Finding a Home for Content Strategy in Your Org

We work with both large and small organizations, but many of them are struggling with finding a “home” for content strategy and management.

Non-media organizations have not traditionally considered themselves to be publishers, and that’s part of the challenge here. Whoever started using content may feel some ownership of the project, but often, it doesn’t have an executive sponsor. When content comes from the ground up, it may be very effective, but we see a lot of skeptical c-level execs. They challenge content people to demonstrate ROI according to traditional measurements.

Here’s how we look at this challenge:
There are definitely some business metrics that some organizations can apply to content. But for many orgs, the challenge is akin to measuring the result of positive employee attitudes on the bottom line — it’s not simple. Neither is the answer to, Who’s responsible?

In most non-media organizations, you will find a natural home for content in marketing or product development/management. In many orgs, those are the same department, but in tech-oriented companies in particular, we see those being treated separately.

It’s natural to assume that the content technology plays a hand in determining the answer: Are we talking about printed content? That’s marketing! Or, all our content is digital — so that’s the IT folks! But then you can end up with non-product experts in charge of your content — less than ideal.

However, we’ll also argue that product experts aren’t always the best content experts, either. Depending on your industry, a product expert might be a lawyer, a physician, an engineer — none of whose core curricula included “communicating effectively with the public via print, digital and in-person methods.”

So here’s our bias at Creek Content.

  • First, your organization must acknowledge that content isn’t a commodity. Good content, used effectively, is always a business asset. If you don’t believe that, don’t bother with the rest of the question.
  • Once you believe that great content is your business asset, figuring out who should run the content program is easier. In our experience, the answer is usually “a business-minded communicator who works collaboratively with product, marketing and tech staff and vendors.” Your answer will vary depending on your organization and industry, but those are the broad skills that your content strategists and managers need.

Confab | Jeff Cram: Learning to Love Your CMS

I have a client going through a major content management system [CMS] implementation right now, so I’m eager to hear how we can learn to love our CMS. No one loves their CMS. My comments in italics.

Jeff Cram works with ISITE Design in Portland, and they write a blog called The CMS Myth.

Shows a chart from The Real Story Group I’ve seen before, demonstrating the CMS landscape. There are a LOT of options out there.

Says the “mid-market” CMS is rising fast. Documentum, Oracle, others were built for a different era when web content was viewed as a file repository, and newer CMS are more agile and iterating faster.

Content management can enable great customer experiences. It’s the technology that can make or break your ability to deliver the right content to the right person at the right time. Therefore it is important to make sure you read reviews like this one here before choosing which CMS to use for your business.

Cram pointing out that implementing a CMS is a multi-disciplinary project, but sometimes, content strategists aren’t actually at the table. I’ve had that happen in the past, with predictable results, but in the project we’re currently working on, business goals and content strategy have been driving the CMS project from the beginning, which is magic.

CMS mythbusting

Inline text editors: Bless this man’s heart: He’s slamming the inline text editors that are so popular now. [You know, where you go to the site, and if you have the right permissions, you can click and edit the content right there on the page.] If your site is more complex than a plain old blog, you can’t use the edit-on-the-fly, front-end tools. When you have complex business rules, you need a robust CMS. Major CMS are now selling based on front-end editing, but it’s just not that valuable.

Challenge of the occasional user: Here’s another one I’m worried about with our system. The occasional user can’t remember what they’re supposed to do. Cram’s response to that is, stop letting people in your CMS. I think this is a critical point: Who gets how much control and power in the software? Will your software let you set up a workflow to handle requests, but not allow actual access to occasional users?

The workflow myth: Everyone wants to create really complex workflows, and then they don’t work….they are too complex, or people don’t use them properly, and they create bottlenecks. So, so true.

Taxonomy: Content needs structure. Someone needs to define the structure, and that’s probably not the engineer setting up the CMS. [There should have been more laughter there, but maybe this is a pain point? Maybe no one is dealing with this? This is a BIG part of what we do every day at Creekmore.]

Content modeling: This is not really a myth, but a useful point. If you build your architecture properly, you can model content based on the choices people make. If someone chooses “prospective students” on the front page of your higher ed site, you can create a more targeted experience when they click on other pages. It’s difficult to pull off, but some complex systems today make this possible.

Moving beyond wireframes: Wireframes get used a lot to build CMS, but they don’t fully represent the content strategy. The challenge is to fully represent the content needs, the taxonomy, the business rules — the whole content strategy — when you’re setting up your CMS.

Day two problem: People don’t staff for CMS maintenance. You’ll have new initiatives, change your focus….plan to re-engineer as you go and staff/budget accordingly.

Get mobile, like yesterday

[This blog post reads like the unsolicited plug that it is.]

I absolutely love when I go to a presentation or seminar expecting to have a good time, or network, and I also come back to the computer lots smarter than when I left, as the stakes are higher here, all the time. I should have known that would happen today, because I knew I was going to hear Tim Moses of Sitemason talk about mobile apps. But still, he got me.

