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Stewardship

“the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care” – Merriam Webster

Recently, a lot has been made of content curation. It’s a dead sexy term and it’s getting a lot of attention from those who love it and those who think it’s the next pile of dung from the content strategy brethren. The jury’s out for me. I neither love it nor hate it, but I do think arguing about its usage is a tremendous waste of time. I’d rather be caring for content than arguing about it.

Enter stewardship.

Perhaps this is where I call it content stewardship so I can get a lot of seo hits. (oops) Truth is, I have always thought of myself as a steward of content. Whether I am meeting with a client for the first time or engaging in a project I’ve worked on for years, I constantly reiterate I’m the one person who will care about the content during the project’s lifecycle.

More importantly, I make sure the content is poised for a successful future once I leave the project.

Therein lies the biggest delineation between curation and stewardship. Where curation implies you are part of the process from beginning to end, stewardship, implies you are neither at the beginning of the content lifecycle or the end, but you will do you best to ensure the content is cared for while entrusted with it.

Customer Service is Dead

Every day we bemoan eroding customer service. From the listless BestBuy employee to self involved waitstaff,  we’ve almost convinced ourselves that customer service is dead. The same thing is happening with the content we read daily. Too many, copywriters, web editors, business analysts and project managers shuffle content throughout a project with little care. They know next week it’s on to another project, another deadline and another blob of content.

Too many people who produce content don’t care about the content they are producing. After all, if you know you are merely writing for seo hits, why should you care about what is written? If you know you’re a cog what’s your impetus to care about the content?

Are you flipping content?

A few years ago, in the midst of predatory loans, flipping houses was all the rage. The concept was simple. If you had enough capital (or borrowed capital) you could purchase a home, do the bare minimum in repairs and renovations and sell it for a profit. From there, you were free to buy the house of your dreams. But what about when you were living there, fixing the house up? Did you really care about what happened to the house/condo/yurt after you left? What about the person who bought the house? How do they feel about living in a house that was simply a means to a profitable end? This concept was so widely embraced, TV shows exploited it (imagine that).

It’s not the easiest question to ask, but are you flipping content? Admittedly, I have flipped content. I’m not proud of it, but I have. I was not a very good steward. I just wanted it off my desk. I really didn’t care who inherited it and what condition it was in.

Looking back on those projects, it was easy to see why I wasn’t motivated. I felt like a cog. Cogs and content don’t mix.

The Legacy of Content Stewardship

The more you think of shepherding content and the less you think of flipping it, the more you can embrace stewardship and feeling entrusted with the responsibility of caring for the content you work with.

You don’t have to write content to be it’s steward. Tracking, storing, touching up and speaking on its behalf are all ways you can become a content steward.  It’s not complicated, but the legacy of quality content can always be attributed to your stewardship while it was entrusted to you.

Excuses

“Content Strategy is great and all, but I am a writer. I sit in a cube and I fight to keep up with the pace of projects heaped on me.”

“My company will never hire a content strategist”

“I don’t know what a content strategist is, let alone how sell it to my manager.”

“My company does not value writing.”

I hear chatter like this daily. Often, it is fair, accurate and for better or worse, realistic statements. The harsh reality is we rarely have the perfect project workflow and budget to accommodate a kick-ass experience designer, information architect and content strategist.

However, rather than throw up your hands and reach for the flask, do something about it.

Solution

Here’s a tidy little secret that A) needs to NOT be a secret and B) should mitigate the mountain of red tape and pushback when advocating for content strategy:

Speak up!

What Do I Mean?

Matthew (as much as I would have loved the credit) didn’t write the entire Bible. Pharaoh Joe didn’t stack all the fancy rocks for the pyramids. Bucky $#&!ng Dent was not solely responsible for the Red Sox losing the 1978 pennant (still bitter).

For better or worse, it was a team effort and so should your content strategy.

How?

If you’re reading this you’re a writer, project manager, experience designer or you googled grass fed beef and now you’re horribly confused. Either way, even you grass fed hippie, you care about content.

