Drawing from 20+ years of experience wrangling content, Robert Norris presents us with a twelve-part series on managing enterprise content. His articles (some of the most popular posts of 2016) take on the complex topic of enterprise content strategy from a heuristic angle, bypassing academic approaches for more pragmatic solutions designed for immediacy and ease.
This article serves as a summary of Norris’ outstanding series, inviting you to explore the rich and unique insights contained in his work.
Managing Enterprise Content: 12 Lessons
1. Think Like a Librarian
Norris’ first post, Think Like a Librarian, elaborates on the theme of agility in design to create an easily accessible and user-responsive knowledge-base. Summoning the stereotypical figure of the “librarian” as a stand-in for “knowledge manager” or “content troubleshooter,” Norris elaborates on five principles of librarianship that can be used to enhance knowledge base experiences.
2. Building Problem-Solving Toolkits
Norris second installment tackles the issue of quality control for content curators and content technologists. For the content curator, user-advocacy is a critical aspect of making knowledge-base collections more intuitive and streamlined for the end user. The key to achieving this is to consider not just audience needs—but more importantly—audience competency levels. As audience expectations will differ across a broad spectrum of competency levels, it is important to meet those expectations by making content appropriate to the user’s knowledge level.
The second part of the article, aimed at technologists, provides a few tips for decluttering and recombining content resources to create valuable collections. Not every archived document will have stand-alone value to users. And a document’s internal (company) value will erode when it exists among duplicates, particularly if the duplicates contain slight variations. By alleviating duplication problems and finding new ways to recombine documents in response to user needs, technologists may be able to envision new product possibilities from existing archives.
3. The Curse of Elegance
Norris’ third installment addresses the “paradoxical challenges” facing every content designer: the more elegant the design, the less noticeable it becomes; almost like a great film score that is “felt” but never “heard.” Designing for functionality can either make you a target for complaints, if your design is faulty, or an “unsung hero” if your design is elegantly crafted. Yet developments in content design cannot be cultivated without appropriate feedback, one primary component being “appreciation.” Customer feedback is essential for assessing the “effect” of a given design–the UX of functionality. Feedback from colleagues is also an essential factor that helps inform and shape the mechanics behind UX.
Ultimately, and to add yet another paradox, content design requires heightened noticeability to achieve its optimal state of “invisible” functionality.
4. (Im)-Proper Care and Feeding of Subject Matter Experts
Norris’ humorous title—(Im)-Proper Care and Feeding of Subject Matter Experts——refers to the notion that subject matter experts (SME’s) are a very different kind of animal, proverbially speaking, in the operational realm of content and communications. Though most people are aware that brilliant subject matter experts don’t always make great teachers or communicators (and vice versa), not everyone has the skills to effectively approach and collaborate with SME’s when their input is needed. Norris lays out the main challenges in this relationship, providing practical solutions for each one.
5. Hey! Where’s Our Content?
If the word “strategy” denotes a comprehensive plan of action, entailing a wide range and long-term perspective, then the notions of myopic focus and recency bias seem antithetical to it. Yet, this is what many content managers often face in companies where C-level executives view content as “deliverables” rather than as active informational networks and relays.
As Norris points out, many professionals outside of the content field do not fully understand the scope and principles comprising content strategy as a discipline. Contrary to what many organizational managers may think, content strategy goes beyond the production of marketing and sales content. Content strategy also cannot be restricted to the limits of content production (deliverables). This fifth installment discusses the (not so) unforeseen negative consequences of this misunderstanding.
6. Devising a Content Strategy to Serve Every Audience
At the opening of his sixth installment, Norris presents us with a definition of strategy that is in alignment with most current notions surrounding the concept. The term “strategy” makes for an interesting comparative distinction when viewed etymologically from the military context in which it had originated.
In a military context, a direct offensive is only as strong as its means of support, the latter posing as a critical vulnerability to be targeted by an opposing force. With the aim of reducing vulnerability to one’s side, a campaign leader cannot afford to be so myopic as to focus solely on the tip of the spear. Norris points out, based on his experience, that many organizations have a tendency to work contrary to this basic principle.