Tim Moses and a bunch of other guys I went to college with started Telalink, one of the first ISPs in Nashville, back in the mid-1990s. They sold it 11 years ago, and most of those guys have gone on to continue to do really interesting things with technology. Telalink’s impact on technology and entrepreneurship in Nashville cannot be overstated — there are an army of programmers, network guys and innovators who came through the doors of Telalink in its few short years as a company.

After Telalink, Tim and Thomas Conner went on to start Sitemason. Sitemason is a great content management system for many mid-size websites. It has a lot of functionality that honestly, you’d expect to pay a lot more for. One of the things they have focused heavily on is mobile compatibility — and not just mobile browsing, but mobile apps. One of the neat things about Sitemason is that your content management system can power your iPhone app as well as your website, bringing apps into reach for many companies.

So at today’s Nashville AMA luncheon, Tim talked about the dramatic changes in the mobile market in the past 3 1/2 years, since the iPhone was introduced. When you think about how many people with plain-old cell phones have 2-year contracts in the U.S., and then you realize we haven’t even been through 2 complete contract renewal cycles since the iPhone came out [and far less since the Android platform was introduced], the market penetration of modern smartphones is astounding, and it’s only going to grow.

If you have any doubts about how critical your organization’s mobile strategy is, please give Tim a call. I suspect he’ll be very nice, but he doesn’t leave any doubt in my mind about how badly marketers in particular need to get mobile in their sights.

When you need content strategy: Content hack-a-matic

I spend a decent amount of time explaining to people in the web industry when they need content strategy. [Answer: on every project, of course.]

And so I thought I’d put together a few situations that arise in real life….those times when you really need your friendly neighborhood content strategist on speed dial. Here’s the first:

You’re trying to unwind your hacked-together “content management system” and implement a real CMS. Sure, you started off with good intentions. Your site structure made a lot of sense when you first built it….a few years ago. And ever since then, when you’ve added something new, you discovered the content system/blog software/hacked-together pieces-parts can’t quite handle it….so you’ve just added on some new software or technology or something to make it work. Perhaps your site itself actually looks good. But it’s gotten to the point where you’re terrified to even look at the site, because you know you can’t hack anything else onto it, and simple text changes eat up your day.

First, if you’re in this situation, you’re not alone. Many, many other organizations’ websites suffer from the same problem. But if you’re ready to figure out how to make content maintenance easier, get a content strategist to help.

What a content strategist can do for you:

  • Audit your content to figure out what you have
  • Determine the types of content you have
  • Determine the kind of information [metadata] you need to have for each content type
  • Recommend how to use this info to set up a system that will make your content work for you
  • Craft or improve a content workflow that fits your organization
  • Help you find and migrate to a tool that makes all this possible and automates manual tasks

Yahoo! Style Guide: Hoping the first impression holds

Yahoo! Style Guide
The Yahoo! Style Guide [print version, also available as the online Yahoo! Style Guide here] arrived at my house while we were on a 7-state Western odyssey last week. So I have just begun to dive into this new entry into the “how to write” contest, but I had to pause here to say I’m already on their side.

Chapter 1, Ideas in Practice on p. 14-15. The Yahoo editors strip out a frighteningly prototypical section of “web” copy and rewrite it the right way. They slash away adjectives, dubious claims and the flotsam that ruins most web writing. The overfluff that people add because they can.

They add bullet points, bold copy and links.

The end result is remarkably shorter than the starting point, and it’s useful, easy to comprehend and directive.

That’s honestly as far as I’ve gotten, but good heavens. If all you read is chapter 1, you’re well on your way to better writing.

Let’s start a content strategy meetup in Nashville

Content strategy is still emerging as a discipline, but I know a lot of people working on it here in the Nashville area. Several other cities have created successful content strategy meetups, and I’d love to help create one here in Nashville.

For some ideas about what a content strategy group might do, look at the Atlanta group’s recent programming.

I’ve also posted a call on Digital Nashville. Please email me [laura at creekmoreconsulting dot com] and let me know if you’re interested. We’ll aim to get something going this summer!

Unmanaged Content: Whac-A-Mole or Many-Headed Hydra?

Regardless, it’s not good.

Don’t feel bad; you’re not the only organization out there with a less-than-complete handle on your content. For organizations that have embraced the web for years, it may even be a bigger problem than for newbies. Because the longer you’ve been in this business, the more likely you are to have some legacy systems that never got adapted into a content management system….you know, because:

  • We don’t use the information on that microsite much.
  • It works fine the way it is.
  • So-and-so is the only one who needs to manage it and he’s familiar with that old system.

But what happens when:

  • You do need to use that information?
  • It no longer works?
  • So-and-so doesn’t work here anymore?

Ah, but that’s what happens to other people, right? Ahem.

