How APIs can support your content strategy

If you are a content strategist, writer, or editor, you may have encountered discussions about APIs—Application Programming Interfaces. To non-technical people, APIs may sound like geeky jargon that they needn’t be concerned with. While the details of APIs can be intricate, the value that they can offer is clear. They can provide a big boost to your content strategy.

Michael Andrews

Published on Apr 16, 2020

This post will cover some benefits and uses of APIs that content strategists should know about. Don’t worry, we’ll keep this discussion at a high level and won’t delve into the technical details. Instead, our goal is to introduce how APIs can provide information to customers in a range of circumstances. 

APIs are an “interface” between different systems or applications. As a practical matter, they transfer information between different places. For the most part, we will look at content APIs, which move content around. There are also business APIs, which can move data around. 

Why APIs are important for content

A number of years ago, the New York Times realized that they needed to change their way of thinking and focus on delivering the information they offered (and the many ways  to do that).

The New York Times became an early adopter of APIs: “We were able to tie the mission of the API to the core mission statement of the NYT: To collect, create, and distribute information,” the project lead explained. “Once we saw the API as supporting the core mission, the NYT started to think of their entire business in a new way. This was about delivering information, just not using trucks to deliver papers.”

Today, many of the world’s best-known publishers are using APIs to deliver content. The use of APIs is becoming more common among enterprises of all kinds.

Because APIs can involve technical details, people who create or plan content may be inclined to defer to other colleagues the decisions about how to use them. Yet even a little bit of knowledge about APIs will empower writers and other content professionals to envision what’s possible and know what to ask for. Anyone responsible for planning enterprise content can benefit from knowing about how APIs can be configured to support strategic content goals.

The role of APIs in content strategy

A big benefit of APIs is that they can let you do more with your content. They can support your content strategy by providing the right content and delivering it to the right customers in the right channel. 

APIs manage two important considerations:

  1. Where content comes from (sources)
  2. Where content is delivered (destinations)

APIs act as a matchmaker, precisely comparing sources and destinations for content and delivering the content that offers a match on each side of a potential request. 

APIs provide opportunities to select and combine content in novel ways. They can integrate content from various sources.

APIs also allow your content to travel to different destinations, such as websites and apps.

Let’s look at some common content scenarios that APIs can support:

  • Using content from different sources
  • Combining content with customer data or business data
  • Publishing to different platforms
  • Helping customers explore your content more easily

Scenario 1: Combine content from different parts of your organization

Even though your team may be working toward having a central content hub that holds all your enterprise’s content, you may not be there yet. But you can still combine content from different parts of your organization by using a content API. For example, the marketing team and the customer support team can both use the content API so that customers get a unified view of content they may be interested in. The content APIs enable the sharing of content between different groups, which allows customers not to worry about where to find what they need.

Scenario 2: Combine customer information with content

Another common scenario is when customers need to consult data and content together. Let’s imagine customers who use an app to track their loyalty points with a brand. They want to view how many points they currently have and also check out content about membership benefits and offers. Again, APIs make this possible. The data about the customer’s loyal points comes from one source (a database such as a CRM system), while the content about the loyalty program comes from the content hub. Information from both these sources can be combined together in an app the customer uses. In this example, the enterprise uses two APIs: a business API to handle the customer data, and the content API to deliver the content.

Scenario 3: Distribute to different platforms

One misconception about multichannel publishing is the assumption that the exact same content goes everywhere. That’s only sometimes true. Often, it makes sense to send different details to distinct platforms. APIs let organizations choose what exact content to deliver to where it will be most useful.

Consider a university that needs to communicate with its students. It can deliver announcements to many different channels. But it won’t deliver the same details to all these channels, as some channels are better suited to short messages, and others can accommodate longer ones. The content API can manage what details to show in which channel. 

A cancellation might involve a range of content: an alert that could appear on a smartwatch, an update to the chatbot to indicate the cancellation if asked, an email explaining the circumstances, or an online scheduling app that lets students adjust their plans. While the core information (what, why, what’s next) is common, the appropriate details will vary according to the channel. The API can manage which details to deliver where.

Scenario 4: Let customers pull in the information they need

APIs are not only about pushing content to customers. They also help customers pull the content they need. In other words, APIs help content move in both directions: from the source to the customer and from the customer back to the source.

A common example of this is e-commerce. Customers start with some content about products and then decide they want to search for something more specific. When they search, they can retrieve more detailed information thanks to the content API.

Integrate information for customers

APIs open up boundaries within your organization. They can also let your enterprise share content with other organizations.

The tourism sector offers a good example of how APIs can let content flow to where it’s needed. Customers planning a visit want to know about a range of information, such as locations and events. This information may come from different sources—even from different organizations. Fortunately, APIs can pull in the right information for visitors so they can plan their travel with confidence.

The user experience expert Jared Spool argues that APIs provide numerous options that ultimately benefits customers: “APIs give designers a much richer toolbox than they’ve ever had before. We can now take advantage of capabilities on our devices, the wealth of knowledge stored in databases, and pull together resources to provide a richer experience for our users.” Tapping these capabilities, APIs can deliver richer information for customers.

How might your organization use APIs to support its content strategy? While this overview covers only some of the use cases for APIs, it provides a starting point for considering possibilities.

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