Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't publish content without a usage strategy in place

I spent yesterday transferring a case study from a complex PowerPoint format (with embedded videos and exercises) to a more accessible wiki.  It turned out to be a rather labor intensive, mind-numbing activity.

The earlier alternative had been a zipped file which contained all the individual pieces, including videos, attachments, etc... Needless to say, very few people were going to download the zipped file to their desktop in order to get a sense of what the whole thing was about.

So, now the case study is technically more "accessible."  Does that mean it is going to be used?  No. Can I get the wiki stats to lie for me?  Yes.  I can probably collect statistics that will tell me that X number of people accessed the case study every week.  However, if I were to ask these X people whether they went through the entire case and found it useful, I'm guessing the answers would not be very positive.  I'd learn that they stumbled upon the case study while looking for something else and promptly exited.

Ideally, the entity creating content of that nature, content that was designed for a face-to-face training environment, needs to think about how the materials would need to be adjusted or re-purposed for other uses.  When the content is yours, you have a strong incentive to ensure that it doesn't sit on a shelf or deep in a folder on someone's desktop. You also have a better sense of how it could or should be used.  You have a good sense of why you developed it in the first place.  When you're inheriting someone else's content, it's tempting to just make it accessible but not really get invested in whether people will get any value out of it.

So, yesterday, while I was concentrating deeply on manipulating files to reconstruct the case study in its new, more accessible environment, a few questions came up:
* When I create (or re-purpose) content, shouldn't I pay a little more attention to what I name the files, so that someone else, coming later, would have a sense of what they are even if they're not familiar with the content.
* When I create (or re-purpose) content, shouldn't I have a usage strategy in mind?  I know who the target audience is for that case study.  I know who would need to take a lead role in promoting the use of that case study.  The next step would be to make that explicit, to proactively engage those people most likely to have a use for it. 

Perhaps "usage strategy" isn't the right phrase. Perhaps it's an "engagement strategy."  I want people to engage with the material.
* Why would people engage with this material?
* How are people going to engage with this material?
* How do I tweak the original material to make it more user friendly in its new "setting"?
* How do I let the right people know it's there?

Similar issues arise with all of the case studies we work with.  They're designed for face-to-face training.  We post them to make them more accessible, but our real target group consists of instructors who might consider using the cases in their training. Hence, it's not enough to make them more accessible.

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