By Ann Rockley | STC Fellow, and Charles Cooper
When an organization develops a content strategy, they typically put considerable effort into the strategy and spend significant amounts of money on the supporting technology—but if that’s where it stops, the project is likely doomed.
An effective content strategy requires effective change management.
Without an effective change management strategy, people will return to their old habits using new tools, resulting in increased rather than decreased costs. Opportunities like omnichannel, dynamic delivery, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), chatbots, and artificial intelligence (AI) require adherence to consistently structured content with robust metadata, and any lack of rigor in the implementation of the content strategy will jeopardize these opportunities.
The most likely reason for a project to fail is the lack of an effective or incorrectly focused change management effort.
Change management is a big bucket term, and it encompasses a lot, but too often, we find change management focuses too much on technology or is aimed too closely at one department to the exclusion of others. Good change management is inclusive; it focuses on explaining the “reasons why,” rather than just the “how to.” Good change management is two-way and participatory, rather than top-down and one-way. It encourages and actively seeks out input from those affected by the ongoing changes, and utilizes that information to improve the project. When implementing a content strategy, the biggest, hardest-to-deal-with changes are actually cultural changes—not technological changes. Good change management will work to address these changes.
When we speak of two-way communication, we’re really focused on multiway communication. If you look at any organization, you will see that there are multiple types of silos—business divisions, departments, content silos, country and region silos, tool silos, etc. Not only does the change management committee need to speak to each of these groups, they also need to ensure that the people in those groups can speak to each other to improve the system.
Communication is critical to successful change. You need to communicate the reasons for change, your plan, and the project’s status. Projects that are developed under wraps are viewed with suspicion. Lack of communication results in anxiety and starts rumors. The longer that information is withheld, the more anxious people will become and the harder it will be to convince them of the need to adopt the change. Communicate as early in the project as possible, and continue to communicate throughout.
Develop a communication plan to help keep everyone aware of what’s going on.
Communicate to many diverse groups within the organization:
- Authors: Ensure they understand what is happening, the benefits of the new processes, and what to expect.
- Reviewers: Ensure they understand how the review process will change and the benefits to them of these changes.
- Stakeholders: Ensure they understand how you are effectively supporting their needs.
- Management: Ensure they understand what is happening and the ongoing value of the work being accomplished. Communicate to your management’s management and their management—up as many levels as you can—to create awareness, increase corporate knowledge of value and key concepts, and gain greater acceptance across the organization. Create a top-level presentation that your management can present to their peers.
- Peer groups: Communicate to peer content groups in other parts of the organization to raise awareness of the goals and benefits. They may want to partner to provide the same content strategy to their teams. Partnering to share costs and processes can be very beneficial.
Communicate appropriately depending on the phase of the project. In early stages, communicate:
- Organizational challenges, goals, and benefits: Help the organization to understand the challenges being faced, the goals of the content strategy to address these challenges, and the expected benefits.
- Top-level understanding of the content strategy: Get more specific to identify how the content strategy will address areas such as the channels, audiences, and the overall vision.
As you begin to roll out the project through proofs-of-concept and pilots, communicate:
- Why change: Communication plans frequently only tell people what’s happening and what they have to do; they don’t tell people why it has to be done. When people don’t understand the why, they may resist the change.
- How it will affect them: Let people know how the changes will affect them. You know, and they know, there will be changes. Be up front and honest about the changes. If you’re not, they imagine the worst.
- The plan: Explain your plan, including an approximate timeline for implementation. This gives people an understanding of the scope and timeline for the project.
- Ongoing status: Keep people up to date as the project progresses, even if only specific groups are involved in the beginning.
- Problems: No project is without its problems. People hear about the problems even if they aren’t directly involved. It’s better to be honest that there was an issue, and then tell them how it was addressed. This ensures that they know that the team is working hard to make the project a success.
- Successes: Ensure that you communicate the successes you’ve achieved. Success is positive and makes people feel good about embracing the change.
After the project has begun, communicate:
- Successes: Similar to how you communicate success during the early stages, ensure that you communicate the successes you’ve achieved on an ongoing basis. This ensures that the strategy continues to be successful. When projects go quiet, you lose awareness in the organization, and the project might not continue to be perceived as valuable.
- Return on Investment: Nothing speaks louder than showing how content strategy resulted in reduced costs and timeframes and increased income and customer satisfaction. Don’t do it just for one or two years; keep track of accumulated return on investment for the length of the project. Organizational structures change, and having solid data available ensures that you can show long-term value and worth.