The key is to keep talking about content throughout the project lifecycle. Getting your team to understand the importance of quality content and how to govern it, will get you that much closer to a content strategy that works for your environment. Here’s how:

  1. Content Inventory – As you sit in your weekly meeting, rather than stab yourself in the eye with your favorite Bic, while Phil from accounting (sorry Phil) wheezes and sweats incessantly, ask if a content inventory exists. If not, ask for one to be created (it will give the project manager, intern or Phil something to do). If no one steps up, then it’s all you.
  2. Style guide anyone? – Often this can be the elephant in the room question, but ask. Ask Marketing, ask Development, ask Phil! (poor Phil). Even if one doesn’t exist and you initially have to go with Yahoo’s, AP’s or (gulp) Microsoft’s you look like a smarty pants for bringing it up. You’re also laying conduit for a continued content strategy objective.
  3. Write, damn it – Well, someone has to. Somehow, the content is being created and along with that sexy content inventory and delicious style guide it can now be tracked. The writing will always happen, it will always change, but #1 and #2 are now giving your content credence.
  4. Name names – Who is writing what? Why are we writing it and MOST IMPORTANTLY who will maintain it? Departmental ownership doesn’t work. If you do not place a name next to a piece of content created, your content strategy will fail. Here’s a successful example.
  5. Waterless urinal marketing description – source located here – published here – owner Phil (poor Phil) – sub owner Phil’s boss – reason for content: x

    Say tomorrow Phil, and his wheezing sweats gets canned. By naming an owner and sub owner, you have safeguarded the content from getting lost in the muck. With Phil gone, you locate Phil’s boss, who either now owns it or knows who does.  If Phil and Phil’s boss both get canned, you probably want to start looking for another job.

  6. Buy your project manager flowers. Or beer – Whatever it takes, get on your project manager’s good side. Oftentimes, they can be the linchpin for holding the content discussion  together. If you are a PM, sweet, here are some flowers, keep reading.
  7. Since PMs are often tasked with documenting the product lifecycle, they too can start documenting where the content will live and breathe. As a writer, with no content strategy time or budget, I’ve convinced the PM to keep a record of what the content deliverables are, who owns them and where they’re located. It’s not sexy, but you’re  paving the way for a more comprehensive content gameplan moving forward.

  8. Keep talking – As we know, the hardest part of when any project goes live is what happens the day after the release. Jeffrey MacIntyre refers to this as the Day 2 Problem. Days 2, 3 – 10 are critical because you’ll need to track the content chatter. A good indicator is how well the content is received internally. If there is confusion, disdain riots in the streets, time to call Houston (and send a 6-pack to the PM). The point is, to keep the content dialog going. Even if you don’t cure the content ailment for this project, you have certainly raised awareness moving forward.
  9. Log, log, log – If you care about content, but you are buried in bureaucratic whooee and mountains of work, you can still contribute by speaking up. Draft an email or start writing on a cocktail napkin. Jot down the successes and failures of the content lifecycle. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it can be a powerful tool when it’s time to talk to the fancy pants bosses.
  10. Visit Mahogany Row – At companies where I’ve worked, this is where the real decision makers sit. Armed with my cocktail napkin, I meet with stakeholders and show them the pain points and offer concrete, realistic content solutions. *cue heavenly bells*

Result

Congratulations, you’re a blabber mouth! I’m kidding. However, your interest in content, your ability to ask, talk and monitor its effects on the project lifecycle has brought about an awareness within your company. By highlighting successes and most importantly, failures you are one step closer toward an effective content strategy.

Now, if you could be a dove and find a handkerchief, Phil’s sweating again.

A couple years ago, this dude down the street from me bought a house. He and his family moved in and began their life. He seemed like a handy guy, building bicycles out of his basement. In addition, he started fixing the outside, transforming the once defunct exterior space into an amazingly cute bungalow.

Each day on the way to my office, I’d admire his handiwork, aspiring to have a house that looked so polished and approachable on the outside.

As the years progressed, his business picked up as I often saw him camped out at all hours in his basement constructing bicycles. Not only did I want to meet this dude, I wanted to do business with him. If he was capable of transforming his house into a thing of beauty, certainly the craftsmanship of his bikes were amazing.

Coincidentally, my daughter was in need of a bike. As spring arrived, I prepped to visit my neighbor. However, as I approached the house, I noticed a stark absence from the residence. The minivan was replaced by a dump truck, the stroller had given way to a crane. The hum of the family I had watched for years was replaced by the cadence of an organized blue collar workforce.

What the hell?

Days later, with my curiosity eating me, I slow rolled by his house.

They were literally lifting the house up off the ground. Apparently, the foundation had been failing for years, and it was now time to replace it.

Months have passed, summer in this seaside town is in full swing, yet the family and the man I had admired for years were no where to be found. Apparently, they moved away for the summer, waiting for the figurative and literal dust to settle.

Everything about the house I had admired; the hand detail on the railings, the custom siding, the manicured lawn, were now all a heap of dust and destruction. However, no matter how much this man cosmetically fixed the outside, the glaring issue of a failing foundation finally caught up to him, his family and his business.

His lively hood completely displaced because he ignored the fundamental flaw of his residence.

