Designing Multi-Purpose Content

Publishers can do more with content when content is able to serve more than one purpose.  This post will provide a short introduction to how to structure content so that it’s multi-purpose. 

First let’s define what multi purpose means. Multi-purpose refers to when core information supports more than one content type. A content type is the structure of content relating to a specific purpose.  Each content type should have a distinct structure reflecting its unique purpose. But often certain essential information may be relevant to different content types. A simple example would be a company address.  The address is a content element used in many different content types such as an “About Us” profile or an event announcement about a meetup hosted by the company.  The same content element can be used in different content types. The address is a multi-purpose content element.

Scenarios where purposes overlap

Publishers have many opportunities to use the same content for different purposes. Another simple scenario can show us how this would work.

Imagine a company is about to release a new product to the market. The product is currently in beta.  The company wants to build awareness of the forthcoming product. There are three audience segments who are interested in the product:

  1. Existing customers of the company
  2. People who follow the sector the company is in, such as journalists, industry analysts, or Wall Street analysts
  3. People who are not current customers of the company but who may be interested in knowing about the company’s future plans

All these groups might be interested in information about the new product.  But each of these three groups has a slightly different reason for being interested in the information.  Even though they will all want to see mostly the same content, they each want to see something different as well.  By breaking content into components, we can separate which audience purposes are identical, and which are similar but different.  

Modeling commonalities 

One use of a content model is to indicate what information is delivered to which audience segment. For some aspects of a topic, audiences will see the same information, while for other aspects different audience segments see information that is specific to them.   

A close relationship exists between the segment for whom the content is designed, and the content type which represents the purpose of the content.   A prospective buyer of a product is probably not interested in a troubleshooting page, but an owner of the product might be.  

Even when different audience segments gravitate toward different content types, they may still share common interests and be seeking some of the same information.  

Different audience segments may have different reasons for being interested in the same basic information.  They may need to see slightly different versions because of their differences in their motivations, which could influence messages framing the significant of the information to the audience segment, and differences in the actions they may wan to take.  

Content teams can plan around what different audience segments want to do after reading the content. 

In  our example, the same basic content about the forthcoming product release can be used in three different content types. They can be used in a customer announcement, in a press release, and in a blog post. The descriptive body of each of these will be the same, conveying basic information about the forthcoming product.  

Three different content types drawing on a common, multi-purpose content element

Identifying motivations and managing these as components

When designing content, content teams should have a clear idea who is interested in this information and why.

In our example, the content presented to each segment has a different call-to-action at the end of the body. The customer announcement will include a sign-up call-to-action so that customers can try out the beta version. The press release would include a point of contact, which would provide a name, an email and a telephone number that journalist and others could reach.  The blog post wouldn’t include an active call-to-action, but it might embed social media discussion on Twitter concerning the forthcoming product release — perhaps tweets from beta customers crowing about how marvelous the new product is.  

The motivations of each audience segment can also be managed with distinct content elements in the content model.  Content teams can use content elements to plan and manage specific actions or considerations pertaining to different audience segments.

Thinking about purpose globally

Content teams tend to plan content around tasks. But when content is planned individually to support individual tasks, content teams can miss the opportunity to design the content more efficiently and effectively.  They may create content that addresses a specific audience segment and specific task.  But they’ve created single-purpose content that is difficult to manage and optimize.  

Tasks and information are related but not always tightly coupled.  Different audience segments may have common tasks, even though the information they need to support those tasks could vary in coverage or detail.  In such cases, why different segments are interested in a task could be different, or else their level of knowledge or interest could be different.  The instructions describing how to complete task could be global, but the supporting background content would be unique for different audience segments.  

Conversely, different audience segments may rely on the same information to support different tasks, as in our example.  

Content teams have an opportunity to plan the design of content using a common content model, built around common components that could descriptions, explanations, or actions.    A key aspect of designing multi-purpose content is to separate what information everyone is interested in from information that only certain segments are interested in.  Content will need to adjust to different audience segments depending on the motivations of a segment, and the opportunity the segment offers the organization publishing the content.

The design of content should consider two dimensions affecting multi-purpose content elements:

  1.  What brings these readers to view the content?  (The framing of elements that define the content type where information appears) 
  2.  What do these readers want to do next?  (The framing of the call-to-action or task instructions)

When the answers to those questions are specific to a segment, they will be unique element within the content type.  When several segments share common motivations, the component they view will be the same.

In summary, the same content can be useful to different audiences and in different situations.   Multi-purpose content can be considered the flip-side of personalization. We can separate what everyone needs to know (the multi-purpose part) from what only some people need to know (custom-purpose part).  To design multi-purpose content, one is looking for common elements to share with different segments. In personalization one is looking for specific elements targeted at specific segments.  The design of multi-purpose content considers in close detail what different segments need or want to view, and why.

— Michael Andrews 

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