Secrets of Agile Content

Cheetah_Umfolozi_SouthAfrica_MWegmannFirst, an admission of guilt: In the business world, few terms are currently more overused than agile. And yes, the word is in my headline. So, why does the world need another tired blog post using this beloved Silicon Valley jargon? Because agile content simply crushes it every day.

In all seriousness, we can learn something from pioneering content methods, as Marcia Riefer Johnston of Content Marketing Institute illustrated in her recent article on agile content development, talking with leaders at companies like Facebook, Google and PayPal.

As her article illustrates, successful content producers can adapt the famous agile software development process to govern their creative philosophies. The leaders she interviewed boiled it down to speed and integration. What do they mean by speed? As Facebook content strategist Susie Dickson puts it: We have a well-known mantra: Move fast and break things. This means that content creation starts, for example, in the initial phases of product development. Initial content needs to be completed within the initial product development phase, so that content for later phases can easily reflect concurrent changes (and build on the initial content).

What do they mean by integration? This means that content creation happens alongside product development with product people and writers working closely together from the initial stages, not separated from each other by time or distance. This prevents the fracturing of content from reality.

This type of collaboration ultimately leads to more flexible and relevant content. The message can evolve as the product evolves. Writers can produce better content based on their intimate understanding of the pain that a particular product/service addresses. Their intimate understanding derives from working alongside the product developers and business executives while asking intelligent questions from the beginning (as opposed to separately creating something as an afterthought).

Simplicity and sexiness
To quote from the Agile Manifesto:

Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.

On its face, this tenet seems absurd. Maximize the amount of work not done? What is this, the slacker’s creed? To the contrary, the more that pointless work can be avoided, the better your output will be (and energy spent). I love the idea of applying this to content development because the prevailing wisdom is not that there’s not enough content out there, but that exceptional content is too often underrepresented amidst the sheer volume of mediocrity.

By deliberately choosing to enforce the rules of quality content (the agile approach representing one effective way), a writer or designer can minimize waste. That’s what maximizing the amount of work not done is really about: Wasting less. Greater efficiency. Greater quality.

In a world where the clarion call of content power sounds daily, all writers should take their cues from renowned Latin dance instructor Jay Stylz, whose mantra is, “If it ain’t sexy, don’t do it.” I say, “If it ain’t quality [content], don’t produce it.” As I’ve written before, the agile approach to marketing automation (just one example) offers a great way for today’s marketers to be relevant. Study it, practice it, learn from it. Get sexy with your content.

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Photo courtesy of Wegmann via Wikimedia Commons.

Paul Richlovsky

About Paul Richlovsky

Paul brings a writing and teaching background to his decade-long marketing career. He advises clients on content strategy and editorial direction. He is an enthusiastic marketing automation practitioner and active member of the Cleveland Marketo User Group. He has written/edited multiple marketing guides, including those aimed at healthcare, higher education, financial services, B2C brands and manufacturing audiences. With a BA in English from the College of Wooster, he is also the author of a collection of poetry, "Under the Lunar Neon."He is particularly interested in usability, digital governance, ballroom dancing, bachata, racquet sports, and romping with his niece and nephews.

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