Content Strategy, and taming your CMS - the transcript to the slideshow


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A transcript of a presentation I gave at the Content Strategy London meet up on 16 Nov 2011.

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Content Strategy, and taming your CMS - the transcript to the slideshow

  1. 1. Content Strategy, content management tools - and the happy endingLet’s talk about three things: content management systems (CMS) and why they’re important to content strategists how to get a handle on what a CMS can or should do how to get the CMS you actually needSo let’s begin with a question: who owns your CMS right now? Who is responsiblefor deciding what goes into it, its usability, upkeep and the scope of what it shoulddo?SLIDE 1If the answer’s not you, the content strategist, then you are potentially damaging thesuccess of your own work. Why? Well: what is a CMS? It’s not just a place to storeyour content, it’s your delivery mechanism. It’s the big pipe down which all thecontent runs to the outside world. If content is delivered late, in the wrong format, inthe wrong language, on the wrong platform, that dilutes the success of your contentstrategy.In short, a CMS is not a tool that you work with to do your job, it’s a tool that worksfor you directly, and should answer to you. In human terms, a CMS is not a crankyco-worker in IT that you have to deal with, it’s a direct report that needs goals,objectives, training, reviews, and firing if it’s not up to scratch. It is the hardestworking, but dumbest member of your team and it needs watching.So, yes, first things first: the CMS is our problem.SLIDE 2This is the point where some folks get a bit nervous: what I hear is ‘I’m not a techy’.Well, neither am I. I started out in content as a copywriter and editor, and I don’t havea technical qualification to my name. And I don’t need one. The most important thingI learned in CMS strategy is to focus on the ‘what’ and leave the technical ‘how’ totechnologists. Most content strategists that I know have come into strategy fromproduction, editorship - and switching from fulfilling a brief to becoming the personthat writes is hard, but it’s when you know you’re truly a strategist.So: ready for ownership? Good. Let’s look at what that might look like.SLIDE3Everyone has their own methodology for strategy, so this example is based on mine. 1. What is the business trying to do (I do a lot of strategy with e-commerce!) 2. What content do you have to support that aim? What do you need?
  2. 2. 3. How is that content delivered? 4. Formulate strategy which includes delivery mechanisms 5. Implement strategy 6. Measure successIn short, understanding content delivery is as much a part of an audit as the contentitself. So if you’re going to write a strategy, get to know it, even if you have to do itthrough gritted teeth. I’ve been through this process a lot and this is how it goes:Day1 : spend day with editors going through system. Learn the publishing schedules.Day 2: talk to the devs who maintain the CMS, look at the error logs, outages, notewhat the issues are.Day 3/4: talk to the enterprise architect/solutions architect and understand where theCMS fits into the company’s technical ecosystem. Ask lots of nosy questions andnegotiate your way around the fragile ego of the SA.Days 5-10: play with the CMS, try to read as much of the documentation as I canbear, draw lots of diagrams, check with the SA that I’ve got it right.Last time I did this, I ended up with something like this: (slide4)As you can see, it’s not technical, it’s practical, and it gives me an understanding ofwhat goes on when those buttons get pressed in the CMS. It also highlights a fewtechnical things which really don’t support content.This diagram is my own first step to ownership of a CMS, and driving the technicaldirection of it. And by driving the technical direction, I don’t mean that you need tostart defining database structures or knowing the fine detail of denormalised data :start with a list of what you want to do, not how a system should operate. Once you have a strategy formulated, you may well need to make changes to the waycontent is stored, archived, tagged, delivered, etc. And that means writing that brief –remember, the ‘what’ brief, not the ‘how’ brief?This is the final part of my rant - a worked example of CMS ownership and how toget the CMS you need.SLIDE 5This slide is my own aide memoire – I used it recently for a project where we neededto increase Expedia affiliate sign ups amongst the Japanese technical community. Idiscovered we didn’t translate any of the documentation we have into Japanese, so thecontent strategy piece centred around identifying the right content, getting ittranslated, hosting it and updating it periodically.I needed the following: the documentation itself, its stakeholders, a process forgetting it updated in the future, and the tools with which to store and publish – the
