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Content Strategy, Part 3: Digging into the Fundamentals

by Rick Wilson

April 2, 2012

Feature

by Rick Wilson

April 2, 2012

“The content strategy will spell out the staffing and resource requirements, which could be some of the more challenging decision processes, if not out-and-out contentious ones. Change is not easy. I believe that the learning organization offers experience with content development and learning solution design, while the marketing organization and its Web-content group offer innovation and capabilities to influence and manage audience responsiveness.”

Welcome to the “Content Era.” It’s here, it’s now, and it’s a game-changer. Some believe the way to play is by jumping in headfirst. Others want to meet the challenges by attempting to retain a sense of order and control. Yet others are just wondering what it all means.

Rick Wilson's 3-part  article on Content Strategy

Forget control – there is no longer a chance to control content. The real way to get into the action and serve the interests of our organizations, and their audiences, just requires content strategy.

Fundamental Three revisited: Making audits better

I ended the previous article in this series (Naked Truths and Fundamentals) with Fundamental Three on analysis and audits.

I want to step back and add a few additional words on audits. Content represents tangible things – assets in many formats and forms. Content has identity. It has a name, key-word associations, tags, and other structure; and these characteristics make content useful. The strategy is about content value. Content represents ideas, concepts, advice, insight, direction, understanding, and much more. We say it is the knowledge of our business. How important is that?

Content resides in various places, often called repositories – some more useful than others. So, this Fundamental Three of accurate and reliable inventories and audits is crucial (and essential) in the fight for purposeful content and for an ability to understand what it is, and what it can do. Conducting an inventory has significant value, although it is also prone to errors and inconsistencies. My personal interest and quest are for better ways to conduct the analysis and audit activities. I’d like a tool to expedite and improve the quality and sophistication of content inventory development and auditing.

You can help in this effort to make things better. If you’ve done content audits or have a methodology, techniques, or a tool in your learning organization or elsewhere, please leave a comment at the end of this article about what you have, or are doing. Or, if you have some incredible ideas, would you please share them? In particular:

  1. Disregard all technology limitations. What would “the magic content analysis and audit tool” be for superior qualifying and quantifying knowledge assets and information sources? What would it do? How should it work?
  2. If an automated tool is not the ticket, and would not add value to manual processes, why not? Tell me what you do. Tell me why your audit approach can’t be replicated in some automated magical app?
  3. Share what types of content get audited; and what problems you faced or are facing?
  4. Finish by explaining what collaboration you had (or have) across the organization?

If you have a lot to say, I’m happy to entertain a richer personal exchange. Reach out to me directly.

Fundamental Four: Channels

On to Fundamental Four (Channels make your content available). Channels are the roadways for content delivery. This is predominately about “broadband” communications, although we have everything from classrooms and video conferencing to Webinars and self-paced events – all expanded by mobile and tablet computing. These smart-device learning experiences are huge differentiators. Not just in terms of the devices, but also how these instruments are changing the functional characteristics of “learning domains.”

New taxonomy

So, move over Bloom. Let’s make room for new elements of taxonomy. The digital device phenomena are driving how we know. It’s “fingertip knowledge.” Nobody imagined such a notion of knowledge before portable computing, and in particular the digital revolution.

Look at Bloom’s Taxonomy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom's_Taxonomy). Skills in the cognitive domain revolve around knowledge, comprehension, and critical thinking on a particular topic. Traditional education tends to emphasize the skills in this domain. A definition of knowledge (Bloom et al. 1956, page 201) is that it “involves the recall of specifics and universals, the recall of methods and processes, or the recall of a pattern, structure, or setting.”

My cognitive skill development relies more frequently on the increase in content mobilization. I know because I have immediacy of discovery and access to knowledge resources. As David Weinberger in his book Too Big to Know postulates, “We are in a crisis of knowledge.” We are moving to a framework that he calls a “network of knowledge.” In my network I can connect as one or more nodes and tap into knowledge through elaborate searches. If content important to me has identity through the networks that I travel, I get it. These assets come to me because they possess identity created through tagging with a purposeful discovery schema. I do not have to perform mental “recall” tasks to have “knowledge.” I just connect to my network.

