How an Open Content Strategy Can Work for You

Curtis Pond

IQ Solutions has worked with many federal agencies to structure and open their public health information content.

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This summer IQ Solutions wrapped up our “Knowledge Improves Lives” speaker series by inviting user experience and content strategy expert Karen McGrane to talk about optimizing your online content so it can reach all devices, channels, and just about anything else used by audiences to access information. As Karen put it, by choosing to treat your content as a service, your organization can move away from simply pouring content into documents to allowing others to query that content for use. She hit on this topic from several angles throughout her presentation. Her point illustrates a main theme of the White House’s Digital Government Strategy: treat all content as data and “architect for interoperability and openness.” Some highlights of HHS openness in action include the HHS Digital Media API Platform and HealthData.gov, which recently celebrated its 1,000th data set. (Congratulations!)

IQ Solutions has worked with many federal agencies to structure and open their public health information content as well as to build complex web apps with content unlocked by other agencies. This has allowed our clients to become device and platform agnostic, while freeing their content for multiple uses, including powering mobile apps and widgets. This approach has resulted in a broader but more targeted reach to audiences, with greater effect than previously realized.

Regardless of where you are in planning your next digital project, here are some questions to consider to help get your open content strategies off the ground.

How are you defining open content?

At the heart of open content is structure. Similar to data, you need more granular control over your content to repurpose it for multiple uses—in other words, to open it up. For some organizations, this may mean pulling high-profile content out of a database and turning it into a developer-friendly API. Or it could mean syndicating your content to the HHS Digital Media Platform so other organizations can pick it up with a quick copy and paste. The Digital Services Innovation Center at the U.S. General Services Administration is also promoting open and structured content models that allow you to add rich metadata to your content to make it more shareable and “future-friendly.” These are all examples of open content in action. Although each provides a different flavor of open content, all are driven by structured content.

What are your open content goals?

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Structured content will give you the ability to fight the upcoming zombie device apocalypse by making your content flexible, fluid, and able to go anywhere. You’ll be able to target new devices in the future without overhauling your entire system. Once you’re ready to open your content and allow others to use it, you’ll want to put some benchmarks in place to measure success. Do you want developers to build apps with your content? Are you hoping to increase traffic to your site and build new partnerships? Will you be able to track impressions of your content served on other sites to demonstrate that your organization has expanded its reach? These are some of the questions you should be asking as you launch your open content initiative.

What content should you open up?

Site analytics are a great place to start. What content is popular on your site and best exemplifies your organization’s mission? Will you do both an English and a Spanish version? Every organization has many stakeholders, and a case can likely be made for opening just about any type of content. You also should consider what content you would like to push—for example, if you have content tied to an upcoming campaign or initiative. This is the point where you should make sure that content, technology, marketing, and leadership teams are aligned. Many viewpoints will likely surface stronger ideas for what content should be opened and how your open content strategy should be implemented, communicated, and measured.

How will people find your open content?

Start with the basics. Do you have a Developer’s page or a similar section on your site that provides documentation for your API or explains how to sign up for your content syndication service? If you’ve been working closely with your marketing team, then you can use social media to promote your open content endeavors and get the word out. As soon as you have a good case study of your open content in action, reach out and see how you can promote that story on your own site. Real-world examples will help create champions for your open content movement. Also, look for meetups, coding challenges, and other opportunities to get the word out on digitalgov.gov.

How will you continue to improve your content?

Allowing your content to be freely used through APIs, content syndication, and other open content models doesn’t mean the war has been won. There’s still work to do! If you can, get your hands on analytics that tell you what content is being used, who’s using it, and where it’s being used. What trends are you seeing? Is some content more popular than others? This information can help with decisions for updating and archiving current content as well as drive ideas for new content development and emerging target audiences with whom you want to connect. You also may find that part of your open content goals include consuming open content from other organizations to enhance existing features. If that’s the case, make sure you’re routinely using analytics to evaluate the effectiveness of adding new content layers to your products.

These are just a handful of questions to ponder as you consider using structured and open content. How has open content transformed your organization? And what are some lessons learned you can share?

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