Importance of Content Strategy in an Increasingly Mobile World: TechWhirl Fast 5 Interview with Ann Rockley

The “mother” of content strategy, Ann Rockley, will give the closing talk to attendees at the LavaCon Conference 2012, encouraging the technical communication and content strategy fields to develop strategies that can “future proof” content.

Ann Rockley, President of the Rockley Group, and known in the technical communication world as the “mother” of content strategy, recently took a little time from her busy schedule to participate in a written version of the TechWhirl Fast 5 Chat. Ann introduced the concept of content strategy with her best-selling book, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, now in its second edition, and she consults with organizations on multi-channel content strategies and digital publishing solutions.

1.      How do companies determine the right content, the right format and the right device for their consumers?

Companies should begin with customer analysis. Talk to them, use focus groups, conduct a survey ask them what they need. However, keep in mind that customers often tell you what they want, but not necessarily what they need. Talk to your customer support team, and sales and marketing to find out what customers are asking for.

The growing proliferation of devices can be overwhelming. If you try to prepare your content to publish to each device individually, you will fight a losing battle. But if you prepare your content to adapt to multiple device requirements automatically, you can meet current and future needs.  Preparing your content using structured XML makes it possible to easily convert the content to a variety of different delivery standards and devices. This is what I mean by “future-proofing” your content.

2.      What are the challenges facing companies who don’t use a content management system?

Not every company needs content management, but if you develop a lot of different content, by multiple authors, and develop modular reusable content, working without a content management system is very difficult. Challenges include:

  • Finding and retrieving all the modules of content.
  • Ensuring that authors are using the most current and approved content.
  • Determining  what version of the content was used in a particular release.
  • Tracking reuse (where was content reused, how was it reused, and by whom, what is the percentage of reuse)
  • Controlling who can and cannot change existing content.
  • Building translation packages.
  • Managing translation.

3.      Why do you think content management is so hard for so many companies; what would you recommend to them to help them get started?

Two main issues make content management hard:  the first is price, and the second is process.

Budgets are always tight, and companies are unwilling to spend money unless they have a clear understanding of what it will cost and the benefits that will result. Technical communicators are often unfamiliar with how to build a good business case. For most companies the business case exists, but it can be difficult to identify the cost of all the pain points the organization is experiencing, to determine the value of the benefits, and to ensure that the benefits match the corporate goals and expectations. Once a business case is developed, it then requires selling the business case to management. Often these tasks are entirely new for technical communicators [editor’s note: LavaCon attendees can learn the basics of building winning business cases at one of the two sessions TechWhirl’s Al Martine and Connie Giordano will present].

The second issue is process. It is not enough to get a content management system and put your content into it. You need to analyze your content, determine how it can be improved, develop a content strategy, re-engineer your content, and define new processes for creating, managing, and developing content. This takes time and resources, something that companies are not always willing to provide.

We have an ROI calculator on our website that will help identify the key factors we usually use to determine ROI for a content management system and our book, “Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy” has a lot of information about developing a content strategy and understanding content management. I also recommend “Content Strategy 101”, the new book by Scriptorium’s Sarah O’Keefe,  , and the “Content Management Bible” by Bob Boiko.

4.      With the advent of EPUB3 and the continuing explosion in mobile device types, can you give us your top tips for converting a printed book into an ebook?

EPUB3 is designed to produce eBooks that adapt to multiple devices (in terms of screen sizes and operating systems, etc). However, what it doesn’t do is help you understand some of the problematic aspects of content presented on an eBook. For example, tables are highly problematic because they don’t wrap well on different devices, and if they are very big, they become a nightmare. We are just finishing a book “eBooks 101” that walks through some of these issues to help people think through different ways of presenting their content.

In addition, people should stop worrying about converting their print books into eBooks. Obviously, if they already have “books” they need to convert them, but I recommend that if they are creating new content for both print and eBooks, they should consider creating content separate from format with both eBooks and print in mind.

To learn more about eBooks, take a look at Digital Book World, Publishing Business,, and Publishing Perspectives for information on eBook publishing. While all these sites tend to relate to “traditional publishers” who publish and sell books and textbooks, you can learn a lot.


5.      Implementing a new content management system can be difficult, how do you empower employees to embrace a new content strategy?

Education is key. Help employees to understand what is involved in a content strategy and have them actually work together to develop the content strategy. When developing the content strategy, talk to authors to understand the challenges that they face so that understand how the content strategy will help them and their customers.

Bonus: In 1995 you established The Rockley Group. What has changed the most in technical communications since you started, and how do you keep abreast of the developments within the information community?

A lot has happened since then! A couple of the biggest changes include:

  • Move from traditional word-processing and desktop publishing to modular reusable content.
  • Using standards like DITA.
  • Move to new methods of delivery such as Web, wikis, eBooks, and now mobile.

TechWhirl Fast Five Widget BannerTechnical communicators should definitely belong to a community such as TechWhirl and professional groups such as the Society for Technical Communication, and they subscribe to the blogs of pros like Scott Abel,  Scriptorium, Noz Urbina of Mekon, @nozurbina and of course The Rockley Group.

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