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Keep Your Content from Falling into Disrepair

by Emily Folstad on April 15th, 2011

No matter how many good ideas are strategized and agreed upon for a website’s content, somebody has to take responsibility for that content. Otherwise, just like an abandoned home where the owners have up and left, it will very likely fail from the get-go or fall into disrepair after its debut. Content ownership is important.

But assigning ownership isn’t enough. Owners need to be excited about the benefits and purpose of the content, understand their responsibilities, and commit the time it takes to make great content. You need content owners who care.

Just like a beautiful, functional home requires an owner who cares, so does great content. So how do you get content owners invested in making great content?

CARING FOR YOUR HOME

I own my house. Which means that here in Minneapolis, I shovel my sidewalks in the winter. I fix the furnace when it breaks. I plant flowers in the spring. I take time to care for my home.

But not everybody cares so much about their home. The house on the left shows all the signs of neglect. It’s weather-beaten, faded, and falling apart. Whoever owns it certainly doesn’t care much about it—and it shows.

Content Strategy House

House in need of care (left), house in good care (right).

CARING FOR YOUR CONTENT

Just like the house with weathered siding and an unstable foundation, content without a caring owner is easy to spot:

Content in need of care

  • No clear purpose
  • Too much or not enough information
  • Dead-end; no clear next steps
  • Boring; overly complex or simple
  • Typos
  • Broken links
  • Inaccurate or outdated    

Content in good care

  • Serves a business or user need
  • Appropriate length and format
  • Action-oriented
  • Engaging, interesting
  • Grammatically accurate; tone and voice are consistent and reflect the brand
  • Functional, usable
  • Updated, accurate

THE BENEFITS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF CONTENT OWNERSHIP

Content ownership has its benefits—useful, usable, purposeful content. And just like home maintenance, content ownership requires dedication and time commitment from owners: 

Content benefits

  • Save or make money (operational efficiencies, profits)
  • Bolster reputation or mission
  • Achieve business or user goals or results

Owner responsibilities

  • Define the purpose for content
  • Be involved with creating content
  • Keep content up to date as things change
  • Review content over time to make sure it’s still serving its purpose

GETTING CONTENT OWNERS ON BOARD

Caring for online content can be a thankless job. So how can you get content owners excited?  The best way is to show them why it matters and give them the tools and information they need to do it well.

  • Make content ownership a measurable, written part of job responsibilities.  By tying the content responsibilities to work goals and performance, you give content owners a personal stake. You also give content owners a realistic understanding of responsibilities and expectations—including expected time allocation.
  • Tie content to business goals, results, objectives, or purposes.
  • Identify content owners who are already invested in achieving the desired business and user outcomes.
  • Tell owners why they specifically were chosen, and what special skills or knowledge they bring. 
  • Ask owners to help identify the purpose and benefits of the content.
  • Get owners excited about the benefits the content can provide, even if they are indirect.
  • Get your organization excited about the benefits of great content. Find an executive sponsor who champions and supports the importance of content within your organization.  
  • Give content owners the tools they need to create and care for compelling content—which may include writers, designers, photographers, style guides, tipsheets, training on best practices, regular reports, user research, analytics, etc. Tailor your approach to the skills and experience of your content owners.
  • Check in with your content owners on a regular basis—don’t let them let content linger.
  • Don’t be afraid to retire content if it has no clear benefit or owner.

When content owners are invested in the success of their content, they make the difference between content that is just so-so and exceptional content that exceeds business and user expectations.  What’s worked for your organization? How have you gotten content owners excited? Have a story, or something to add? Please share it in the comments.

("Disrepair" image on left by Flickr user  Throwingbull (cc:  by 2.0) )

("Home near Geneva on Seneca Lake, Upstate New York" image on right by Flickr user  Evelyn Proimos (cc: by 2.0))

  • Chris

    Nice post Emily. We often find with our clients that ownership is the biggest issue with their content – and one of the hardest to resolve.

    I think the points about emphasising the benefits & making part of the job description are really key. So often it’s above and beyond people’s day job and understandably gets put to the bottom of the to-do list because of that.

  • Moses Drayne

    Your last point made me flinch. I would retire content, never cut it. I’m all for editing with gusto, but the term “cut” is loaded with implications of destruction. There is no effective cost of storage for content, only its replacement costs. Content is always retired, with an eye on easy review, for reuse.

  • http://twitter.com/efolstad Emily Folstad

    Thanks Moses, good point. “Cut” is now replaced with “retired.”

  • Simon Foust

    Holy abundant bullet points Batman!

  • Dr Tarik farooq

    This is very nice blog.

    Dr tarik farooq

  • http://digitalminidvcamcorders.net/ HeatherK2175

     This is an excellent point. Comparing caring for your content to caring for your home really put it in a new perspective for me.

    I’ve always been one t o want things done right but I had never thought about caring for my website and it’s content the same way I would care for my house. 

    The bulleted points gave me great pointers, things to improve on and gave me a clearer picture of what I need to do. Thank you so much for this helpful post.

    Digital Mini DV
    Camcorders

  • http://www.carpetfitteraberdeen.co.uk/flooring-aberdeen/ Flooring Aberdeen

    This is a must read for anyone with a website to be honest.Easy to read yet the point is made,fantastic guide.
    I’m building my own website right now so this has set me straight lol,thanks again.

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