A content strategy is an iterative plan that guides the ideation, creation, delivery, measurement, and management of educational content for a target audience.
Let’s unpack that definition a bit.
If you were building a house, you wouldn’t start by haphazardly nailing together pieces of wood and hoping for the best. You’d first create a blueprint.
The same concept applies to organizational education. When building learning content for customers, employees, and partners, first create a content strategy to guide your efforts.
However, many organizations skip strategy and jump ahead to content creation. In doing so, they fill their learning destination with content that their target audience doesn’t find valuable. It’s a huge waste of resources.
If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this:
The success or failure of your workplace education initiative hinges on the quality of your content. The quality of your content hinges on your content strategy.
(Of course, other factors influence content quality, like tone of voice and clarity. But if your learners find your content pointless, they won’t return to your learning destination. Then all those beautifully crafted words and high production value videos collect dust.)
So how exactly do you create a high-quality content strategy for multiple audiences?
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What is content strategy
- What is learning content
- What content you need across the learner lifecycle
- What makes content successful
- Common misconceptions about effective content
- The steps in creating a learning content strategy
- What should be included in a content strategy
Let’s get started.
What is a content strategy?
We defined content strategy briefly at the top of the page. Here’s an expanded definition:
A content strategy is an iterative plan that guides the ideation, creation, delivery, measurement, and management of educational content for a target audience. The content must directly support learner goals and business goals to be effective. Your strategy should ensure a purposeful content structure (curricula), relevant taxonomy, assessments, and a feedback loop.
Ultimately, building a content strategy forces you to gather critical insights that shapes content creation. Insights such as:
- What information your learner needs to reach their goals
- What order the learner needs to receive that information in
- How the learner will demonstrate proficiency to build confidence
- Who will plan, create, deliver, measure, and maintain content
- What formats and channels are best suited to deliver content
- How to structure, tag, organize, and personalize content
What is learning content?
If you Google “content strategy,” the majority of articles you’ll see pertain to content marketing strategy. Marketers use web content like blog posts and e-books to attract prospective customers then convert those people into paying customers.
Sure, content marketing is educational in nature. But you can’t throw marketing content into the learning destination and expect it to work.
When we talk about learning content that powers an organizational education initiative, we are talking about two specific things:
- Formalized curriculum that lives inside the learning destination
- Reference material that lives inside the learning destination
There are a few types of learning platforms that enable customers to build learning destinations: the LMS (learning management system), the CEP (customer education platform), the LXP (learning experience platform), and the organizational education platform (OEP).
Formalized curriculum refers to individual learning assets inside the learning destination. These assets are sequenced in a way that leads the user to proficiency and mastery of a topic or a concept.
Generally, learners are required to demonstrate proficiency via assessments. Assessments can be interwoven into the curriculum or placed at the end of a course or certification.
Examples of formalized curriculum: e-learning courses, instructor led courses, certifications
Reference material refers to supporting assets inside the learning destination that enrich the learner’s experience. Sometimes reference material is called “just-in-time” learning. It’s available on demand for when customers, employees, and partners need quick answers.
Examples of reference content: live events, videos (live or on-demand), micro learning, knowledge base, help center articles, tutorials, classes
Formalized curriculum vs. reference materials
According to research, formalized and curriculum-based education drive more positive business outcomes than ad hoc education.
This data point might lead you to believe that you should focus solely on formalized and curriculum-based content. But that would be a mistake.
When companies launch a formalized organizational education initiative they often think, “This is amazing! Our learners will come here all the time!” Then they’re surprised when that doesn’t happen. (If you only have formalized content in your learning destination, learners might come only a few times a year.)
When your learning destination includes formalized curriculum and reference materials, learners will visit it more often.
Examples of learning content within Intellum’s learning destination
Try it out! Log into Experience, Intellum’s learning destination. You’ll get a sense of the content formats you might use within your content strategy. Click into the Evolve Learning Hub. This is a content hub Intellum customers, employees, and partners use to learn about Evolve, our content authoring tool.
Within the Evolve Learning Hub, you’ll see two courses:
Formalized learning is necessary when you need to break up the learning or deliver information in a certain sequence. Courses allow time for learners to practice what they’ve learned. Practice could come in the form of an assessment, or actually doing the work out in the world.
Within the hub, you’ll also see reference material. There’s a knowledge base and a community where you can learn from other Evolve users:
Have you ever belonged to a community on social media or some other app like Slack or Discord? If so, you know how addicting they can be.
Communities allow for richer learning experiences and human connections. They also take some of the burden off the organization, as members answer each others’ questions.
As you scroll down, you’ll see more reference material:
This hub, which was actually built with Evolve (how meta), also features:
- Product news
- Featured links
For example, learners might watch a recording of a past event to learn more about Logic in Evolve.
