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Governance Grows Up

by Erin Kissane on April 7th, 2011

One of the things that's consistently difficult about governance—the long-term management of content—is keeping sufficient resources available after a site launches.

If you think finding people to write, review, and revise content leading up to launch is tricky … you're completely right. But it's still easier than keeping those people available later on, once the adrenaline rush of launch has subsided and the never-ending process of reviewing and improving site content has kicked in.

One thing that helps is a set of good tools:

  • A style guide that genuinely supports your culture as well as providing clear mechanical guidelines;
  • A CMS that supports your workflow and makes publishing easier;
  • Page tables or content templates that clarify the fundamental purpose of each major piece of content.

But tools only work when there’s someone to use them.

People are really, really busy

The people who have the subject-matter expertise required to create and maintain content are often some of the most overworked employees in any organization—which is saying a lot, given the larger corporate trend toward over-commitment.

Content work—and especially online content work—is  more often presented as an "extra" job for subject-matter experts and anyone else expected to contribute content whose title isn't "web editor." And when the work is presented as an extra task that isn’t central to employees’ job descriptions, it tends not to get done.

So although most content strategists aren’t especially well versed in the management side of organizational dynamics, the problem of governance forces us to consider ways of reserving time, freeing up resources, and recognizing effort. And that’s why a video made by content strategy thinkers at Autodesk has cheered me up so much this week: it does so much right, and sets a wonderful example for dealing with this seemingly intractable problem.

Here’s the video:

What’s so wonderful about this approach is that the video itself is aimed at an internal audience. It explains the purpose and importance of the Autodesk content strategy initiative in clear, unpretentious terms and then goes a step further by breaking down the ways in which the efforts of people who contribute to the initiative will be recognized and considered as a part of their overall performance.

(The underlying content strategy is also based on what appears to be a very smart, disciplined system of measuring and refining content over time, but that’s another whole conversation.)

Dragging governance into the mainstream

The problems that this video addresses so directly have been around for ages, and we’ve all had to find ways of trying to resolve them. And because it’s not yet a given that organizations know they need to staff and support their online communications, many of our attempts have necessarily been workarounds.

For example, when a company really needs more people to handle content work, but can’t hire another expert, I’ve sometimes suggested hiring a part-time administrative person to help ease the burden of paperwork and free existing experts to spend more time on content. And a great web editor can often perform a certain amount of resource-allocation magic through sheer force of personality. But these are temporary solutions, not sustainable long-term plans.

By bringing the realities of content-related resource allocation into the mainstream of performance management, the Autodesk team has provided a clear example of simple ways of bringing content development and governance into the core of an organization. And their strategy was developed within, rather than being brought in from outside, which is a great sign. When organizations begin to understand content strategy at that level, the whole CS conversation can become more sophisticated.

Circle up

Whether you do content work within an organization or as a consultant, you’ve probably bumped into governance challenges. So let’s talk. Are you finding it easier to explain the need for long-term content resources, or are things holding still for you? What kinds of strategies are working for you?

  • http://twitter.com/amygrem Amy Gremillion

    Thanks for putting into words what I’ve been worrying about for weeks now. I’m gearing up for the launch of my first site and one thing I’m really trying to put a lot of energy into is how to keep it going after the launch. Hopefully some of the info in the video will help!

  • http://www.asuthosh.com Asuthosh Nair

    This is such a pertinent post and resonates with some of the chief content creation concerns in enterprises. We are working with a major hi-tech company who’s launching a program that identifies, trains and incentivize content creators. They know it’s tough but necessary.

  • http://konstabel.no/ Tormod Guldvog

    Brilliant post and a great video from Autodesk. One thing I noticed in the video was that they would update the “most visited content” in the maintenance phase. I assume this was a simplification. Great governance would of course require them to make sure that they also maintain less-visited content. A less visited page may have saved the company more than more visited pages in terms of one-on-one support, depending on the cost of actually solving the support issues. It’s always a matter of knowing which content provides most value for both the users and the company.

  • laura lerner

    The methodology Autodesk so succinctly described is fairly common, especially in software support circles. Because after all, before content is content, it’s knowledge…knowledge of the people who are in the trenches day in and day out. The trick is finding the right measures and having the right incentives.

    The knowledge management bag of tricks (aka strategy) is fundamental to creating and managing great content. Lots of organizations (like NASA for instance) have invested in KM…and it has enterprise-level impacts, way beyond user experience. Check out APQC (http://www.apqc.org/); it’s a great KM resource that can be very inspiring on a content strategy project.

  • http://twitter.com/stevenzeisler Steven Zeisler

    Hey Amy, what kind of site are you trying to launch? I could give you some advice if need be.

  • Kurt penberg


    It is very nice blog.

    kurt penberg

  • http://www.theuniuni.com/ Payton_vege

    Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

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