How we created a content strategy without realizing it

6 min read Guest Blogger

Tania Hockings is the Senior Digital Content Advisor at ACC and has a passion for creating content that caters to users (not the business). Co-presenter and co-author Amy Stoks is a Senior Experience Designer at PwC’s Experience Centre and possesses a love of empathy and collaboration. Ahead of their presentation at UX New Zealand 2017, Tania and Amy share their experience creating a content strategy while working on a project for the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC’s no-fault scheme helps pay the cost of care for everyone in New Zealand if they’re injured in an accident).

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that before you start writing content you’re supposed to have a content strategy. Three months out from launch of the new beta site, we did not have one. Nor did we have a lot of time, very much resource or a completed content audit.

However, we did have:

  • Some pretty good design principles, based on user research
  • A list of the 37 priority tasks that our users needed to do on the website
  • One content writer (Tania) and one part-time content consultant (Amy)
  • A deadline
  • Freedom to do whatever we needed to do to get content live for the beta launch.

Here’s a quick look into how we created a content strategy for without actually realizing it.

Content principles are a great starting point

We needed more direction than those 37 tasks to get writing, so inspired by our design principles, we wrote some equivalent principles for the content. We decided to start with the tried and tested principles already in play by and GOV.UK — we didn’t have time to reinvent the wheel. We ended up with eight principles for how we would write our content:

  1. Do less: only create what is needed and what we can maintain
  2. Always have an evidence-based user need: we know why a piece of content is needed and have the evidence to back it up
  3. Ask for constant feedback: we use feedback and analytics to understand what people want and need to know, as well as what they don’t
  4. Provide a consistent customer experience: our voice is the same across all platforms and our content is accessible for every kind of user
  5. Create seamless customer journeys: no dead ends or broken links, no unnecessary information
  6. Improve how ACC writes: we build good relationships with content contributors and proactively offer content support and training
  7. Ensure transparent ownership for all content: every piece of content has an owner, a business group and a digital advisor assigned
  8. Accept that not everything has to live on other channels share ACC content, so if ACC isn’t the source of truth for information we don’t put it on

We made a checklist of what would and wouldn’t live on according to the principles…and that was pretty much it. We really didn’t have time to do much else because the design of the site was running ahead of us. We also needed to get some content in front of users at our weekly testing sessions.

Sometimes you’ve just gotta get writing

We got stuck into writing those 37 tasks using our pair writing approach, which was also an experiment, but more on that in our UX New Zealand talk. While we wrote, we were living and breathing the content principles: we introduced them to our internal subject experts while we were writing and constantly referred back to the principles to help structure the content.

After the beta launch, we had a few more content writers on the team and a bit of time to breathe (but not much!). We actually wrote the principles down and put them into a visual briefing pack to give to the subject experts ahead of our pair writing sessions. This pack covered:

  • our principles
  • the goal of the project
  • the process
  • the usual best practice webby stuff.

As we wrote more content, the briefing pack and our process evolved based on what we learned and feedback from our subject experts about what was and wasn’t working.

During the same brief intermission, we also had a chance to revisit the content strategy. However, in practice we just did a brainstorm on a whiteboard of what the strategy might be. It looked like this:


And it stayed like that for another six months.

We can’t remember if we ever looked at it much, but we felt good knowing it was there.

Seriously, we really need a content strategy…don’t we?

We finally got to the end of the project. The launch date was looming, but still no content strategy. So we booked a room. Three of us agreed to meet to nut it out and finally write our formal content strategy. We talked for a bit, going around in circles, until we realized we’d already done it. The briefing pack was the content strategy. Less a formal document and more a living set of principles of how we had and would continue to work.

Would we do it again?

Yeah, we would. In fact, the ACC digital team is already following the same approach on a new project. Content principles are key: they’re simple, practical to socialize and easy to stick to. We found it really valuable to evolve the strategy as we learned more from user research and subject matter expertise.

Of course, it wasn’t all rosy —  these projects never are! Some governance and muscle behind what we were doing would have really helped. We found ourselves in some intense stakeholder meetings where we were the first line of defence for the content principles. Unsurprisingly, not everybody agrees with doing less! But we’re pretty sure that having a longer strategy formalized in an official document still wouldn’t have helped us much.

The next piece of work for the digital team at ACC is defining that governance and building a collaborative process to design digital products within the organization. The plan is to run informal, regular catch-ups with internal stakeholders to make sure the content strategy is still relevant and working for ACC’s users and the organization itself.

If you remember anything from this blog post, remember this:

Treat your content strategy less like a formal document and more like a working hypothesis that changes and grows as you learn.

A formal document might make you feel good, but it’s likely no one is reading it.

Whatever format you choose for your content strategy/working hypothesis, make sure you get it signed off and endorsed by the people who matter. You’ll need back up in those inevitably tense project meetings!

The content strategy looks awesome these days — very visual and easy to read. Tania always has a copy in her notebook and carries it with her everywhere. If you’re lucky enough to run into her on the streets of Wellington, she might just show it to you.

Want to hear more? Come to UX New Zealand!

If you’d like to hear more about designing content, plus a bunch of other cool UX-related talks, head along to UX New Zealand 2017 hosted by Optimal Workshop. The conference runs from 11-13 October including a day of fantastic workshops, and you can get your tickets here