Our latest webinar, “Don’t Overlook Governance! Understanding The Need For Control In A Web Content Strategy” was a discussion between Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler and Kristina Halvorson, founder of Brain Traffic and author of “Content Strategy for the Web”. The two discussed governance – what it is, what it isn’t, and why we need it – and explored how organizations can build adequate controls into their content strategy.
The webinar was an action-packed 60 minutes! The recording and Q&A (by Scott and Kristina) are now available below. Enjoy!
How should a content strategy team best win support of management/execs re: clear ownership of content decisions — INCLUDING prominence and placement of content, as well as the actual “what”?
Kristina: I think the main thing that is missing here is a common language and vocabulary. It’s important to have alignment not only between the terms used, but also the way in which individuals in an enterprise will meet organizational goals. The first thing to do is to develop alignment with others by realizing that it’s not us versus them. It’s a team made up of humans who may indeed disagree with you or be unable to see your way of thinking at this time. That’s not an abnormal situation. It’s your job to navigate it. To do so successfully, it’s critical to have conversations with everyone and listen to their frustrations. Make sure they know you hear them. Try to understand where they are coming from and what the real issues are from their perspective. Try to make some friends and allies. They don’t have to agree totally with you about the way to get there, just on a common set of goals.
Through those conversations you will begin to understand everyone’s unique perspective. Use what you learn and leverage your relationships to get started going on the same page. It’s easier to be on the same page when you have people who can relate to you and aren’t seen as enemies or opponents of some sort.
Almost all content strategy problems are people problems.
Can you give some concrete examples of governance?
Kristina: Yes. Read Lisa Welchman’s work on web governance. Start with “Web Governance: A Definition”
Here’s a tidbit:
Web Governance is the authoritative administrative structures that set policy and standards for Web product management. It includes:
- the implementation of a Web Governance Framework;
- the establishment of Web Policy;
- and the codification, implementation, and enforcement of Web Standards.
I understand the need for strategy, control, and governance, in general. On the other hand, much of web content is user-generated. How do you strike a balance between the two different pulls?
Kristina: That depends if the content being created by users is on one of your properties, or whether it is being generated by users-outside of your domain, your sphere of inlfuence. If the content is on your servers or properties within your control, then it’s about putting in place people and resources to guide the creation, management and delivery of social content. You not only need a plan and some rules, you need people to guide the creators of content, to help them understand what your polices are and to enforce the rules when people don’t follow them. You should likely have policies in place for both content created by your organization no matter where the content will end up — on your site, or on a blog, newsletter, social network, etc.
You’ll also need to understand that those rules will change and the list of ways people will share content socially will likely grow over time. The end goal isn’t so much about being in control of user-generated content as much as it is about crafting user experiences to attract and maintain the audiences you want. Help your staff use the social web to help you those goals. While there is much to be concerned about in the socially-enabled world we live in, there are many opportunities.
On the other hand, content that is created by users outside of your servers and properties you control is not subject to your rules. As you aren’t in control, you’ll need to learn to listen to what is being said and react to what is being created by users with a goal of identifying information of value. You may be able to use what you overhear on the social web for competitive intelligence gathering. You may also learn about problems with your products and services and be able to make improvements that fix those things. But, you will also likely find useful, thoughtfully-created, user-generated content that may support your organizational goals. In these cases, you’ll need to ensure your strategy includes curating user generated content that supports your editorial viewpoint. If you can find content that helps you to better shape your “story”, curate it and present it to your audience. Of course, when you take something and reuse it verbatim, make sure you have permission to reuse it, that it comes from a reputable source, and that is supports your mission.
I’ve heard about some governance systems that can review content to ensure that it meets your standards. Do you have any opinions about those, or any experience with them?
Scott: I mentioned Acrolinx, a tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. First, it can be used to crawl legacy content and identify problems with it so you can correct them. Second, it can be employed to guide authors creating content today and help them avoid breaking any content rules (branding, style, corporate, writing) and manage terminology (ensure they use the right words — not words that are jargon, confusing, easy to mistranslate, or that have caused, or are likely to cause, legal problems). The tool does not enforce, but guides the authors. It plugs in to various authoring tools (Word, FrameMaker, XMetaL, Arbortext, Oxygen, even PowerPoint…and others) and uses a stop light metaphor (green means content is free of errors, yellow some minor errors, red — bigger problems exist) that guide the authors toward avoiding the problems you’d like to avoid and suggest alternatives.