According to Norris, many organizations place lopsided emphases on marketing and sales efforts with regard to recognition and resource allocation. Such biases affect the quality of content operations, as focus shifts from the “enterprise” level to its subsets (i.e. marketing and sales content). Contrary to this common tendency, Norris reinforces the notion that “enterprise content” encompasses, obviously, the entire “enterprise,” what Norris calls “every audience,” or every internal and external user. To this end, Norris provides an exceptionally clear framework for constructing a content strategy that is gap-proof and all-encompassing.
7. Your Content Strategy: Is It Feasible?
Conducting a feasibility study is an effective way to assess the practicality of a method or plan. When developing an enterprise content strategy involving multiple individuals and departments—all of whom have different perspectives, work methods and goals—a feasibility study is necessary to see how the workflow puzzle can be collaboratively assembled.
One effective way to conduct such a study is to simulate a real-life scenario. Simulations can help teams collaboratively construct project roles and expectations, and shape contingency responses based on individual capabilities and expertise. Norris’ seventh installment proposes a few tips for conducting an organization-wide feasibility study to help test and shape the real-world implementation of a content strategy.
8. Best Practices for Fostering Support from Stakeholders
Fostering stakeholder support is critical to any organizational undertaking. Without “buy-in” from the managerial and executive levels, a project may not get the opportunity to leave the runway. Similar to the previous installment, Best Practices discusses the diverse and potentially dissimilar interests, goals, and personalities among stakeholders.
A complicated scenario, sharp differences can exist among stakeholders interests despite their general alignment with larger organizational goals. A key solution, which Norris explores in detail, is to study the stakeholders themselves, an approach similar to that of a feasibility study, before selling their ideas upstream.
9. A Swing and a Miss: Faulty Customer Support Metrics
Norris’ ninth installment puts the spotlight on support center operations and the role they play in shaping the overall quality of products and services. He advances two general propositions. First, an individual user’s experience is a correlated stand-in for mass-user experience. Second, the support center should be viewed not only as the spear-tip of customer engagement but also as a critical player in quality evaluation.
While leadership tends to focus on the big-picture metrics surveying conditions on a larger scale, the key to quality control is in the discrete metrics that are often overlooked.
10. Building a Robust Content Quality System
Managing product and service quality is standard procedure for most businesses. But the importance of content quality management is a matter that’s often siloed if not neglected altogether. In the absence more integrated procedures for quality content control, unmonitored databases can leave businesses vulnerable to several unforeseen risks. Norris’ tenth installment discusses the risks posed by “orphaned” documents—ownerless and often outdated documents floating in a database. The result of customers accessing such documents can range, depending on context, from minor errors to severe harm.
Active ownership is key to content quality control. It is also the most effective way to mitigate risks posed by inactive content. Norris presents a quality control framework designed to help you ensure content quality and prevent content mismanagement snafus.
11. Developing a Unified Content Strategy: Learning From the Masters
Although marketing content is designed to drive growth, support content plays a critical role in maintaining customer engagement and satisfaction. Marketing content promises a particular product/service experience, while support content enhances the delivery of that experience. If the goal in “marketing” is to communicate the value of a product/service, then all organizational content can be considered an extended form of “marketing content” addressing various touch points of customer experience over time.
As company executives are lopsidedly biased toward growth initiatives, the marketing side of content operations tends to receive more attention and resources than non-marketing counterparts. But given such organizational focus, marketing teams tend to be better equipped, experienced in collaborative settings, and adept in operating across multiple channels of communication. In his eleventh installment, Norris explores ways to tap marketing’s capacity to create a well-balanced content strategy across the organization.
12. Managing Counterproductive Organizational Expectations
Most of the articles up to this point discuss the challenges of content managers operating at the periphery of executive focus. It’s what Norris calls the curse of elegance. But what happens when a successful content operation attracts the full attention and scrutiny of executive management?
In this final article in the series, Norris discusses the burden of success—misguided expectations, executive micromanagement, etc.—along with a few contingency ideas to help mitigate the problems that come with being successful.