Unmanaged content — the content you can’t name, or place, have forgotten entirely or that no one ever told you existed — will continue to loom over your head, portending your coming doom, until you physically capture and catalog it.

Ideally, you can put uncorralled content into your content management system once you find it. But even if that’s not possible due to technical constraints, a complete catalog of what you have will make your life easier.

Don’t wait for your content to find you — Murphy’s Law will bite you every time. Get out there and find that stuff!

Managing ownership of content: Print vs. web

I’m not above taking a free handout — and so when Kristina Halvorson helpfully posted some questions she’d been asked at a recent forum and asked those of us in the content strategy community to tackle one, I viewed it as a great gift. [Thanks, Kristina!]

How can content strategy begin to resolve ownership issues between print content creators and web content editors?

Unless you’ve been lucky enough to build only new web properties in brand new organizations, you’ve faced this issue. I spent years in the publishing industry, and so this hit home for me. It’s not unique to publishing, though: Most organizations that have been around a while and that do any sort of marketing are creating printed materials. And even today, many folks’ first instinct is to say, “Take that [press release, brochure, magazine article, ad from the newspaper] and put it on our website.”

But here’s the key point: No one ever says, “Take that [brilliant Flash demo, interactive chart, quick checklist, photo slideshow from the convention] off our website and print it.”

That would be a stupid thing to say, wouldn’t it? Great web content is optimized for the web, and it’s not cost-conscious to try to re-purpose it — it just doesn’t make any sense.

So if your organization is struggling with who “owns” the content — and you’re not alone — try to reframe the discussion.

  • Figure out who owns the information. This is important. Someone needs to be responsible for collecting and managing the information, and they need to share it with everyone who needs it.
  • Designate the person[s] who manages the print interpretation of the information.
  • Designate the person[s] who manages the web interpretation of the information.

In a small organization, all three of those roles might be filled by the same person. But in many organizations, the first role is distinct from the latter two. And the larger you get, the more likely the print and web content management is handled separately.

Regardless, it’s critical for the entire group to interact. But we should all recognize that slapping articles from a newsletter onto the website does nothing more than create an archive. If that’s all you want, super. If you want web content, you have to craft content that fits the medium.

Managing Your Content Management System

Alex Will and Henry Erskine Crum of Spoonfed Media. They run a web/mobile guide to live events in London.

This is a total geek-out topic. They’re going to discuss when and how to build your own content management system. As they and all of us will know, understanding content management systems with a high level of proficiency and confidence is a big part of mastering all of the digital content you have at your disposal. They publish 30,000 event listings a month and generate revenue from ads, sponsorships, and ticket sales. But a small team to manage all of that.

Will: Content exists in a lot of different forms and places. But today we’re talking about websites that have editorial content, not just user-generated content or aggregation.

W: You have to understand your production process before you can build your CMS. How do you collect data or create articles? How do you make the process of assigning tasks as efficiently as possible? How do you use the CMS to create task lists for each person? As a business owner, are you producing content as efficiently as possible? Do you need a review process? What about when you publish? Do you need SEO or to link in with social media sites?

W: UGC works incredibly well when you’re writing around venues — sites like Yelp. The problem with an event is that if you take the time to review it, then it’s gone [after the event is over]. So we needed an editorial voice.

EC: Why they chose to build a custom CMS:

Factors that didn’t matter:

  • Amount of data
  • Size of website
  • Complexity of idea

What did make them need custom CMS:

  • Data aggregation from multiple sources
  • Workflow management between editors
  • Reducing research time per event
  • Search engine optimization
  • Lead generation and contact management needs

A challenge they encountered: How to scrub the data you’re aggregating to eliminate duplicates and tasks.

Workflow management. How do you divide tasks, segment them, and prioritize them? What automated steps can you include? How do you reduce or eliminate time humans have to spend doing rote tasks?

W: Huge part of this is reducing research time. What they did: Give editors tools like Wikipedia, Flickr, Twitter, Google News inside the CMS. Spent a lot of time thinking about each step in the process and figuring out how to automate/improve/gain efficiency.

W: Added tool to aid editors in doing keyword research and suggest inlinking within the site.

EC: The Open Table model — allows company to generate leads and information about restaurants and patrons so they can use info to sell restaurants on providing reservations on their own websites through Open Table. Spoonfed leverages the event and venue knowledge they are collating to develop lead generation in a similar way. They create leads from data and use Highrise CRM to manage it.

Can also automatically alert members when they create content they may be interested in.

Future development planned: More work on prioritization of editors’ queues based on searches and other trend data.

Also more analytics work, reviewing what worked and determining how to leverage it in the CMS.

W: You have to continue to iterate your backend just like you do on the front of your website.

I found this to be a great panel. There was some negative chatter on the backchannel, but that seems mostly to have been from people who wanted to here a Drupal/Wordpress/enterprise product smackdown.