While it does not stop authors from over-riding the system when they want to, but it can be programmed to alert a manager or editor that an over-ride has occurred. This provides you with governance capabilities that are not possible without assistance from software. It also helps you spot places in your process for improvement. For instance, if authors keep breaking a specific rule, perhaps it’s because the rule needs to be changed.
Additionally, you can use the tool to “listen” to the words people are using on your site and others (including social networks) so you can compare the words you use to describe your products and service with those used by others. In addition to learning what people think about your offerings, you can learn whether you are optimizing your content to be found by search engines. Creating high quality, metadata-rich content is good, but if you’re not using the same words used by those searching for what you offer, you lose.
Ask for a demonstration. Tell them The Content Wrangler sent you! firstname.lastname@example.org
A hurdle I see in large organizations is financial. Being in a technical position it is difficult to stress the importance to invest money to not only develop an initial web strategy, but also to sustain it by dedicating personnel resources. Do you have any suggestions on how to deliver the message of how important a content committee to invest in?
Kristina: You have to identify clearly what is keeping management up at night. Then you have to relate the improvements you would like to make to those pain points. What is your upper management fearful of? What are they saying are the most important things they plan to focus on for the coming year or two? What is the overarching message in your annual report? What are media and industry analysts saying? Once you figure out what management cares about (not what you think they care about, but what you know they are tracking and paying attention to), use it to make your business case.
You must connect what you want to happen to what they want to happen to gain top level support and ensure that your projects will be approved and funded above others. You’re competing against other initiatives in your company. If management doesn’t know how a strategy can help them overcome their challenges, and prepare them in positive ways for the future, it’s going to be your job to communicate to them in a language they’ll understand. That may mean using metrics and other evidence to make your case.
Start by identifying small areas of inefficiencies that would allow them to save money or better leverage resources. Maybe add in some risk reduction factors. Look at search analytics and identify the things people are searching for. Show them that you aren’t creating content that meet those users needs. There are many things you could measure and suggest how your ideas would improve them and how they support organizational goals.
You need to concretely demonstrate what is hurting the organization. Then you have to show them specifically what they (and you) can do to overcome those challenges. You cannot run in and say, “We need a content strategy!” and expect to get any traction. It almost never works that way.
It almost sounds like it is all about a bad word for this – the word “Governance” is scary, not the actual process. This is a common problem with a lot of things – Knowledge Management failed because people were afraid of having knowledge “managed”. But the result was that their knowledge and contributions weren’t exploited by the company, that did stupid things instead. Can we think of a different word than “Governance” for this sort of stuff?
Kristina: Synonyms are good, but just as scary. Of course, what is scary to one organization is a business driver for another. For instance, highly-regulated industries fear non-compliance and unnecessary risk. Organizations with deep pockets — and products that can hurt people or damage them in some way — are afraid of legal action. The driver for fear, and how an organization reacts to it, well, depends on your industry, your leadership, your corporate culture, and the individual fears of those who work there. These things may involve fear of being replaced if the content strategy helps eliminate unnecessary tasks that are currently performed by humans.
A good place to start is to talk instead about standards, consistency, and common framework for content creation, management and delivery. You can position your message as helping the organization develop and put in place guidelines to help you better communicate with your customers, reuse content over time, ensure compliance with your stated goals.
Warning: Worse than governance are “rules” and “control”. It’s what the end goal is, but they are scary words as well. Keep in mind, for balance, the synonym for “management” is “control”. So, there’s no way of avoiding the end goal. It’s how you spell it out and make it attractive to others that matters.
This kind of job really sounds like it belongs with an editor, since editors are standards experts.
Kristina: Content strategists come from all walks of like and experiences. They sometimes come from writing and editing, other times from IT or software, or marketing, advertising or public relations. They may be skilled in experience design, process re-engineering or change management. Although editors may indeed aim to work with and become experts at working with standards, content strategy is not their exclusive turf.
I’m a community manager and I’ve recently recreated a social media response protocol to help us guide the message coming from all our employees. Any tips to gain employee compliance to a communication protocol/policy?
Kristina: As I mentioned in an answer to an earlier question, talk to them. Get to know them. Your job, as Scott Abel says, is to “manipulate humans”. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s helping those who work for your organization find a common understanding, work as a team toward a common goal, and do so in the most efficient and effective ways possible. It’s “Psychology 101”.
