The Content Corner: Learning to Say No

Businessman choosing no instead yes button

There is a quote that goes something like, “Just because we can do a thing, it does not follow that we must do a thing.” I attribute it to the President of the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, partially because I am a geek, and secondly, the internet provided no better options. It is an important mantra in life in general, but also very important in the world of digital media and your agency’s content strategy: sometimes you need to say no.

So Many Channels, so Little Content

In my inaugural post, I discussed the idea that as content creators we must constantly “feed the beast,” and I offered up some suggestions for generating content for all your various channels. I have also discussed the importance of a content strategy and how it can help determine which channels are best for a particular message and content, but strategy also needs to help you determine when to not use a channel at all.

Social Network

As I have said before, we all can’t be NASA or State, and while we can be jealous of their rich veins of content at times, in this instance having less content can be a positive. It can help be a natural limitation when it comes to choosing whether or not to jump on Meerkat or Periscope or Medium. Another positive can come from being an agency with a much smaller and focused audience as opposed to the wide audience that some agencies serve. A smaller demographic can make it easier to limit your focus on a smaller number of channels.

Just as with the content you are creating, the same holds true for the method of delivery: if the majority of your users aren’t using a channel, then think hard about whether you need to be using it. It’s all about reaching your customers and solving their problems, not about jumping on the latest fad. There is a place for testing new platforms because they have the power to significantly improve your reach or the efficiency of your content, but a serious examination of goals and strategy is always important.

More Harm than Good?

One common goal of a content strategy is to establish trust among your audience/customers/users and to establish a solid reputation as a resource for your users on any variety of topics, depending on your agency’s mission and role within government. One of the ways to achieve this goal is to always publish useful and usable content (or at least make sure quality content makes up a majority of the content on your site; we can’t always be awesome).

Feeding the beast is hard enough with the limited resources that most of us are working with, and adding unneeded channels that need additional content generation will only make it worse. It is important to also prioritize your strategic content goals and focus on establishing that connection and reputation with your audience, even it means doing it one channel at a time. It is better to be a solid resource to your customers on a single channel, rather than doing a poor job of serving them on four or five.

It is also much harder to regain trust and your reputation once customers have consistently been disappointed by your content offerings or frustrated by consistently irrelevant content.

Creating quality content is hard and the level of effort needed to do it well and often should not be underestimated, nor should the dangers of doing it poorly be ignored.

Should It Stay or Should It Go?
Vote equality

As I stated earlier, our profession absolutely requires that we be open to new technologies and that we test them to determine whether they are a good fit for our agency, its mission, and its content goals. The problem generally is not the starting or testing of a new channel or platform, but the ending. We have all probably worked in organizations that are home to one or several “zombie projects” that for whatever reason can never be killed off. Just as with content itself, a part of the strategy has to include what we in project management call a stage gate analysis to determine whether a test continues or needs to be shut down.

Doing a proper analysis assumes that specific goals and metrics were established as part of the decision to move forward with the test. Having clearly definable and measurable goals at the outset makes it much easier to make a decision, especially when that decision is to kill a project. Remember, as your hand hesitates to pull that plug: a failing project is a resource-suck that is keeping you from doing something that may serve your customers far better.

In both our personal and professional life, saying no is hard (or perhaps saying “yes” is just so much easier), but in both realms it is extremely important. As digital media professionals, we all feel the draw and allure of a new and exciting content delivery mechanism on a constant basis. But before diving in we need to again lean upon our content strategy and also be honest about the resources we have to support a new venture and the potential impact on our already established and successful efforts. We also will need to establish clear success criteria, be honest when reviewing against those criteria, and be strong enough to kill a channel if it isn’t performing as hoped.

You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.