People spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to create, find, share, update, and otherwise manage their content. Looking through emails, searching through folders, browsing through intranets—Do you find the content quickly? Is it the right content for what you need? Do you trust that it’s correct and up to date? If it were no longer correct, would you know?
Now multiply that by the number of people in your organization. Scary isn’t it? Even if you don’t work with the latest and greatest tools, you can follow some basic tenets to manage your content efficiently and effectively. The goal is to minimize the time you spend trying to find, re-create, and otherwise manage your content so you can maximize the time you spend writing quality content (or planning world domination, whichever you most need to do).
- Content: Any information that is shared (or should be shared) between two or more people. This includes anything from an instructional video to the minutes you take in meetings to the employee handbook. And it includes all formats.
- Reuse: Using the same content for multiple purposes. Example: Your project plan can be expressed as a Gantt chart, a pie chart, a progress report, or a to-do list.
- Content lifecycle: Every piece of content goes through a lifecycle, from creation to some sort of final resting place (or complete destruction). Understanding the phases of the cycles and implementing (and enforcing) processes around the lifecycles keeps content well managed.
About 99% of us unthinkingly partake in some of the worst content management errors every day. It’s not our fault—we simply weren’t taught to manage our content efficiently, much less make it habit. Worse, the tools we use everyday promote inefficiency. Working in the cloud (and the tools that accompany that practice) has actually jump-started efficiency in content management, but there’s still a long way to go.
Mistake 1: Email Attachments … Over and Over Again
Whether you need to share content or send it for review, emailing attachments creates copies and copies–and that means you have lost control over the content. With the popularization of the cloud, there are about a zillion ways to share content without emailing copies of files, from Google Docs to DropBox, and tons of other apps of varying popularity. Pick the one that meets your needs. If you have an ECMS or CCMS, then you want to send the location of the document, not the document itself.
Example: One of the biggest wastes of time is sending out a document for review. Unless you send it out sequentially, one reviewer at a time (which creates huge inefficiencies and headaches of its own), the reviewers don’t see each other’s comments, thus each reviewer wastes time reiterating the same change. Enabling a dialog between reviewers in the document can be an extremely useful exercise, both for the author and the reviewers. When the author receives comments back from everyone, he/she has to go through many versions of the document. Instead, apply the theory of collaborative review, where everyone works on the same object instead of copies of that object. Review times can be massively decreased while simultaneously improving the quality of the review itself.
Mistake 2: Keep the Dusty Old Content Around
It’s all about trust. That policy document from 2009 probably doesn’t tell you whether it’s still permissible to handle a personnel situation the way you were considering. If content is left without being actively updated to be current or otherwise archived or deleted, then it becomes out of date, posing risks to your company that are completely unnecessary. If some content in an intranet, CMS, or shared file system is out of date, then your people won’t be able to trust any content at all on the system. It all becomes suspect. Even more so if the auditors show up to check on things. Having processes around maintaining or removing content allows people to trust the content they find.
Mistake 3: Profligate Creationism
It’s a habit. We have something to create, we go off and start creating.We never think about the possibility that someone created the same thing last month. Or last year. So now three or a dozen geniuses throughout your company have posted the same worthwhile content in different places, with different names. Which is the one that has been officially vetted? Which one has the most relevant information? Once your content is trustworthy, then everyone’s new habit should be search first, then create if you can’t re-use.
Some Tips for Working More Efficiently
There are some key things you can do to manage your information more efficiently.
- The biggest and best change to make is your mindset: Treat every piece of content as an information asset, worthy of being managed properly.
- Get cloudy: Use the cloud to share messages and documents, collaborate on content creation and content reviews.
- Keep robust versioning: You can roll back to an older version (which can be really important) but you’ll also keep a history of what changed, by whom, and on what date. That history can be vital to creating and maintaining trustworthy information. It also means that you can automate reminders to update content that hasn’t been touched in a while.
- Keep track: Always mark the status of your content and review that status periodically (think scheduled status reviews!).
- Put your garbage out: Delete or archive anything no longer used, relevant, or correct.
- Use Email for notifications only: Emails should be used only as alerts (and for people who have no other way to contact you). Set up alerts and notifications so you know when something is updated, when a comment is received, or when an action is needed. Team communication can and should be done using better tools. And many, like Slack, cost nothing to use.
As your company’s tools and processes mature, effective management of content opens up new possibilities for efficient, responsible, and smart content lifecycles. The first step to getting there is recognizing the basic problem and building new and simple habits to overcome them.