Create once, publish everywhere—that's the mantra for content marketers today. When you start doing content marketing, sure, you have to rewrite the same article for different devices, different audiences, different sales funnels. But all that editing, tweaking, and rewriting takes a lot of time.
Here are 5 ways to beat the competition, getting more content out in less time.
Re-using small chunks of content—rather than rewriting, reorganizing, and refocusing—that's the way to publish content fast, and cheap.
Carve up your content, so you can deal it out like cards. For each channel, deal a different set. For one channel, for example, you might leave out the anecdote, add the video—and publish. For another channel, you might add captions to the photos, and leave out most of the running text—and publish.
To get efficient at reuse, you need to know exactly what chunks of content you have. You need to think of your content as data.
Programmers scorn Word documents and PowerPoint slides as "unstructured." That's because most of these documents do not follow a clearly defined organization. By contrast, a table in Excel has clearly labeled columns (categories of information) and rows (individual sets of information). The spreadsheet is structured data.
If you're going to reuse bits and pieces of your content, you need to figure out, up front, what they are. You need to have a clear picture of the chunks. But how can you do that?
Lay out an outline, yes, an outline, of your standard elements in each type of content, for each channel. Think of these outlines as templates. You'll fill in the actual content later. But for now, you need to figure out what the pieces are, and what each one does for you.
You need to define the elements that go into each type of document, and for each element, invent a tag, such as "title," or "call to action."
Using the standard known as the eXtensible Markup Language, you can create tags that software can read—and humans can understand. Just like HTML, only more meaningful.
Using an XML editor, you can then write your content...and let software insert the tags. Now you have a document that both humans and software can read.
Once you have structured your document, and inserted tags to identify each element, you can have software deal out the different sets of content to different channels, at the click of a button. For this, you need a content management system—software that can handle small chunks of content, not just documents and files. Your web master already uses a system like this, so you can piggyback on that.
Writing for this kind of a system feels awkward at first, more like filling out fields in a form than pouring beautiful prose onto the page.
But you are more efficient, because you know the purpose of each element, so you have an easier time figuring out what to put there.
And later, the software assembles the pieces for you, following the plans you laid out.
Sound like a lot of work?
Yes, at first.
But many organizations, especially those that create manuals for software and instrumentation that requires regular updating, have already been doing this for twenty years with the help of technical writers and programmers. Look to them for advice; they have been through the process already.
Structuring Content for Re-use
Price J. Modeling Informative Objects [Website]. http://www.webwritingthatworks.com/DRantMODEL.htm.
Cohen, G. Structured Content: An Overview. 2012. Meet Content [Blog]. http://meetcontent.com/blog/structured-content-an-overview/. Accessed November 1, 2014.
Lewis, M. Learning to Manage Your Content. CIDM Management News. 2012. http://www.infomanagementcenter.com/enewsletter/2012/201202/third.htm. Accessed November 1, 2014.
XML Books for Beginners (introductions discuss the role of XML in content re-use)
Goldberg, K. XML: Visual QuickStart Guide. (2nd edition). Berkeley, CA; Peachpit Press: 2009.
Fawcett J, Ayers D. Beginning XML. Indianapolis, IN; John Wiley & Sons, Inc: 2012.
Price, J. An ABC of XML Tags. Albuquerque, NM; The Communication Circle: 2002.
Ray, E. Learning XML. Sebastopol, CA; O'Reilly Media, Inc: 2003,
Young, Michael. Step by Step XML. Redmond, WA; Microsoft Press: 2002.
W3 Schools. Introduction to XML.
Sitepoint. A Really, Really Good Introduction to XML.
IBM. Introduction to XML.
Jonathan Price consults with high tech companies on information architecture, content marketing, and just plain writing. He's coached teams at Apple, America Online, Cadence, Canon, Fujitsu, IBM, Kodak, Nikon, Oracle, Symantec, and Zycad. He teaches online at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Extension. He and his wife Lisa wrote Hot Text: Web Writing that Works.