Content Changes. Strategic Content Management Doesn’t.

Now I know that title is a little over the top, and it assumes that we have a successful management program in place to begin with. Allow me to explain.

I spoke at an event at Michigan State University. It was a wonderful event, focused on how they could take their new brand to the next level through the strategic use of content. One of the delegates came up to me and told a story that I’ve heard often within the university setting. He said, “Our biggest challenge is that we have so many different constituencies within the University – all with different ideas and goals.” Now, you might argue that universities have a bit of a special monopoly on the politics and silos thing, but this is something I see constantly with enterprises of all kinds. I responded, “Yeah, this content thing would be easy if it weren’t for all those pesky people in our way.”

But this is the point. In most instances we don’t get to pick the people we work with or determine whether they are in the right jobs or can even string a sentence together. In most cases, as practitioners, we have to make our content strategy with the team we have.

As Peter Drucker said years ago, “We’re not going to breed a new race of supermen. We will have to run our organizations with people as they are.” This is an important point. The environment in which we operate, the new technologies, the platforms, the content .. all of that is changing and will continue to change at an unprecedented pace. Human nature? Not so quickly.

Content strategy and content management, while facilitated by technology, are, fundamentally, human processes. This means that as we put together our strategies, our stories, our technology for managing all our content – and the means to optimize based on our measurement of it – we should do so in the context of a foundation for managing a much slower human capacity for change. 

Here are two themes that I find productive in designing such systems:

  1. Design content strategies for human strengths. We need dispassionate design of models that optimize our strengths and make the weaknesses as meaningless as possible. We have to design models and processes not on the basis of “how things have always been done” but rather to optimize the strengths that we have as a team and an organization. For example, why are we using an agency for our coolest, most innovative program while our best and brightest team members are working on the dull, declining website duty? If the answer is “Because that’s the way it is,” it’s time to design a new system.
  2. Flat organizational content contribution is overrated. It’s nice that everyone has an interest in creating content, but, as my wife will tell you, “Just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean everyone has good taste.” Not all content should be published.  The newly formed content team should not be simply a team-based Publish button. If that team can’t say “no” or “yes, with modification” – even to the most senior people in the organization – then it’s not really responsible for content. It’s simply a dam to manage the flow. The group must be able to ask itself if any given piece of content serves the purpose or the mission. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get published. End of story.

For content to have strategic value, the business must acknowledge that not everyone is equipped to create or change it. When the company is deciding the strategic approach to a legal issue, for example, we don’t answer by saying, “Well, let’s see what the marketing team thinks about that.”

Our technical approach, the platforms we use, and certainly the content itself will change – a lot. But the people won’t change, at least not nearly as fast. Let’s design our content management approach to take advantage of that fact.


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