When I hear the way Kristina talks about governance and consistency, I can’t help but think about publication of data as well; if information is being published e.g., in RDFa, Microdata, or Microformats, third parties will be able to access the information much more systematically, potentially exposing failures in consistency of the information. How do you see the relationship between content governance and open data publication like the (sort of) recent Google/Yahoo/Bing Microdata announcement?
Scott: Standards are important to the exchange of content between individuals. But, they are critical to enabling the automated processing and exchange of information between machines (think: computers). When content is encoded in a standard like XML, or an instance of it like a corporate schema, or DITA or DocBook, it carries with it in its standardized structure additional metadata that allow us to create rules that processing engines (computers) can enforce. We can then do extremely useful things like provide context-specific, location-aware content services to people on mobile devices, for instance. When these standards are not adhered to, things break. The experience suffers or fails altogether. So, standards and governance are related and are needed in order to do things like you describe. But, the process of adopting a governance plan as part of your content strategy is less about the standards and more about the manner in which you will ensure compliance with the specific ways your organization plans to use its money and resources to accomplish their goals.
Suggested reading: “Document Engineering: Analyzing and Designing Documents for Business Informatics and Web Services” by Robert Glushko and Tim McGrath > http://bit.ly/k73ua
I disagree with her definition of a style guide–that’s not how they’re created these days (and not how I create mine). Style guides are now online, searchable, and far more useful.
I’m anxious to learn more about Style Guides – is info available in Kristina’s book?
Scott: Yes, there are a few tibits of information in Kristina’s book, “Content Strategy for the Web”. She also wrote a nice piece on style guides entitled “Web Content Style Guides That Don’t Suck”.
Searching style guides is not optimal. First, because you have to know that there may be a rule being potentially violated (which means you have to have all the rules memorized) and then you have to go try and find the rule (we can’t find content we know exists and spend lots of time searching for it). This approach is not optimal, it’s inefficient and a waste of corporate resources. It’s much better to encode the rules into the authoring environment and let the tool do the preventative work by guiding the author and making suggestions for improving the content when the author violates a rule. Allowing the author the flexibility to violate the rule is what these tools provide to prevent bottlenecks, but they also monitor and report to management when rules are being intentionally overridden. This is the way organizations that value their content as a business asset manage the content creators and enforce their content production policies.
Governance in CS has reminded me of Jared Spool’s talk on the five kinds of design decisions, and specifically his assertion that activity-focused and experience-focused design are only possible from in-house teams. Any thoughts on that?
Kristina: In-house teams provides subject matter expertise, but you may not have the right skill sets and other resources to get a governance (or content strategy) project off the ground. So, it’s best to have a view from outside to provide the experience and different world view, someone to challenge your assumptions and help you stay honest.
Kristina just mentioned search engines–can she talk more about the importance of a quality search engine…and best ways to get it? Without that it seems you can’t actually manage your content!
Kristina: It depends on internal resources. Worry less about the search engine and more about the keywords in the content, how it’s structured, and whether it’s valuable to end users or not. Search engines use this information to determine relevance. After you’ve got your content in order, then you can shop for a search engine. Tricking search engines is easy. Providing valuable content to those who find your through search is the real challenge.
How can a community manager and a content manager or strategist survive together?
Kristina: It’s done all the time. It’s about acting like adults and developing human relationships that are respectful of one another and your differences. The art of developing relationships that work is in finding a way to develop a common understanding of the goals and finding a way to work together as a team to get there. It’s not an us versus them situation. If it is where you work, find a way to change that.
Can you automate the bitch-slip aspect of governance? Or is it a human process? In that case, what is the best way to manage that?
Kristina: No, you cannot automate the bitch-slap functionality, although I know Scott says he wishes he could.
Scott: Oh, how I wish this were the case. LOL No, seriously, with tools like Acrolinx, you can guide authors away from making errors and report back to management when people deviate. This type of automated authoring assistance may result from governance plans based on a content strategy in which efficient and effective content production processes are central to its success. XML editors can help enforce the structure of the content being created, much like a form can enforce which fields a user must complete in order to submit form data. This type of control may also be necessary. If the XML content is not valid (or the form data incomplete) the user is not allowed to move forward.
To govern your content, it will take humans and machines (software, hardware, etc.)
Bitch-slapping, on the other hand…
What’s the best place to learn effective change management?
Kristina: One good resource is the article by Jonathan Kahn entitled “Web Governance: Becoming An Agent of Change”.
Interested in attending our next webinar?
Tune in with Scott Abel and Alan Houser Wednesday, September 21, 2011 in “The Power of Many: The STC in the Age of Social Media”. Sign up Now!