Training and Support
When companies implement a content strategy, it’s often all about the tools, and people only get trained on how to use the new tools. But it isn’t all about the tools; it’s about the content and the people who create it. Concept training is critical to success; if your authors only know how to use the tool, but not what to put into it, the quality of your content will suffer significantly. Provide the following types of training.
- Training on concepts of structured content
- How to write to structured content models
- Writing minimalist content
- Writing to support deliverables (chatbots, omnichannel, different audiences)
- Writing for reuse
- How to effectively use metadata to support content retrieval, both from the CMS and at the point of delivery
- Training on concepts of collaborative review
- Training on concepts of structured modular content
- How to review reusable content
- How to review channel-neutral content
Once they have the concepts, you can provide how-to tools training.
Provide support throughout the rollout process, ensuring that there is a support structure in place to help answer questions and make decisions when design decisions need to be adapted, and when there are problems with technology performance.
Too often, organizations look at governance as a four-letter word—something to be avoided in polite company and only brought to bear in the most dire of circumstances. They see it as something that will slow them down and establish barriers to producing good content. In reality, the reverse is true—it permits a clear path for content creation and provides consistent answers and strategic direction for content into the future. You have to determine the scope of the governance, but that should be determined as part of the overall content strategy. For example, governance should address:
- Content models: Content models guide the creation of structured content. Consistent models are critical to content reuse and for supporting adaptive content. Changing the models arbitrarily will result in reduced or even full loss of automation. Work with the content creation teams to ensure that models remain consistent and are implemented consistently.
- Authoring guidance: Authoring guidance helps direct the author in creating structured content. Structured authoring guidance should be managed just like editorial guidelines.
- Reuse: A reuse strategy identifies what types of content will be reused and at what level of granularity, as well as how to support authors in easily and effectively reusing content. Governing reuse ensures that reuse is optimized and arbitrary variants do not propagate throughout the content set.
- Workflow: Workflow guides the content through its lifecycle—from design and creation all the way to publishing. You can’t manage your workflow on an ad hoc basis. Like any part of the content creation process, it must be governed.
- Taxonomy and metadata: Taxonomy and metadata (which are best described in tandem as “structured information about information”) are at the heart of all search capabilities. Traditionally they’ve been focused on either the content creator, as they look for content to reuse or repurpose, or on the end user, as they search for published content. But the real growth today is on allowing algorithms (AI and ML and chatbots) to find content and serve it up in a personalized format to the end user. Without the consistency in tagging that can only be maintained by governance, the content will be stuck in manual mode—it will decline in value, and you won’t be able to use it to its fullest extent in the future.
Each of these needs to be governed. The governance processes must take into account both day-to-day issues and long-term strategic concerns. Some companies set up one governing body for each of these areas, others combine them into a larger body with wider responsibilities. Either way, it’s important that there be a significant level of communication between the people involved to ensure that the process fulfils your organizations’ needs.
Look to your existing processes and procedures to see if there are already systems in place that can be used (either as they are, or more likely, with some modification) to provide the governance you need.
Bringing it All Together
Effective change management incorporates focused multi-way communications, ensuring that everyone is aware of the purpose and direction of the project. It requires training—not only so people understand the technology, but to assist content contributors, reviewers, and stakeholders to understand why the process has changed, how to create effective structured reusable content, and the value of metadata in delivery optimization and automation. Deep support is required to assist in the transition, to troubleshoot problems, and identify best practices. Finally, governance is required to ensure that standards and guidelines are consistently followed and any changes are reviewed and approved—not just on a day-to-day basis, but on a long-term, strategic basis.
As content strategy becomes more the norm rather than the exception, effective and strategic change management is required to support the business and cultural changes within an organization. Only with this in place will a content strategy implementation succeed in the long term.
ANN ROCKLEY (firstname.lastname@example.org) is CEO of The Rockley Group, Inc. She has an international reputation for developing intelligent content strategies for multichannel delivery. She has been instrumental in establishing the field in content strategy, content reuse, intelligent content strategies for multichannel delivery, and structured content management best practices. Rockley is a frequent contributor to trade and industry publications and a keynote speaker at numerous conferences in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. Ann has a Master of Information Science from the University of Toronto and is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication. Ann is an Adjunct Professor at the Cork Institute of Technology, teaching Information Strategy in the MSc in Information Design and Development program.
CHARLES COOPER (email@example.com) is Vice President of The Rockley Group. He works with companies to help them understand their content and ensure that it can be created, managed, and published quickly and consistently, while still meeting the needs of their users around the world. He’s fascinated by the changing marketplace and the ways people expect to receive information, and he maintains a growing herd of wearable and mobile devices that he uses to test content and new technologies. He focuses on workflow and taxonomy.