  3. 3. CMS. Like I said, it’s a tool for delivery, and if it’s not working well, my content isgoing nowhere.In this case, digging into the CMS saved me a world of future pain. Using thisdocument and my strategy, I started a working group with all the people, and I askedto see both the docs and the CMS. I am suspicious that I’ve never heard of the CMS. Idig deeper: no, it’s not a CMS, it’s really a secure API hosting and tracking toolwhich happens to have a CMS module within it. Beware any CMS which is an add-on to another product: they’re rarely designed by people who know much about themand they’re rarely the right tool for the job. But anyway, back to what I saying...In this meeting, I talked to the technical manager – can this platform host thetranslated content? Umm, no. It doesn’t support double-byte character sets that youneed to display Asian languages. They didn’t think about that before they chose theCMS. Disappointing, but better now than before I start scoping, paying translators,no?So what now? Well, I now know that the one of the tools I need isn’t right for the job,and I also have a list of stuff that I need it to do. And this is how I’ve written it up: astop-level user stories for development.SLIDE 6This is in the language of business analysts and Agile development, but it’s also agood exercise to keep content people focussed on what they wanted to achieve. It alsoforms the basis for defining how the effects of any changes are going to be measured,so that it’s the content strategy that takes the credit for improvements.At this point, don’t make the mistake of trying to expand upon this and spec all of aCMS’s technical requirement – it’s not your job, unless you also have the technicalexpertise. Personally, I shall be talking to the CMS company and saying – this is whatwe want to do – now can you make us a tool that’ll do it? If they say yes, then it’s aquestion of how much? and how long will it take? and off we go on implementing theproject.If they say no, then it gets interesting. In most jobs I’ve ever worked, the contentmanagement system is there long before the content strategist arrives. And as it wasthere first, the reality is that you have to try using the tool you’ve got before you canmake a business case for why you need a different, better tool for the job.But if you ever find yourselves in the position of actually getting a shiny new system,think big. Look hard at your content strategy for the next 2-3 years, (and if you don’thave one past 12 months, take that one and assume you’ll do 50% the following year)and think really big about the people and the processes involved in executing thatstrategy, and see what jobs your system could do to make things faster, better, easier.Some of the key things that I think a content management system could handleinclude searching, finding, tracking, tagging, multi-platform publishing. We areincreasingly sharing content across the web in its many forms, and that means havingCMS flexible enough to cope with those ideas.
  4. 4. A few of words of caution though – keep your focus. You can build in some thingsthat you know you’ll use in 12 months’ time, but don’t ask for things ‘just in case’ orbecause ‘you never know’. If it’s not on the plan, and you can’t strategically justify it,it’s not needed.Remember a CMS is just a tool to support people and processes: all CMS have theirlimits. The CMS can’t solve internal politics, poor training, flawed process or lack ofstrategy. So always include it in your strategy and planning, but don’t assume thateven if it’s perfect, it’s going to do all the work for you.Be aware that other many see your CMS differently from you. These days it’s lesscommon that companies want a big, one-size-fits-all CMS. However, it does stillhappen, so be prepared to fight your corner with the solutions architect. They maywant an uber-system that can be used and reused within different parts of thecompany, but if what they’re proposing doesn’t meet your needs, dig your heels in.Keep pointing out that it’s not just data storage and file transfer – it’s a tool which issupporting you and your team to do your jobs properly.SLIDERight, I’m rapidly running out of time here, so in summary, my approach to contentmanagement tools within content strategy goes; 1. Own it, own it, own it. Accept that it’s your problem and that if you’re going to be really successful in content, your CMS needs someone to drive it. That’s you. 2. Know it. Understand how it works, how content flows from the system to screen. Make changes where needed. 3. Make it part of your team, and part of your strategy. If you can plan for changes that are needed, you stand a much better chance of getting them done successfully.So, thank you, brave people. I hope this has been helpful. If you want to talk further,give me your feedback, or you’re a glutton for punishment and want to see more ofmy system diagrams, tweet me @kate_kenyon.