Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve seen countless requests on the Content Strategy Google Group for document templates, diagrams and other materials – anything tangible to support CS work.

We’re a new field, and knowledge sharing is necessary and welcome. Documentation matters. It needs to be done, and it’s what convinces the powers that be that our work is important. Deliverables are – in a practical sense – what we get paid for.

But it’s just the first part of the story.

Um... does this actually look like a comfortable place to live?

The part before the second part of the story

What’s a content audit, really? At the end of the day, it’s just a snapshot of a site at a certain time. The value of it lies in the process of qualitative analysis we put it through.

The natural followup to an audit is usually a report – one that clearly explains what ought to be done to get a site ship-shape again. But it’s not enough.

Change is hard (it’s true, you know)

This week, another conversation started about how to ensure sites are maintained after the strategist leaves.

It seems there is a widespread sinking feeling – one I know well – that websites will slide into disarray as soon as our backs are turned.

Aside from feeling that this paints us as harried parents whose kids won’t stop messing up their rooms – which disturbs me – the bigger problem is this: documents quickly get shelved if they don’t lead to real change.

The ‘poor-us, content-never-gets-a-break’ bit

A content strategist of my acquaintance told me a story today:

She was asked by a colleague if she hated being edited, because ‘all writers hate being edited’.

She answered no – because if someone edited her work ‘at least she could be sure at least one person had read the document‘.

This takes a rather dark view of things. But there is truth in it.

We’re in the business of web content because we know that people don’t like to read a lot of long stuff. So we should know that a document handed over means nothing unless it’s joined by a hands-on transfer of knowledge.

Isn’t that just defining a workflow?

Yes and no – haven’t we all designed workflows for a perfect world where our clients would keep their site updated, think about it holistically, take care to follow their style guide – yet six months later, seen their sites in need of drastic repair?

I think this happens because content skills are not generic or universal – they are specialised. Making stuff sound good is actually hard: true story.

That means the knowledge transfer can only happen when there are capable hands to pass the knowledge into – either within the company, or in the form of faithful and dedicated contract or freelance staff.

What about budget?

Many businesses don’t have the money (or say they don’t) to hire new people to manage the site, and end up addng the workload to some unfortunate’s desk.

But they can’t afford not to – and they’ve shown they can afford to, if they’ve ever paid for traditional marketing skills.

A shoddy ad or two is bad for the brand in the short term (especially as people are blind to much advertising out there, because they expect it to be poor) – but a shoddy online experience is far more damaging.

An editorial team, and a manager with editorial skill to guide the ship, are the simple yet invaluable necessities that are most likely to make a content strategy a workable reality – and keep it that way.

Elizabeth McGuane