After watching the recording, learners can click to download templates used in the demo. They can also import the templates into their Evolve instance.
(If you fit into a specific learner persona, you’d only see content that was personalized to you.)
What content do you need across the learner lifecycle?
Based on where a learner is in their journey, different types of content work best.
Let’s look at customer education content across the customer lifecycle as an example.
Are you creating content for a prospective customer with the goal of building brand awareness? You might write blogs and optimize them to be found in search.
Are you creating content for a paying customer with the goal of helping them onboard quickly? You might build a learning path inside your learning destination platform.
Depending on your organization, your organizational education initiative might encompass the entire learner lifecycle. Or your initiative might complement an existing content marketing strategy, whereas your content strategy kicks in after the point of sale.
What makes content successful?
Content is only successful if it helps the learner and the organization achieve their desired outcomes. This usually involves solving a problem. A high-performing learning initiative will:
- Enable learners to succeed in their roles and
- Enable the organization to reach a key business goal
Let’s look at a real-life example:
Gusto is a people-centric payroll, benefits, and HR provider. In 2020, Jaclyn Anku, Head of Community and Education at Gusto, set out to build a Partner Advisory Certification. Gusto’s partners are accountant resellers who offer payroll and related services to their clients.
Jaclyn and team developed a certification to teach Gusto partners to reframe how they offer payroll to their clients. It also helped them expand the services they provide.
Jaclyn was able to prove, with data, that the certification drove positive outcomes:
You can read more about Gusto’s partner and customer education initiatives here!
As mentioned at the start of this article, other factors influence content quality, too. These include tone of voice, clarity of messaging, and UX, to name a few. However, it’s easiest to think of content quality in two primary buckets:
- Value: Do learners find the content valuable?
- Enjoyment: Do learners find the content enjoyable?
Do learners find the content valuable?
As a learner, if content helps you solve a specific problem, you’re likely to find it valuable. Therefore, content initiatives that scope the content to address a specific problem work best.
Here’s an example from training designer Cathy Moore’s book “Map It”:
At one hospital, nurses tossed sharps in trash cans, which was a major health violation. Cathy discovered that the issue was partially environmental. Sharps containers were too far away from patient beds, and nurses couldn’t walk away from their patients for safety reasons.
First, the hospital moved sharps containers closer to patient beds.
Next, Cathy helped the hospital design a short activity to allow nurses to practice. The activity prompted nurses to make a choice then see the consequence of their choice.
Education content designers didn’t dump a whole manual on busy nurses’ laps. The training had an information button nurses could click if they wanted to refer to the manual. Cathy calls this style of training design action mapping.
Education is designed to change a learner’s behavior.
Here are three examples of behavior change:
- A partner reframes the way they offer software and services to prospective clients
- A nurse disposes of sharps in a different way
- A software user begins using 30% of the tool’s functionality instead of 10%
Do learners find the content enjoyable?
If you’re familiar with Marie Kondo, you’ll understand the following reference: learning content should spark joy.
If your learners answer yes to the below questions, that means they find your content enjoyable:
Do learners find the content engaging in terms of concepts and delivery?
Do learners want to consume the content—and keep consuming it?
Do learners find value in the content?
Do learners see that content is making an impact?
Do learners feel confident going out in the real world and putting learnings into practice?
Concepts like tone of voice, clarity of messaging, and UX fit into this enjoyment bucket.
Today, people learn on work time and personal time. Work and personal lives are more integrated than ever before. People learn at night after their kids go to bed.
This means you’re not only competing for their attention during working hours, but also during non-working hours. You’re competing with Netflix and social media scrolling.
People want learning experiences that are well-written, easy to consume, and smooth. They want an enjoyable reading experience. Not some dry knowledge base that lulls them to sleep.
What are common misconceptions about effective content?
If you spend enough time on the internet, your head will inevitably become filled with so much information it’s hard to separate fact and fiction. So we will include a few myth busters here in regards to successful content.
Misconception #1: Technology can solve for poor content
You might find it strange that a software company would say this but here’s the truth:
Your content is more important than the learning destination it lives in.
The technology you use plays a major role in engagement and user acceptance.
For example, a learning destination that allows for personalized learning paths increases learner engagement.
And a tool with good user experience (UX) will bring learners back into the tool more often. What does good UX look like? It might feature a structured architecture for the knowledge base. This helps users to quickly find answers in their moment of need.
That said, if your tool is filled with bad content, your learning initiative won’t succeed. This is why it’s so important to choose a technology partner that also serves as a strategic support function.
Misconception #2: Content solves every problem
As you learned above, content initiatives that are built to address a specific problem work best.
However, education can’t solve every business problem.
