Thinking Small: An Introduction

Our company isn’t small, at least not in the way a two-person start-up is small, but it’s small enough that we all take on a little more than what our job title describes. In my case, this means in addition to content strategy and information architecture I also handle our company’s site quality assurance process, advocating for users at both the ends of a project.

QA has taught me more about how the web works and how people interact with a site than any book or conference could ever hope. I’ve learned what difference the labels on fields within a CMS can make. I’ve learned how editors manage workflows within the tool itself. I’ve learned the multi-channel power of a single field.

It’s this last thing that gets me most excited about the concept of structured content. One field in a million directions. No longer is a title simply a “title.” It’s now an excerpt title, a meta TITLE, a navigation title, a block title within a mobile app, and more.

We’re moving from the golden age of content strategy philosophy and justification to an age of details and methodology tweaking. And that’s pretty fun.

Yet, we’ll never lose the need to preach philosophy, because there are millions that have never encountered it. We talk about NPR and the Boston Globe and huge corporations with huge taxonomies and multi-department content workflows, and these are incredibly important and they all need a lot of help. But that’s just scratching the surface.

As content strategy gets bigger, its targets become smaller. As we talk with and encourage and lead groups of 20 or 30, we find ourselves drawn to a different breed of content problems – the content problems of Greg’s Body Shop and A1 Mufflers.

Everyone has a website these days. And everyone needs some level of strategy behind those web and content decisions. But not everyone has the resources.

Not everyone has the budget.

Not everyone has the time, or needs the full package.

As we grow as an industry, our best practices and methodologies and case studies and overall justification trickles down to smaller and smaller businesses. Just as our thinking has shifted from large scale concepts to the individual fields that populate our pages, our clients and customers are growing to include both multi-national corporations and small businesses, university systems and local charities.

The question is: how do we adapt to thinking smaller?

Within our websites and content plans, we do this by thinking a little harder about the individual elements of a page and how they manifest on the web and beyond. Within our culture, we do this by understanding the budget and resource needs of a smaller business and tailor our methods to meet those needs.

It takes one part system thinking, another part empathy. Both are beyond exciting.

Which is why, at least on this blog, 2013 is the year of thinking small. We’ll take out the dissection kit and pick apart the fields within a structured content model. We’ll take a deep look at things like page titles and their different configurations across the site and across different applications, or dive into publication dates and how they affect different pagetypes.

And we’ll do the same with our methodology, adapting it to fit the needs of a smaller business, pointing out the places where it’s okay to skimp and slide, and pass along some thoughts on empathizing with a marketing manager who’s already working extra without the added weight of a new content management system.

One series, Dissecting the Content Model, begins this month. The other, Content Strategy for Small Business, will follow. You can look for these articles – alternating from one topic to the other – at least once a month, with related links and thoughts in between.

Until then, let’s start thinking small.

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