Looking back, it’s hard to see if he would have still purchased the house given its failing structure, or if he would have forgone the initial cosmetic fixes in lieu of the less sexy internal construction.

Either way, this chap I had admired from afar is now out a significant amount of money and my confidence in his craft is now crushed.

“I need 3 pages on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire”

“Give me 5 pages on the Underground Railroad”

“Well, just for that, make it 10 pages on owls” (this really did happen after mistakenly asking Sister Judith “who?”)

In addition, to sitting up straight, keeping our hands to ourselves and forming a single file, we have been historically taught to communicate based on length. How many late nights in high school did you spend stretching your 2 page thought to 3 pages?  The preponderance of length now negatively affects the way we professionally communicate.

Recently, I was blog coaching a group of amazing professionals. Their ideas were off the chain. Yet, the first question I was asked, was how long should it be. Suddenly, I’m quoting the professor I loathed: “as long as it needs to be to get your point across.”

Meh. I hated that line.

Therein lies the professional conundrum of bloated content created daily based solely on the dated mantra that bigger is better. If Floyd the business analyst wrote a 545 page spec, then surely he has been working hard and the project is abundantly significant.

Or is it?

Some of the most impressive projects I have seen, particularly in agile development, stem from 1 page specifications detailing the workload for the current sprint.

I have a mental catalog of dozens of instances where the less written, the more effective the project.

But you know what? I’m going to shut the hell up.

After all, I got my point across.

Once again, these are free flowing thoughts that have not been edited, but will be a real time flow of my interpretation of Rachel’s points. (my comments in these thingys)

  • (People filing in, btw lunch kicked ass. I think I want to marry the Gleacher Center)
  • (No idea when @halvorson’s birthday is, but someone better get her one of those Backstreet Boys headset microphone things)
  • Computers are still dumb
  • Semantic web is about solving these areas of complexity
  • machines do things well that people do poorly
  • but they fail sometimes with ambiguous issues
  • Identity + Definition + Structure …
  • There are non semantic ways to describe structure. eg microformats, machine tags, new web standards
  • IDs take something abstract and make it concrete (mathing is hard! still bitter from my stupidity about last night’s bill.)
  • (Wait. There is a service called FREEBASE? Lindsay Lohan is psyched!)
  • Incidents of anti social behavioral meter (holy CRAP there is a term for everything) @lucidplot says it’s fairly political in the UK. Not surprisingly he calls it “rubbish”)
  • (maybe you don’t need to know all about the semantic web, but you at least need to be able to give it a hug and embrace it)(((hugz))
  • (was there life before slideshare?)
  • (here’s a conference idea: Scribes for conference speeches, 1 scribe per speech, scribes compete and are chosen and allow single point of real time tracking for conferences. I’m rambling. )
  • (I think I paid $18 for my margarita last night. One margarita. )
  • Machine Assisted tagging – streamlines the approach for tagging e.g. Tagaroo
  • Content Strategists are need to figure out how to roll out these tools – Related Content Services, Semantic Ad Targeting etc
  • Although at its infancy, the semantic web is real and we need to better understand it.

Alright, next up Joe, here’s my free flowing interpretation.

  • Gleacher Center here at the University of Chicago has the production families of an NFL Stadium, I keep waiting for skycam
  • Get Content – Get Costomers (his book)
  • Junta 42 is the eharmony for content marketing
  • 1 goal for this session is getting just 1 “aha” moment
  • (sensing a little inferiority complex from the Cleveland peeps)
  • Barak had a very good simple effective message
  • Hillary didn’t have something to get excited about
  • (interaction between Joe and Kristina is priceless)
  • Higher purpose, what is the higher purpose of what we are providing to our customers.
  • Purpose has to be clear and has a point of view.
  • Purpose and content can be interchangeable.
  • Love or hate, having a point of view is key.
  • How can we differentiate if we are all talking about the same thing? (oft asked question)
  • What does your content stand for?
  • (points for using, “this is how we roll”)
  • Create your own category
  • Where are your customers?
  • not cheap, just a different kind of expensive
  • (If we put Brogan fans on side and non fans on the other, who wins the tug o war)
  • (sucks that the word process makes people’s eyes roll)
  • create employee rock stars (slippery slope, but he plays it well)
  • Have the employees take a stand when using their social media strategies, otherwise they are going to go do it on their own.
  • indium.com
  • more you blog, the more business you get, simple as that
  • Be a content ambassador
  • First internal advocate, then external
  • Any content you put on your website is a content promise to your customers
  • websitegrader.com
  • Read the rest of this entry »

