Designing a Content Strategy with a North Star

I’m Laura. I’m a Design, Technology, and Innovation Fellow for the City of Austin. I developed a content strategy for Austin Resource Recovery using what we learned during the human centered research portion. You can read more about our project here.

Going into this project, we had an idea that our content strategy would have to be a living document- one that grew and evolved as Austin Resource Recovery’s mission expanded. More than that, we wanted a resource that Austin Resource Recovery would refer to during brainstorming sessions, campaign roll-outs, and drafting marketing content.

First You Need a Strong Framework

First you need good bones, or in this case, a strong framework in order to build something great. After performing a content audit, we discovered that Austin Resource Recovery was great at filling in the gaps in Austin resident’s knowledge about recycling. And through the resident interviews, we learned that in order to recycle, Austinites need strength in two out of three areas to recycle: knowledge, ability, and motivation.

The framework was our North Star for developing the content strategy. The framework helps Austin Resource Recovery address more than just knowledge gaps. The framework diversifies that lens and helps residents in more areas of their lives.

Behavioral Personas

The strategy went through a few iterations, or versions, before it became a working resource. The behavioral personas we developed were the driving force for the content strategy. We wanted to ensure the Austin Resource Recovery staff knew how to create content that addressed the needs of Austin residents, and filled in the framework gaps for each persona.

The personas came to life after we synthesized the participant interviews and found common traits among all participants. From the interviews, we came up with five personas: the Skeptic/Analyst, the Under Pressure, the Enthusiast, the Well-Intentioned, and the Lone Recycler:

  • The Skeptic or Analyst: Analysts and skeptics are not recycling at home, but will recycle if: (1) social pressure is applied and a clear system is present or (2) if they are convinced by the personal impact, environmental impact, or impact on Austin.
  • The Under Pressure: The Under Pressure persona generally doesn’t contribute to single stream recycling, but will donate old items or collect cans to help others. If basic needs are met, they have potential to recycle. Time and energy are two big factors that can inhibit recycling, not only financial.
  • The Enthusiast: Enthusiasts recycle consistently at home and likely make trips to the Recycle Reuse Drop Off center or auxiliary locations. They consider themselves good stewards of the environment and have a high potential to teach and inspire others to recycle.
  • The Well-Intentioned: Well-Intentioned personas are motivated by visions of a better future and have goals of fitting into a progressive society.
  • The Lone Recycler: If on their own, they would recycle really well. But living with other housemates who do not recycle, they feel alone in the fight. They struggle to set up or maintain recycling systems from lack of support.

The personas allowed us to create meaningful content that addressed two out of the three framework areas, and each persona had different needs in their life.

Developing the Strategy

The bulk of the content strategy focuses on filling in those gaps for the personas, as well as how to reach each persona. We did this in a number of ways:

  • First, we surveyed Austin residents, including our research participants, to learn more about how they received their news and how they wished the city would share important updates.
  • Using survey results, we prioritized the media channels based on the 54 responses we received. After all, what’s the use in creating great content if you don’t know how best to share it?
  • We included our recommendations for an annual editorial calendar- a high level view of campaigns that Austin Resource Recovery planned to run. These campaigns included: Earth month, Summer break, Back-to-school, and Holiday season.

The goal was to create a strategy with a solid framework for content, but that could change when priorities or campaigns shifted. With the framework and strategy in place, the final piece of the content strategy puzzle was the style guide.

Developing the Style Guide

The bulk of the style guide focused on messaging, because we wanted to ensure that the language used in ARR’s marketing content was accessible for every Austin resident, meaning the language was simple and it could be easily translated into another language or read by screen reader tools. The style guide provides examples of what accessible language looks like for a variety of topics, as well as resources to ensure that all of their content is ADA compliant.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, we turned to MailChimp for the grammar and mechanics portion of the guide. They’ve created a fantastic resource for the public to refer to, and if you’re looking for style guide inspiration, look no further.

With the content strategy and style guide complete, it was time to test it. What better way than to create content with it during a work session with Austin Resource Recovery?

Testing & Refining the Strategy

In order to test how easily our content strategy could be implemented, we scheduled work sessions with Austin Resource Recovery’s marketing team. Doing so allowed us to see how the content strategy would be used on a daily basis, and whether the process would be sustainable for the team.

During our first content strategy work session, we discovered that the team needed a tool to help them create content for the personas without digging into the entire 35 page content strategy document. The content strategy itself was solid, but didn’t invite content creation itself. That was our Ah-Ha! moment- we needed the content strategy in a simplified version. So we created the Content Canvas.

The Content Canvas takes the essential information from the content strategy, and distills it into a simple worksheet. Austin Resource Recovery staff can then refer to it during brainstorming sessions, or whenever they need to create content. Introducing the team to the Content Canvas was a turning point in the work sessions, because they had a solid tool to help them create content that addressed the personas and frameworks.

We held four work sessions with the Austin Resource Recovery marketing staff to familiarize them with the content strategy tools- from the strategy itself, to the Content Canvas, and getting them used to integrating behavioral personas into their work. The first two were group sessions where we brainstormed messaging for current or future marketing campaigns.

The final work sessions were mostly driven by the Austin Resource Recovery staff as they used the personas and content strategy to create their content. Together, we were able to create several social media posts, outline a blog post, and brainstorm possible campaigns for the annual editorial calendar. By the end of the work sessions, the team knew how to identify what gaps in the framework their content would fill, which personas they were writing for, and how to plan their content.

We’ll be sharing the content strategy and other recycling tools at our public presentation on Monday, May 8th. It starts at 6:30 pm and will be held at the Carver Library Branch. I would love to see you there! Click here for more information.