Looking again at our hospital example, the first course of action was an environmental change: relocating sharps containers. Only then could the hospital begin educating nurses with content.
Similarly, some organizations with bad products mistakenly believe that better product education content will solve their problem. But they should be fixing their product instead.
Misconception #3: You must launch your education initiative with tons of content
Some organizations invest heavily in creating loads of content. They think that learners will only find the initiative valuable if it’s big. But that’s a mistake.
When rolling out a new learning content initiative, start small.
At the start of any initiative, you don’t know what kind of content learners want. Or how much content they want. Or what length of content they want. This is why it makes sense to release a small number of assets.
- See which assets learners engage with and which they ignore.
- See which trainings or learning paths drive the most positive outcomes.
- Shed the things that don’t work, and double down on the things that do work.
By taking this approach, you’re going to learn a lot. You’ll gain learnings like:
- We tried to keep it simple, but they’re asking for more content on features and use cases Or
- We built a formalized curriculum, and all they want is how-to guides and videos. (Imagine if you had sunk a whole year into building tons of formalized education?!)
Now you know you need to start small in terms of content volume. But how do you identify which topics or assets to begin with? You use the Intellum Framework™.
The steps in creating a learning content strategy
The Intellum Framework is a four-step process you can use to build a learning content strategy. While we originally created this framework for customer education, it’s a great fit for educating multiple audiences, too. (Many of our clients educate customers, employees, and partners.)
Step one: Goals
In a workplace environment, you must be able to show the ROI of your education initiatives. After all, you’re not educating your customers, employees, and partners for fun. You’re doing it to achieve a business goal.
Start with an important question: What is the business problem to be solved with education?
Let’s say you have five products; each product has some sort of problem that education could solve. Choose the product that has the most problems—for example, the product that has the largest support ticket volume.
(We can’t possibly talk about support tickets without inserting a customer service cat GIF.)
Typically, you will conduct a training needs analysis in order to answer this question.
Within step one, there are five questions you need to answer:
- What is the business problem to be solved with education?
- What audiences impact the problem?
- What education initiatives address the problem?
- What is the goal?
- What are KPIs related to the goal?
Here’s an example of what the output might look like:
Step two: Audience
Back in step one, you identified audiences that impact the problem. In this step, you’ll gain additional clarity about the needs of each audience. Go one audience at a time.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the audience segment?
- What does this audience need to know?
- What is the desired behavior change?
- What are the KPIs (from step one) that pertain to this audience?
Here’s an example of what you might wind up with:
Not sure how to answer these questions? Listening is your friend here.
Here’s how Jaclyn from Gusto tackled this step while building Gusto Academy for customers:
“To identify the sweet spot of both customer and business need, we began with a deep dive into internal interviews and data analysis. The team conducted workshops and one-on-ones with sales, customer support, marketing, and customer success. We pored over customer support cases, we reviewed data from Salesforce and Gong, and we partnered with our Help Center team to understand which articles got the most hits.” - Jaclyn Anku, Head of Community and Education at Gusto
After you find the sweet spot you can guide your instructional designers in developing content that moves learners from current state to desired state.
Step three: Content
The goal of step three is to think through, and organize, each content initiative.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the education initiative?
- What is/are the modalities (or delivery methods) for this initiative?
- What is/are the expected outcomes?
- What is/are the success metrics?
Here’s what the output of this step might look like:
Think back to our example of the Evolve Learning Hub. This sample output shows the work that went into planning the on-demand interactive Evolve courses: level one and two.
You’ll also need to plan out who will maintain assets within the learning destination. One or more people must be responsible for content management on an ongoing basis.
The insights you gain in step four, below, will guide your content updates and additions.
Step four: Measure results
You’ll want to assess content across a few different levels:
Enjoyment: Measure the degree to which learners enjoyed your content and felt it was a valuable use of their time.
Retention: Measure the degree to which learners have acquired and remembered the information you taught them.
Transfer: Measure the degree to which learnings you’ve passed on actually get employed in your learners’ day-to-day lives.
Business impact: Measure the degree to which your organization benefits from the learning initiative.
There are various models you can use to measure content’s impact, such as:
- Learning Transfer Engagement Model (LTEM)
- Kirkpatrick Model
- Phillips ROI Model
- Kaufman’s Model of Learning Evaluation
- ADDIE Model
- Successive Approximation Model (SAM)
The better you understand what’s working and not working, the better you can iterate to improve your content. And the business impact of your initiative.
Content strategy isn’t a solo activity
As you can see, building a learning content strategy for multiple audiences is an ambitious undertaking. Don’t go it alone.
Surround yourself with a good team. Connect with your customers. Speak to people in other departments within your company to get a true sense of business and learner needs.
And if you’re an Intellum customer, know that we’re just a phone call away to support you.