Michelle Corbin, IBM

I work as a “content manager” for IBM developerWorks. I am responsible for the “Internet of Things (IoT)” technology topic area. I acquire, develop, copy edit, publish, and curate IoT content by working with external authors as well as internal IBM developer advocates. Content means articles, tutorials, videos, blog posts, and other assorted content types (but mostly those I listed).

Each year, I put together a content plan to help me focus on the most important IoT topics.  I need to be aware of the content we have already published, but also be aware of what content we need to look to publish in the coming year. I need to be able to fill in the gaps created by what we have and what we need to have.

In prior years, I created a content plan in a Word document, similar to the content plans that I created for product documentation for a given release. While I tried to keep the Word doc updated throughout the year, it was too much of a static document, and I needed something more…more flexible, more dynamic—just more!

For 2018, I decided to convert my content plan into a spreadsheet, based on conversations with another content manager. She had put together a matrix of information for each piece of content, and my brain immediately converted it into a spreadsheet. You see, you can sort and filter data within a spreadsheet, and these methods of dynamically working with my “plan” were just what I needed.

Columns and rows of data

Each row in my content planning spreadsheet represents one piece of content. Simple as that.

The columns in my content planning spreadsheet represent the different attributes about my content. The columns help me identify gaps or “piles” (collections or groupings) in my content, which again help me focus my time or resources appropriately.

Here are the most important columns in my spreadsheet:

  • Action – Defines the next steps and helps me create to-do lists of what to do with the content, such as acquire, update, archive, or research.
  • Topic/subtopic – Categorizes the very broad content area.
  • Content type – Identifies the type of content as article, tutorial, blog, video, or other type of content.
  • Skill level – Identifies whether the content is geared towards beginner, intermediate, or advanced users.
  • Target audience – Identifies which persona the content is written for, either our individual developer or an enterprise developer.
  • Title/description – Specifies the title of any published content or describes the type of content I need to research or acquire.
  • Published date – Shows the date the content was originally published.
  • Updated date – Shows the date the content was updated, if it ever was updated.
  • Internal or external author – Specifies whether the author is an IBMer or an external author.
  • URL – Shows the URL of the published content or the URL that I can use for researching a new topic/subtopic.
  • Notes – This is the ever infamous “catch all” column to write notes or thoughts that I discover in filling out the columns for a piece of content.

I imagine that I will add in some other columns, such as metrics (page views), as the year goes on, to try to bring all the data or information about my content into one place.

Creating a content inventory

I started filling out my content planning spreadsheet with all of the existing content pieces for my area. (Luckily, I had a newer area, and so I had a small set of content items (95) to include.)  By filling out every column in my spreadsheet, for every piece of existing content, I was immediately able to see gaps that needed to be filled. For example, I filtered on the Skill Level column, and I had several more pieces of content for beginner users than for advanced users.  And, I filtered on the Target Audience column, and I discovered I hadn’t acquired much for the enterprise developers. My content inventory also revealed the topics or subtopics that needed some attention.  I’m in the process of reviewing my topics and subtopics and trying to break some of the broader categories (like IoT analytics) into subtopics, so that I can see gaps from a topic perspective.

Researching new content

As part of my job as a content manager, I need to know the technology space. So, I read numerous blogs and articles about IoT, and I read even more analyst reports about IoT.  With my content planning spreadsheet, I tried to summarize key points of these blogs, articles, or reports in the Title/Description field (and put the URL to what I was reading in the URL field) and then fill out the rest of the columns as to what I might want to acquire or research further.

Building my plan for the year

After I had a critical mass of content items in my spreadsheet, I set about using the sorting and filtering features to look at the content from all the different perspectives. Then, I filled out the Action column with what to do with the content—acquire, update, link-to, research, archive.  Right now, I’ve worked through the update and archive actions, and I’m continuing to work on the research items. In the coming weeks, I will use this plan to start acquiring new content and updating existing content.


From my content planning exercise this year, I learned these lessons:

  • Integrating a content inventory into a content plan really helped me see the piles and the gaps in my content.
  • Including content topics from my research in the same structure as my content inventory allowed me to see how my content stacked up against the other content already out there.
  • Converting my “static” Word document into a “dynamic” spreadsheet and using the filters to see different views or sorts of my content allowed me to think about “plans” in a new way. Content plans need to be adaptable and flexible.
  • Adding the Action column automatically created detailed to-do lists that help me turn my content plans into actions!

I love that I now have a solid plan that grows with me—a plan that I want to keep updated. I encourage you to try to create a dynamic spreadsheet-based plan!