The Economics of Content Strategy

One of the recurring themes at recent conferences on technical communication has been content strategy. You see speakers commenting that writing skills are valued less, and so Technical Communicators should look to become more strategic and managerial. In this context, content strategy is a focus on improving efficiency and productivity of content creation, management and publishing.

Underlying this is the premise that content nearly always has a value. However, that’s not always the case. We all know an Accountant or an Economist would be likely to treat only a tiny amount of the content created within a business as an asset. A lot of it has a limited shelf life, or it wouldn’t cost a great deal to have the content created a second time. If Technical Communicators are to convince management that content strategy is “a good thing”, then they need to focus on the content that does have value.

In economic terms, one of the key factors in creating value is scarcity. So when is information or content scarce? It’s situations such as when:

  • Someone with knowledge and expertise is leaving the company and is taking that knowledge with them
  • A project team is being disbanded
  • You’re paying for a consultant’s expertise
  • An individual whose time is highly valued is tied up communicating information to others

Content also has value when it can be sold, such as training courseware and other Intellectual Property.

Content has a value when it can be used to save money, such as translation costs. However, often the content leads to an indirect or deferred saving, such as fewer product returns. It can be hard to measure. This means time needs to be spent establishing a direct relationship between the content and a particular cost saving.

So what about one of the most often quoted benefits – being more efficient in the way content is created? The truth is, that only matters to the organisation if content costs it a lot to produce. It may irk a lone Technical Author if they are repeating work, but this may not matter to the business if the cost of that labour is relatively insignificant.

In short, Technical Communicators need to focus on the content that has the greatest value and look at how they can value other content that is currently hard to quantify economically.

One Comment

Larry Kunz

Good thoughts, Ellis. Thanks.

Another factor that creates value is relevance — which encompasses your point about “when it can be sold” but also goes beyond that, for example to technical documentation that helps build customer loyalty.

A good content strategy ensures that content is relevant: available where people can find it, when they need it. Technical authors can contribute a great deal by architecting and organizing the content to maximize relevance. This includes (among other things) semantic tagging of the content.

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