There’s a great trope in adventure or thriller movies where the main character finally understands what’s going on.
They pull their perspective back and take in everything, and they realise they were just looking at some tiny corner of reality. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, for example, our intrepid hero is in a library looking for clues when he goes up to the balcony and can see a massive ‘X’ drawn on the floor.
Often, we don’t realise when our perspective is limited. We never step back to take in all the details.
It’s like this with digital content. We tend to get myopic around things like content modelling, editorial user interfaces, content aggregations, templating and such. These are the mechanical details that enable the management of content.
But all this assumes the content exists. Where does it start?
Think about the Seine River, in France. You’re probably thinking about the section where it flows past the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. But that’s just the part of the river that runs through Paris. The Seine is 432 miles long, and the waters start at a wellspring several hundred miles away in Dijon.
Likewise, when content floats through your content management system (CMS), it’s probably well into its life cycle. It originated in a different part of the organisational or logistical chain, so how well are you managing that process?
Step back. Enlarge your perspective. You’ll find that the entire life cycle of content is far larger than just what ends up in your CMS.
Content isn’t born when someone logs into the CMS and selects ‘new article’. Content is born when someone comes up with an idea, when they toss the idea over to a co-worker, and say, “What do you think about this?”
Back in 2006, I dubbed this process ‘the first 85 per cent’, meaning that what happens in a CMS is just the last 15 per cent of the process of creating content.
A few months ago, I threw together a list of all the things that had to happen for a piece of content to get published on a website. You start with an unexpressed need for content. The website has become a bit stale, and there’s no forum or platform, much less a schedule, to articulate this.
Finally, someone pronounces that we need some more or different content. Since there’s been no standing review of existing content, we first must figure out what’s out there. Then we need to review what our competitors are doing, dust off the analytics and figure out what’s worked in the past, and then schedule and re-schedule a meeting to discuss what content we should create.
Only then can we come up with some ideas in a mishmash of Word documents. Finally, we have someone write the content offline, email all that around for review, before finally logging into the CMS and starting to create the content.
Evidently, the process prior to logging into the CMS is an amorphous mass of dreams and wishful thinking. Most organisations don’t put a process around this. They think the creative process defies any attempt to manage it, and it’s something that happens by magic.
Additionally, in their heads, ideation, authoring and production are all the same things. They are not. Ideation is the process of coming up with ideas for content that will appeal to your audience. Authoring is putting those ideas into some narrative framework, whether that be an article, a script, or blocking out an infographic. Finally, production is turning that framework into an artefact which can be consumed, such as a web page, a social media update, an article in a publication or any other format.
When dealing with content, we think about production first. However, we should really back up to authoring and how to ensure our editors can easily collaborate on content. In fact, we should go back all the way to ideation – do we have a process to manage where content is born?
There is a genre of content technology that occupies this space: the content marketing platform. This is the tool your content team uses to generate the ideas that turn into content, that turn into artefacts, that turn into experiences, and that eventually turn into conversions and revenue.
This is where the content life cycle – a ‘river’ of repeatable content – starts. If you don’t take care of this end, the river will run dry.
Deane Barker is global director of content management at Optimizely
This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.