Stop managing your website

At the end of the day, these technologies will hopefully push companies toward better, more user-focused content

When US-based content strategist Hilary Marsh made this comment during her visit to Aarhus in November for the annual J. Boye conference, it resonated really well with me. Both in terms of new technologies like artificial intelligence and chatbots, but also in the context of the decade-old role of web content management systems.

Still, to be honest, most companies have cared less about their content, and much more about their website in recent years. They’ve deployed systems designed to manage content, and tried to tweak them into website management systems, at times even coupled with an attempt to magically manage the entire customer experience. Clearly, this is not working out.

Stuck in a mindset of managing websites?

How did we get here? 2018 marks my 20th year working with digital and what continues to amaze me is the ever increasing scope that we try to cover.

First, it was about managing chaos which basically meant moving traditional old Microsoft Word files online. Web sites were little more than digital brochures and consisted of pages.

Later we moved onwards to managing websites with increasing elements of interactivity, like filling out a form or displaying a dynamic page with recent news. Wauv.

Onwards and the focus shifted for some to managing experiences, multiple devices, mobile-first and digital transformation and here we are. Today with 2018 knocking on the door and with AI-devices like Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home arriving in households around the world, the game is changing one more time.

In my job, I see too many who remain stuck in the mindset of managing websites. Some also overinvest in technology to try to manage (digital) experiences, only to find out that at the end of the day, what Hilary Marsh said is exactly spot on: We need better content and the content needs to be managed. Without good content, our efforts fail us and ultimately our customers go somewhere else.

Adaptable and intelligent content

The good people at the Content Marketing Institute have shared two excellent articles which illustrate the importance of content, how to work with it and how to create the right mindset:

Both are several years old and cover important progress in how to think about content and work with it.

First, adaptive content is content that can, at each instance of use, change (adapt) – not just in appearance but in substance – based on a number of factors. In other words and to cut a long story short: Imagine content that makes customers love your brand.

Second, the term intelligent content is not just another buzzword. The term’s widely accepted definition was developed by Ann Rockley years ago:

Intelligent content is content that’s structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.

To bring this back to managing websites vs. content, I’ll quote Karol Jarkovsky, VP Product at Kentico Software:

Unless you switch your mindset to managing content rather than websites, you will have a very hard time adapting to the new and emerging channels that have arrived this year.

The content landscape is increasingly crowded and customers are naturally gravitating towards more interactive channels like chatbots and various voice-enabled home assistants like Google Home or Amazon Alexa

Here’s to a 2018, where you focus more on managing your content!

Beware of content related risks

King Content has firmly held the throne ever since he was crowned. However, many tend to forget that he is the sovereign when it comes to producing actual content. Jake DiMare, Head of Digital Strategy at LA-based Luminos Labs, has been building websites for the past almost 20 years, and he wishes that more people were aware of the simple fact that content matters.

All too often, project stakeholders are so wrapped up worrying about technical risks or marveling over new designs, new branding, influencer marketing or whatever the latest hype is, that content can nearly be forgotten or worse – treated as an unimportant ‘detail’ to be figured out later.

If you are a project manager, sponsor, or executive stakeholder, this is a far bigger risk than you may realize.

Rise of the content strategist

However, all is not lost. In recent years the profession of content strategy has grown in size and skill at a geometric rate and content strategists have guided their project managers through the troubled waters of content related risks.

According to Jake DiMare you should at least look for these 7 potential dangers on the content strategy map:

1) Failure to appreciate the depth and breadth of a project
2) Failure to recognize the critical importance of content
3) Failure to plan for creating and/or revising content
4) Failure to understand the challenges of designing with dummy content
5) Failure to properly plan for content migration
6) Failure to plan for the disruptive effects of owning a new CMS
7) Failure to understand the gravity of business requirements

Now, one thing is navigating, but you also need to know how to mitigate the seven risks so you too can get through the troubled waters.

Design the author experience

In 2017 customer experience seems firmly planted on the radar screen of management, and most recognize the crucial link between employee experience and customer experience. Clearly happy, empowered and motivated employees will ensure a better customer experience, than grumpy or disillusioned employees.

When it comes to content creation, this means you need to take a firm look at the author experience. Don’t just accept the CMS or whatever else system you are using out-of-the-box. If you want to create killer content, you need to provide an author experience that does not suck

Shell rethinks the content creation process

Do you have too much or too little content on your website?

Most J. Boye members would lean towards too much, but in private would confess to having way too much content. The examples I’ve heard in the past decade of J. Boye group meetings are plenty, with websites and digital communication teams drowning in content.

Training, better tools, governance, centralisation of content creation are all different approaches to trying to solve content overload, but maybe there is a better way?

I moderated a recent group meeting in London focused on digital leadership, where social media analyst & emerging platforms advisor John Atkins from Shell shared their fundamentally different approach as shown below.

The new approach to content creation as illustrated by the digital team at Shell
(credit: John Atkins and Americo Campos Silva)

What’s wrong with the previous approach to content creation?

current-content-creation-processIn brief: It does not put the customer or audience first.

The route taken by most organisations and their digital communication teams is outlined with the illustration formed like a pyramid.

Starting from the top, first, you identify objectives, then you spend more time creating content that ties to these objects and finally you spend plenty of resources placing the content, typically on your websites, on social media and often via advertising.

Not only are most organisations creating too much content with the previous approach, but one of the several good points by John from Shell was also, that most organisations are far from creating the right content. Take a look at your digital reporting, and you’ll probably find many great content pieces with very low readership numbers.

At the group meeting, John shared insights into their online analytics and measurement framework, which had informed their decision to rethink the content creation process.

A better approach to content creation

new-content-creation-processWhat John called the social media approach applies to other digital channels too and as you can see on the illustration it takes another point of departure: First you research relevant content.

That’s right. You can safely assume that there’s more or less enough content out there.

As the next step, you spend a bit more time tying the content to your objectives and then you finally you invest fewer resources in placing it.

Besides putting the customer first, John listed 5 key advantages with this new approach:

  1. Engage, instead of broadcasting
  2. Short form with impact
  3. Creating for people. You. Not we
  4. More emphasis on visual storytelling
  5. Targeting relevant interests

The J. Boye take

Too much content is a real and big problem, but even more so, there’s too much bad corporate content out there.

John and the team at Shell are clearly onto something with this clever way of changing how we think about content creation. And they have the numbers to prove that it works. Well done!

With limited resources available, innovative work is still required to enforce and educate changing processes like these. This will remain a challenge for global brands and other organisations alike.

Learn more about digital communication trends

Feel free to share your feedback on the process by posting a comment below and share your learnings together with the rest of the J. Boye community.

You can also join the J. Boye group on LinkedIn. This is a carefully moderated group where you can post your questions.

Want to learn some more? Sara Walsh from Capitol One introduced conversation design to the J. Boye community. This is a main trend at the moment, also in relation to chatbots.

You might also find these posts on my personal blog relevant:

If you want to meet with your peers, then do consider joining a relevant J. Boye group.