Nested Content Strategy: Adding Layers to Rally Content Teams

Amy Grace Wells reflects on her time at the University of South Carolina in MCS6, and as the first content strategist, she had to build a lot of new things. Of course, she had to fight all the “stuff” that got thrown at the wall, with not much sticking.

The goal: build a consistent and cohesive brand voice across all channels at USC. Amy broke this down into three places; owned (website, social media, etc.), earned (the things you can’t control on social media or PR), and paid.

First, Amy took the time to see what was happening, and what had been done. After a lot of talk and a binder full of plans, Amy realized that the content creators knew they wanted their content to be shared better, but they didn’t know how. Content mindset amongst stakeholders was changed by first aligning at a large scale with university priorities. The message then shifted to message and audience first instead of writing “for” a distribution channel. Finally, she worked to break down silos to build quality content and amplify it.

How do you rally a team?

Content strategy is a process that can continue to change through feedback, evaluation, and continued editing. It is incredibly important to remember that content strategy is about the people and not just the content. The content on our websites was created by a person, and through audits and strategy sessions, we are essentially evaluating the people who created it. Bring your team together by explaining that content is valuable when it furthers a goal – that content creation is not just a task we check off the box.

What you can learn from a Nesting Doll

Consider this: nesting dolls are similar, but not exact copies. They fit into and compliment one another, but can have unique distinctions. They also get smaller and more narrow. Just like a content strategy, the further you go, the more specific you can get.


The outer ring: What we are. This is the one that all the content has to fit into, tied directly to your institution’s priorities and key values based on strategic plan of the institution.

The middle ring: How we tell our stories, or content tiers. This is how we prioritize our content and we identify how valuable the content is. Amy broke down telling stories at the University of South Carolina in three ways:

  • Collaborative Impacts
  • Exceptional Carolina Family
  • National Prominence

The inner ring: How we reinforce our messages. Amy and her team had quarterly editorial meetings which provided a focus for content laid out on an editorial calendar and reinforced topics with the University of South Carolina audience. Focusing on audience first instead of distribution channel allows for better reuse, repurposing, and repackaging. As we continue to move from “I’m writing this for the website” to “I’m writing this for a prospective student,” the better we can implement our strategy.


4 of 6 stories landed in the top performing stories of the year. These stories only had 4 months to catch up with those from the beginning of the year, but by putting quality before quantity, Amy and her team found success. These stories were more easily reused and repurposed because they were written with the audience first and placement second. The top performing stories gained more viewership from other sources than the email newsletter.

Getting Buy-In and Building Excitement

The first step is knowing that this will not happen overnight. Amy started rolling out her content strategy a year after she began to form it. By participating in many meetings across campus and listening, she began to understand what needed to be done. She also listened to “candid and constructive” feedback, allowing other team members to feel as though they are a part of the process. Finally, she continued to provide analytics and reports for each meeting.