eXtension Welcomes Melissa Rach as a Keynote Speaker at the 2010 CoP Workshop

We are pleased to introduce you to Melissa Rach, one of the keynote speakers at eXtension’s 2010 Communities of Practice Workshop, held June 6-8. If you have not signed up to attend, you can do so now here.

Melissa is director of content strategy at Brain Traffic, an agency focused on helping clients tackle messy content problems. Melissa worked on her first online project in 1993. Since then, she has become a respected authority on how organizations incorporate interactive content into their overall communications strategies. Her methodologies have been taught at universities nationwide and recognized in books for nearly a decade, from Webmastering for Dummies (2000) to Content Strategy for the Web (2009).

We asked Melissa a few questions about her role as a content strategist and what exactly that means. You can see the interview below:

What is Brain Traffic all about?
Brain Traffic is one of the only consultancies in the world dedicated exclusively to solving content problems. Our work focuses on content strategy and implementation. Content strategy helps organizations effectively plan, create, share, and govern content. Implementation is about putting those strategies into action—everything from web writing to leading corporate governance committees.

In the last few months we’ve worked on projects for Microsoft, RIM (Blackberry), Merck, University of Minnesota, Union of Concerned Scientists, Southern California Presbyterian Homes, Best Buy, and several other organizations.

Content strategy is a new field, but every Brain Traffic employee is a career content expert. Our backgrounds are in areas such as corporate communications, marketing, technical writing, information architecture, journalism, and library and information science.

Why do companies need a content strategy?
Today, more than half of the workforce in industrialized countries is paid to create or share content.  Think about a typical company. There are marketing people creating brochures, product people creating instruction manuals, lawyers creating policies, etc. A content strategy ensures all of the time, effort, and money invested on content is well spent.

Additionally, the web has intensified the need for content strategy—because now all of that corporate content is easily accessible to the world. Online, disparate content is (literally) linked together in ways nobody expected. The press releases are right next to the investor information, which is right next to the customer information. Everything from a web site’s privacy policy to the latest tweet needs to be cohesive, coordinated, and effective. It’s a lot to manage, and contents strategy makes it managing things realistic.

What is a content audit?
A content audit is similar to an accounting audit–only without the IRS involved. Like an accountant, a person doing a content audit takes a thorough look at all of the content and draws conclusions from what he or she finds.  It answers questions like:

  • What do we have out there? (Content accumulates fast, it’s easy to forget what you have.)
  • Does this content meet the needs of our audience? Have audience needs changed?
  • Is it still accurate and up to date?
  • Where are the gaps?
  • What are the opportunities for improvement?

Content online is a living thing – it’s never “done.” So, regular content audits are one of the most important (and easiest) ways to improve the impact you have with your content. It might seem a bit tedious at first, but it’s actually enjoyable and rewarding once you get in the rhythm.

What brought you to where you are today? (What got you interested in Content Strategy?)
That’s a long story. I started my career as a journalist at the University of Wisconsin right around the time when the internet began. (I actually wrote the brochure that introduced professors and students to email.)  When I got assigned to one of the UW’s first email newsletters, I was smitten. From then on the internet captured my attention and really never let go.

Since then I have focused my career on understanding how interactive media influences the way people learn and businesses operate. Content strategy brings all of my favorite things together: messaging, content structure, cognitive science, and business strategy.

I’ve worked in interactive/marketing agencies, magazines, an educational media company, and corporate communications.  I’ve had tons of titles: writer, information architect, researcher, business analyst, etc. – but in reality, I’ve been doing content strategy for the better part of 15 years.