Free flowing thoughts on Jeff’s talk. (my thoughts in here)

  • Gotta be careful not to over state our case – We are in a little bit of a hype cycle.
  • Content Strategists are strange ducks – no two are alike (this is GOOD and kinda bad perhaps)
  • Day 2 problem – working for launch day, but forsakes the day 2 problem (gimme god damn,  now what do we do?)
  • CS has a lot to do with organizational dynamics
  • you need a management consultant DNA (retainer!)
  • (you want to know why CS will succeed? Because the baseline speakers are effing good, Jeff included)
  • Content inventory needs to be as exhaustive as you can – you have to spider the site (eww) Site Orbiter (sp?)
  • Enormous professional development opportunity for us
  • Shelly Bowen has a good methodology.
  • There is no one methodology – which is good because we need to adapt.
  • Process is nothing w/out the people
  • Product is content, platform is the publishing and people is the organization
  • Scatter/Gather dedicated Razorfish content strategy blog
  • Not about “My methodology is right and yours is wrong” (internal friction will suppress all the hard work we have achieved so far)
  • (personal note: check out the google knol)
  • You are always working on content – Jeff, per Margot Bloomstein
  • Content inventory can be good insurance. not a one off, ad hoc exercise
  • Competitive Analysis: CSers need to know more about this.
  • (It’s amazing the similarities between CS and journalism, don’t cringe, journalism knew what they were doing, they just didn’t adapt)
  • (he used the Content Strateeegery line, *fawn*)
  • Metadata Schema (insert collective eye roll) Necessary evil
  • Metadata proliferates relationships for different pieces of content (my interpretation of his point)
  • Copydeck – user facing content
  • Plumbing – content specification
  • (so sick of hearing everyone is a writer, you know what visual designer, I can draw stick figures too)
  • Grow phase – day 2 – all about post launch. Editorial calendar (yay!)
  • rethink what editorial calendar can do with content production in mind
  • There will be a basecamp for editorial calendars (hope)
  • Style guides, who owns it and make the style guide more dynamic. Where rubber meets road for governance.
  • One glaring asterisks for methodologies – there is no real end (but self governance can solve this?)
  • CS is residence – (cliffhanger for next year)
  • (Buzzword alert!) “Organizational hygiene”
  • Give a strategy for style guides, and put it in an editorial calendar
  • dabbledb.com

Free form diatribe on Kristina’s afternoon workshop.

  • (technical difficulties)
  • (she already has the room at her fingertips)
  • the discussion of content is a very organic process that involves all of us to participate  (and she will steal our ideas)
  • pseudo empowerment to site editors.
  • putting the onus on us. We need to help drive the content strategy discussion.
  • Too often we react to content, it’s a critical biz asset
  • need cs to develop message hierarchy
  • CMS cannot define and refine workflow
  • Governance outlines helps you get funded
  • Content Development falls down when people don’t track what content they are creating.
  • Ask the who what why where when how and cut your content in half
  • Quicken example – sell boxes mint – see myself everywhere.
  • Out there, nobody cares. Make content strategy relevant to the business.
  • Structure = IA
  • CS/IA kinda two sides of the same coin
  • We are lacking case studies big time
  • (Kissing hands, shaking babies. I think I got that right.)
  • content is spread all around, not just on your website.
  • Rolling inventory – inventory that never ends. (yay!)
  • Identify where you can have the biggest impact with the least amount of money and go with it.
  • In need of a spidering tool (look to Norway)
  • You can manually audit up to about 2000 pages.
  • Project charter is part of the content delivery – biz objectives
  • (Break time! 10 minutes people, hustle hustle!)
  • Not every project needs content strategy
  • Don’t shove it down people’s throats. Play your cards carefully.
  • Ecosystem – the environment the where the system live.
  • context, content, users – IA framework
  • Content strategy needs user research.
  • competitor site audits are tricky because it isn’t about keeping up with the jones, but more about discovering your niche.
  • As a strategist you need to listen and let them keep them talking
  • Pain points (we need to do a better job at promoting these to the right audience)
  • Sign off is very important.
  • Doc needs to be easy to use, makes informed decisions, facilitates smart decision making, docs action plan, troubleshoots implementation. Be sustainable.
  • Your one second is driven by visuals, graphics, load, etc. call to action
  • page template vs page table. Page table is not lorim ipsum
  • Gap analysis is a key component of CS
  • workflow can help eek out inefficiencies
  • some websites have become poor business properties
  • empowerment needs to happen or else we are just followers.
  • We so even remotely done. Yes, we’ve been doing this for years, but just now generating buzz.

