by Robert Rose
Everybody creates content these days. This much we know is true. It also goes without saying that, well, everybody thinks they’re pretty good at it. This much we know isn’t true.
As content becomes an increasingly important part of our customer experience strategy, more and more of the customer facing departments want to create and manage these experiences. But, simultaneously, the business is trying desperately to try and get its arms around a centralized voice, tone and strategy as it relates to content. It can be a slippery, political, and emotionally charged mine field to try and tie these silos together and get some semblance of a holistic strategy.
For example, I worked recently with a state university this week. We were working on how to take a new brand initiative to the next level through the strategic use of content. One of the managers of content in the marketing group came up to me and told a story that I’ve heard often within the university setting.
He said, “Our biggest challenge is that we have so many different constituencies within the University—all with different ideas and goals.”
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Now, you might argue that universities have a bit of a special monopoly on the politics and silos thing, but this is something I see constantly with enterprises of all kinds. I responded, “Yeah, this content thing would be easy if it weren’t for all those pesky people in our way.”
But this is the point. In most instances we don’t get to pick the people we work with or determine whether they are in the right jobs or can even string a sentence together. In most cases, as practitioners, we have to make our content strategy with the team we have.
As Peter Drucker said years ago, “We’re not going to breed a new race of supermen. We will have to run our organizations with people as they are.”
This is an important point. The environment in which we operate, the new technologies, the platforms, the content—all of that—is changing and will continue to change at an unprecedented pace. Human nature? Not so quickly.
Tying The Silos Together
Content strategy and content management, while facilitated by technology, are, fundamentally, human processes. This means that as we put together our strategies, our stories, our technology for managing all our content—and the means to optimize based on our measurement of it—we should do so in the context of a foundation for managing a much slower human capacity for change.
The successful companies that we see are creating content-as-a-function. They are using a strategy that centralizes a function of content quality, despite where it might actually be created. In other words, they are creating a functional filter, or “arbiter of good” for content—and then a workflow process to support that as content is created in various parts of the organization. Now, whether that’s a “center of excellence” or a “content department” or an “editorial board," this team’s remit is to look at the external channels of content and manage the quality, flow, and optimization of the communications that will populate them.
Now, this is obviously a deeper topic that can be further explored—but here are two themes that I find productive in designing such systems:
1. Design centralized content processes for human strengths, not technology capabilities.
We need dispassionate design of models that optimize our strengths and make the weaknesses as meaningless as possible. We have to design models and processes not on the basis of “how things have always been done” or “what our CMS can do” but rather to optimize the strengths that we have as a team and an organization.
For example, why do we have a system where everyone can publish to the site for their particular department? Yes, our CMS enables it—but is it actually a good idea? Should we rather have a workflow that prohibits that? Or, perhaps even better, should we have a workflow BEFORE the publishing of content that manages the quality—and sends it BACK to the department for publishing at their leisure?
If any of the answers to our questions is “Because that’s the way it has always been,” it’s time to design a new system.
2. Flat organizational content contribution is overrated.
It’s nice that everyone has an interest in creating content. But, as my wife will tell you, (and she means me) “Just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean everyone has good taste.” Not all content should be published.
The newly formed content team should not be simply a team-based Publish button. If that team can’t say “no” or “yes, with modification”—even to the most senior people in the organization—then it’s not really responsible for content. It’s simply a dam to manage the flow. The group must be able to ask itself if any given piece of content serves the purpose or the mission. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get published. End of story.
For content to have strategic value, the business must acknowledge that not everyone is equipped to create or change it. When the company is deciding the strategic approach to a legal issue, for example, we don’t answer by saying, “Well, let’s see what the marketing team thinks about that.”
Our technical approach, the platforms we use, and certainly the content itself will change—a lot. But the people won’t change—at least not nearly as fast. Let’s design our content management approach to take advantage of that fact.
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About the Author
Robert is an author, a speaker, a consultant, and the Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute and a senior contributing consultant for Digital Clarity Group. He innovates creative and technical strategies for a wide variety of clientele, such as AT&T, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Petco, Caterpillar, ADP, Fairchild Semiconductor, and KPMG.Follow on Twitter More Content by Robert Rose