roles are in the strategy, Halverson suggested using a workflow system such as the “RACI” model. RACI helps qualify the people responsible for getting the work done, those accountable for the content’s success, those who should be consulted before work can be signed-off on, and who should be informed along the way.

Once the content is created and delivered, it’s time to ask who’s in charge of it, which is where governance comes in, Halverson said. Governance helps delineate who has the authority to OK a project or who has the authority to say no to a project that doesn’t meet the organization’s content strategy.

“Governance standards help us plan for future content initiatives,” Halverson said. “It provides us the tools and the opportunities and the collaborative models to be able to get down to who is empowered to be able to make decisions about content strategy.”

Have you had success in developing a content strategy at your association? What are your biggest challenges with it? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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