Title may have nothing to do with the main entry, but it’s dead sexy no?

The other day I was listening to Master of Puppets as I am wont to do when the rest of my family is not home and I have some gruntish type activity to carry out. Hence the title.

Anywho.

This week’s challenge has centered around selling Content Strategy to high level executives. The irony was not lost on me as I failed at creating a simple paragraph to describe Content Strategy’s “less is more” mantra. I needed like 5 paragraphs and even then I only felt like I was scratching the surface. Funny how you think you know very little about a subject until you try to squish it in a paragraph.

So I thought, I head scratched, I tweeted, I tweaked and may have snuck in an adult beverage (I was at home, it was late). I was torn by what I wanted to say and what I had to say.

Thankfully, years ago I learned that even when upper management tells you its employees are what make the company hum, they are blowing smoke up your ass. Any company or high level executive that tells you people make the company successful are lying through their teeth.

Money.

Money makes a company successful. As much as they care about their staff, they care about money more. Always have, always will (at least if they want to stay in business).

So again, I sat in my dank home office scratching my head.

What I wanted to say:

I am fucking awesome. I am the best writer in your company and I know the business of writing better than anyone in the area. You are hemorrhaging an ass ton of money by having 50 people write and regurgitate the same written crap because you lack a coherent process that maximizes your brand message, makes your customers ridonkulously happy and saves your company a lot of money.

What I ended up saying:

Every word describing our software and services is a vital link to our customers. Company X’s written content is essential to establishing and retaining customer trust.

Writing, maintaining, locating and sharing our content is time consuming and expensive. Over 50% of our written materials are recreated rather than reused. This inefficiency is costing us money.

A content strategist provides Company X with a proven method for tracking, distributing and maintaining content and sharing it throughout all lines of business.

A Company X content strategist monitors all forms of content; sales, marketing, training and technical, ensuring it is applicable, accurate and useful to our customers. As the industry shifts, the Company X content strategist makes sure we stay on brand message, eliminate dated or unused content and provide a plan for documenting new solutions.

I’m not 100% happy with it and I know it has a long way to go. Revising this elevator pitch is akin to your own resume. I welcome feedback.

In conclusion, I made it less about me and more about money.

I guess the subject title wasn’t so far off.

It’s no secret I love me some house projects. 2 years ago, my wife and I had the psychotic idea to add to our home. Both literally (by way of a house addition) and figuratively (via baby #2).
During the demolition phase, I was torn on what to do with all the bricks from our old chimney. In typical yankee fashion, I knew somehow I’d find a use for the bricks later on. With limited space in our seaside property, I put the bricks in a heap somewhere.
Months later, they were in the way, so I moved them. A year later, although neatly stacked and out of the way, I finally found a use for them, and moved them yet again, staging them for a soon-to-be constructed wall by yours truly.
Aside from being an avid recycler, I am super cheap. Like wicked cheap. I knew these bricks were about $1 a piece and I had about 500 of them.
However, after hours of moving, cleaning and stacking was it all worth it?
The jury is still out on that one (I have yet to build the wall)
So what the fuck does this have to do with content strategy?
Telling Your Story Brick by Brick
Every day we’re faced with bricks of content. As writers, editors, project managers, strategists daily decisions revolve around whether to toss or salvage old content. If saved, the issue then becomes storage. Fret not, this isn’t a bait n switch CMS diatribe.
For the most part content is cheap to store, doesn’t take up space and easy to find, unless you lack one or more of the following:

  • Systematic naming convention
  • Hierarchical structure for your content
  • Index or inventory
  • Single, reliable repository
  • A plan for what to do with the content

With no plan, schema or single location, you are looking at mounds of bricks scattered throughout your workplace. Stored neatly in one place, you’re cooking with gas. You aren’t dealing with lost time and resources locating, naming and organizing old content.
The liability stems from not having a plan. If you don’t remember where you put piles of bricks, a coworker, unsuspecting IT professional or even your boss could walk by, see a bloated mess of un-structed content and toss it, mistaking it for rubbish, which if you ever seen a pile of bricks is exactly what it looks like: Ugly trash.
Cheap Bricks Stay in One Place
It’s great that I saved my old bricks, because years later I really did need them. However, I really didn’t save myself $500. I spend hours of my time moving and stacking those bricks several times, reducing their value every time. If I had a solid plan years ago, I would have saved time and energy.
Having a game plan for your content may not seem like a top priority now. However, every time you have to move, manage, rename handle your bricks of content you are diminishing its value to you, your organization and most importantly your audience.

Twitter Updates

  • The part of the business trip where you just stare at pictures of your kids. 4 days ago