Content Management in Three Courses: Taste, Snack, and Meal

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The pursuit of technology, initially fueled by the mid-'90s popularization of the Internet, which then blazed white hot through the fall of 2001, is now smoldering. Gone is the mass insanity of e-enabling everything. We are sobering up, as it were, in a state of technology detox.

Many early adopters of cutting-edge content management (CM) technologies have discovered their annual cost to maintain these systems now exceeds their original, six- to seven-figure investment. They are also discovering that using more than the top 10% of the product features is extremely complex and expensive. None of these costs were part of original expectations or forecasts. The lesson we're learning is content management technologies that are not flexible or open create a dead-weight, a disabling handicap, and create a liability rather than leverage.

This article will speak to the fundamental need for the application of content management technologies to improve communications, initiate and sustain relationships, and assist individuals and groups to leverage their performance of tasks. I'll address CM from the perspective of how it should add value to three categories of people:

  • Content contributors-those responsible for creating/acquiring content
  • Content consumers-those consuming content from the site
  • Content managers-those managing the content and CM technologies

Once a business objective is clearly formulated, it's important for the content management strategy to help each of these categories of people smoothly perform their tasks.

What Is Content Management?
Content management is the strategic application of technology, content, and people resources to leverage business processes and create competitive advantage. Content management should map directly into enabling key business objectives, rather than be applied just because it's "possible" to Web-enable just about anything.

Content management strategies including best-practice customer service knowledgebases, online training, collaborative customer service rep interactions, and a CRM portal may well be appropriate CM strategies to support the business objectives. CM strategies encompass more than pure Web technologies, since they recognize the need to integrate with legacy communication and computing platforms.

Implementing content management generates "change management" and stresses the cultural fabric of the company and its customers. Readers should not underestimate the workflow challenges that ensue.

WHO GAINS LEVERAGE FROM CONTENT MANAGEMENT?

Content Contributors & Content Management
Everyone agrees that regularly refreshed, high-quality content is important to retaining Web consumers. If "Content is King," a CM strategy must address the process of content creation and provide the framework for sound editorial processes. A just-in-time publishing approach to content creation places emphasis on immediate publishing. This may be useful and warranted, particularly when the author is isolated or his or her work stands alone. Much content, however, is a group creation and deserves approval processes and editorial controls.

Unstructured Document Creation
A strong business case can be made for formalizing and systemizing the content creation process. Nationally published magazines have all developed strict editorial controls that staff religiously adhere to while creating their print publications. Web content creation deserves editorial controls, even if most authors and editors have never received any exposure to editorial control disciplines. Discipline is perhaps key here, so until a Web authoring/publishing group has gone through the pain and expense of losing control due to not being able to manage versioning of its documents, it may be reluctant to accept the yolk of discipline. EDMS (electronic document management systems) provides key CM library services and provides editorial control functionality. It also imposes discipline and structure. Features include:

  • Secure vault. Access requires log-in and access controls determine your rights to view or to modify a document.
  • Check-in/check-out. If you check out a document, you can set a rule so that others may not use it while it's being modified.
  • Version control. Prior versions of the document are kept to show history, and to allow authors to "roll-back" to earlier versions.

A few EDMS vendors add functionality to support workflow/ routing rules. These CM features can be extremely important in documents that require numerous approvals before being released for distribution. Routing and workflow modules allow you to set a parallel, sequential, or hybrid approval process. These modules may auto-generate email throughout the approval process, or they may generate actions (or late notices) into participant Web "in-boxes."

An even smaller number of EDMS vendors offer collaborative functionality. This type of functionality is particularly useful for documents which must be processed through a peer-review process. 

Maintaining persistence of content is addressed by document lifecycle management, including document retention and document destruction/retirement. Few EDMS systems provide support for records management. 

EDMS products have both a server license fee and a client (per contributor) license fee. License fees can range as high as $500 per contributor, making EDMS costly for large workgroups. A few EDMS vendors are experimenting with "Internet licenses," whereby a pool of client licenses may be temporarily assigned to contributors for a brief duration, then reassigned to another contributor. 

Content Consumption
Consumer Web site loyalty can be generated through excellent content, but only if the content is optimized for the Web consumer. One of my clients recently introduced me to the concept of merchandising and publishing content via an interesting "taste-snack-meal" metaphor: 

  • The "taste"-a well-written title, perhaps with an abstract
  • The "snack"-more detail, perhaps an executive summary, or full text to a brief article 

The "meal" is a portal site, aggregating key content that would include the primary content the consumer needed, related premium content, access to other consumer comments, recommendations, and invitations to participate in subject-specific communities of interest.

The depth of content and the proper use of hypertext publishing (through the taste-snack-meal "chunking") lets you satisfy the consumer with a big appetite. All of a sudden, consumers see your site providing the whole enchilada plus a 100% agave lime margarita.

Limited browser real-estate and shortened consumer attention spans challenge all Web development teams and their content management tools and systems. I've created some ideas by redesigning Wine.com using the taste-snack-meal approach.

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