Content Strategists: A Call to Action

content strategists uniteWhen I attended the recent Virtual Conference by the STC, I was left thinking, “Geez, we Content Strategists keep talking to technical communicators and budding content strategists about making sure we deliver the right content to the right people on the device of their choice (and that’s great)—but are we talking to the right people?”

Don’t misunderstand me. Yes, of course we need to keep the education flowing to technical communicators. As with any career, constant improvement through learning and sharing makes us all better at clearly communicating our content. However, it occurred to me that we’re preaching to the converted. Of course technical writers want to implement content strategy: it makes for better, happier users and that’s what it’s all about.

The Problem: Waste and Chaos in Badly Managed Content

The problem is that, outside of the technical communication choir, few CEOs understand and leverage the value of the enterprise content (roughly defined as all content that any employee creates while performing their jobs). They are oblivious to the huge waste of time and money that is the result of badly managed content.

As consultants, we go through the same process of explaining the benefits, building the use case, showing the metrics, and explaining the rationale of leveraging content with each new client. As employees, we spend long hours trying to convince upper management that investing in content strategy makes good business sense.

We’re trying to boil the sea one teaspoon at a time. Content strategists are being ridiculously inefficient at introducing change into the corporate mentality and getting the corporate mindset to evolve past the “PDFs are good” level of understanding.

Maybe, instead of teaching content strategy only to technical communicators, we need to tackle the problem from the other end as well.

The Solution: Unified Approach to Information Management

What we need to do is raise the visibility of content strategy and information management so that the lack of a unified strategy is a gap that CEOs, COOs, and CIOs notice. We want them to turn to their VPs and say, “Hey, are we managing our content efficiently? Why the hell not?”.

Let’s stop complaining about the plight of the ignored technical communicator, grab the reins of information management, and whip these companies into shape.

I’m not just talking about user-facing content, although that is a huge part of what needs top-down impetus to evolve. We need organizations to tackle their internal content as well. Let’s get SharePoint under control (instead of the mess it always becomes); let’s ban documents as attachments in emails (or all emails!) that simply create copies of documents instead of maintaining the integrity of a single source; let’s make sure Support teams can find the right answers with the right tools in minimal time. Oh, and please, let’s connect all this information together and break down the silos forever. This content chaos is an enterprise-wide problem,  a fact which we  seem to keep ignoring —or are unwilling to tackle.

The best practices in external-facing documentation of enhancing findability, applying single sourcing methodology, and improving access and usability don’t apply solely to user documentation, they apply to all content and all information assets that the company has amassed and continues to churn out on a daily basis. In short…companies, your content is a mess; let’s fix it.

The Proposal: Content Strategists Unite to Tame the Chaos

Content strategists, it’s time to unite. Consultant or full-time employee, newbies or veterans, we need to get together and address the problem at the source.

We need to plan, strategize, and reach the right audience with our message of a unified content strategy. This is what we do every day, so let’s start doing it right.  Share best practices, establish standards, encourage continuous improvement, and recognize successful efforts.

The popularity of SharePoint has opened a huge door for us—bad implementations everywhere prove that the tool is not a solution, it’s part of a strategy. Misuse the tool or have a tool without a sound strategy and you get information chaos. Let’s stop the information chaos. We are perfectly poised to take firm control over all content, all processes, all information management issues that plague corporations around the world. Let’s raise technical communicators into the role they should have taken all along: unified content strategists.

Who’s with me?

We want to hear your thoughts, feel free to respond with a comment here, or post to the TechWhirl email discussion list.

gerry cavander

11 years ago

A good call I think. And all the same applies to the system diagrams, screen shots, user guide videos and other pictures and photos used within documentation – both presale and post-sale. Getting these together can be a time-consuming hassle if they are distributed all around your organisation or you need to get busy web developers involved to find a suitable image, make available on a URL, in the right size etc. The number of files is becoming too great to be able to find stuff reliably. It’s too painful to be going to the studio or web dev team every-time you want the right visual material to illustrate a piece of documentation. And most Content Management Systems don’t play the role of image library very well – associating versions of images with versions of product for example.

But some media library software (DAM / MAM etc. ) can make this pretty easy. If you maintain all your photos, pics and videos in an online library you can tag them with appropriate keywords and captions to make them easy to find, by all interested teams (support, tech doc, sales etc.) Using workflow tools provided with the library, you can resize them or select predefined sizes and make them available on a web link which can then be inserted into a web page, Help page, support email or intranet – without the need to involve web experts. Perfect for taking an approved asset and re-using it in lots of different pages in different sizes. And having the whole range of your assets clearly browse-able and searchable at your fingertips can be a big help in itself. Easy-to-find pictures, easy-to-publish on the web, easy to keep up-to-date. You can also integrate a “Get Image from Library” button into your CMS. Like this:

If you not using such a system, you should consider the ease and speed they can give you and the potential savings – some users quote as much as 70% saving in production costs for typical projects.

Gerry Cavander

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