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“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.
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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*
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.
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.
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.
“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.