Content Strategy, or, Let’s Make a Mixtape

While digging through my box of cassettes the other day, I had a minor epiphany. Content strategy and the creation of mixtapes are shockingly similar.

As it has been said, content strategy plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. For a website, certainly. But for the creation of a mixtape?
For those unfamiliar, a mixtape:

  • Is a compilation of songs (just as websites are collections of content)
  • Created for a specific someone (consider your audience)
  • Communicates a specific message (in service of business objectives)
  • Should elicit a particular response (meet user needs/assist in task completion)

Although they can now be a collection of downloads, “mixtape” is a throwback to their heyday in the 1980s when they were cassettes. Later, they took the form of burned CDs, then mp3 playlists.

For those unfamiliar, a review of some basic tenets of content strategy:

  • Analysis: Objectives defined, assumptions and risks noted, success metrics established. Account for internal and external forces that might influence them.
  • Audit: A quantitative or qualitative review of your current content landscape.
  • Strategy: Actionable, achievable recommendations. Includes editorial workflows, calendars, messaging hierarchy, content types, formats, plus much more!

First is analysis. “What do I want to do with this website (or mixtape)?” Surely you’ve a recipient in mind. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be making a website (or mixtape), right? This goes hand in hand with the objectives and message. All websites (and mixtapes) need clear objectives. They can both do many, many things, but a focused approach will make their creation and delivery much easier.

The objective of creating a mixtape might be to musically convince the recipient that you are indeed cool, or in love, or sorry, or over them (or in rare cases, all of the above). Focus on a theme and/or purpose for the mixtape, give it a title, and dig in.

To put together a website (or mixtape), you’ll need source content (songs, in this case). Now would be a good time to perform a qualitative content audit. The audit should note what content (here, your music collection) is currently available, and if it is usable.

Websites brimming with content that is redundant, outdated, and trivial are frustrating and often impossible to use. Broken links, five year old “news” articles, and duplicative pages get in the way of achieving objectives. An audit helps to determine what can stay and what gets the boot.

The same applies for the content for your mixtape. For example, your Bee Gees 8-tracks won’t make it onto a mixtape if you don’t have an 8-track player. Is that vinyl LP copy of “Thriller” too scratched to use? Did the tape deck in your friend’s Camaro eat your copy of Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet,” rendering “Wanted Dead or Alive” more dead than alive? Perhaps your computer hard drive crashed, corrupting all of your Justin Bieber downloads.

On this mixtape, you might choose to include some content (songs) you don’t actually have in your collection. How will you decide where to get it? The provider of that content will be selected on the basis of what best suits your needs. For instance, you may already have an ongoing relationship with a content provider. Is it the funny-smelling record store down the street? Amazon.com or iTunes? You might also pick a place all your friends are raving about. Or you might avoid one your parents happen to frequent.

With source content in hand, selecting the songs from the pool begins the mixtape editorial workflow. These questions will help you get started:

  • Does this content (or song) support the overall message?
  • Does it make sense in this context? (Not everyone will “get” your raga references.)
  • Does its place next to other selections make for a pleasing experience?
  • Will it fit in the remaining time on side B of the cassette?

Make sure that the content (song selection) is relevant to the lucky recipient/user. Putting punk songs and opera and hip-hop tracks one right after the next might be jarring for some, but not for others.
Remember: Stay true to the focus of the theme, consider the recipient, and assert your coolness.
A few additional tips:

  • Create your mix with the end user in mind (be aware of their pop culture knowledge).
  • Clearly state the title.
  • Write the title and track list in a language they can read (as opposed to Esperanto. Or Klingon.)
  • If you are making a cassette, make sure they have a cassette player.

The associated “metadata” (in this case, title, track list, and any totally sweet, custom artwork) completes the package. The tone and voice of the title and artwork are all additional opportunities to continue the theme and message of the mixtape. The track list rounds out the experience by providing a reference to the greatness you’ve compiled. If you follow these important rules, your final product will be so much more than the consumable tape or CD alone.

Just like creating a mixtape is more than slapping a couple of songs together haphazardly on a cassette, creating websites with useful, usable content is more than just slapping words on a page. Taking the time and effort to carefully go through these processes will produce an end result that will make your website users happy (or your mixtape listeners happy).

This post originally appeared on the Brain Traffic blog.

[“media” image from Flickr user zendritic (cc: by-nc-sa)]

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