Strategy and context

But I digress. While the Internet dominates the marketplace, it’s not the only way we deliver content. What we have to understand is how our channels work to contribute to the objectives of a learning initiative, and more importantly to business goals. Understanding what channels are available to you through your organization is a very important consideration. Strategy is how we get the goal that we all want: serving audiences with the right content, at the right time, and in the right format.

Combining user contexts (for example: job preferences, situation, location, and device) to support intended purpose and other user requirements is something that a solid strategy can help with. The new technology today, from both CMS (Content Management System) and learning-technology vendors, is introducing increasingly sophisticated profiling and presentation functionality to implement elaborate display logic. The logic occurs because the content management capabilities capture the metadata and other configuration elements. Now the content has intelligence enough to be discoverable and accessible.

Content channel distribution strategy

It comes down to a content channel distribution strategy, which defines what types of access and availability there will be for users and in what contexts and forms it will occur. Distribution strategy is the approach that provides your audiences the ability to find and use information from your content sources. It’s not, as some describe it, a “marketing tactic”; nor is it confined to a type of connection for accessing the content.

Right now, too much emphasis is on the technology used to obtain content, which creates some confusion because the reference to channels is not just about the connectivity or device delivery, but the media and message as well. The maximum user experience occurs because there is a combination of connection type and media type. An excellent business case is “performance support.” What provides an individual on the job with real-time content to solve a “just-in-time” problem may be a video segment, a PDF of a document, or a live chat with a subject matter expert (SME) in your organization. Or, maybe it is some combination of all these various media types (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Media types

While the device may support the connection and format of the content, it really is about what the content does for the individual. Your organization has to examine what channels people are using and how. Certain measures or analytics are most helpful in understanding the impact of what is being accomplished within the channels. Then there is the decision about what an organization’s appetite for additional or bolder channels is. These decisions impact budgets, resources, and schedules. They also have prospects for increasing the value of the learning or knowledge experience. And, it can significantly improve context – relevance and reliability of content at the user end.

Still, many in the learning world are responding to the clamor for technology to adapt to information transformation and transmission requirements occurring in our changing digital climate. However, this response has to do with “display” and “throughput” and not the essence of why you need a content strategy in the first place. Think “content consumer.”

Here’s the deal – we used to live in a world where the producers of content determined the channels of distribution. Now, we live in a world where the consumers of content determine the channels. In fact, they have their own access to channels, which make this story even more interesting. First, your audiences will find you only if you know what channels they are tuning into. And, second, your success at engaging them will be a matter of connection – does the content fix their “context.”

Fundamental Five: It’s not about the technology

This leads me to Fundamental Five (It’s a field of dreams). Now let’s dial in on technology; but, before I start, here’s my disclaimer. I purposely made technology the fifth fundamental because many people allow themselves to be persuaded, or are persuaded by outside sources, that they can solve their content problems with technology. Wrong!

You can’t possibly decide what technology is to do until you decide what your content needs to do and how and for whom it needs to do it. Need I say that it again? Content strategy comes first and it concerns technology, but it is not about technology.

Now, as noted in the first article of this series, “Content Strategy: What It Is, and Why you Need It,” satisfying channel requirements is dependent on having an information architecture and content management efforts. In part, the work is a product of the strategy, which should have produced a “proposed model” of the ideal composition of technology for the solution. A caution here is that strategy should avoid the belief that you must build on what you have. The ideal should not be encumbered with old or even current technology baggage.

With the “ideal” model in hand, take stock of known and existing technology resources in your organization. Examine the technology in terms of its functionality and map it to the strategic content requirements. Included in the examination should be some measure of how well it fits the need and some evaluation of any upgrades or additions from the technology vendor(s), which may help achieve greater fulfillment of the needs for your content work. During this venture, you will want to leverage your organization’s current investments, when feasible. However, as you evolve your solution, shortcomings may warrant taking an alternative path – up to and including abandonment of existing technology. It has to be about the content.

Technology must begin as a solution for aggregating, ingesting, tagging, housing, organizing, creating, reusing, repurposing, navigating, searching, and managing of all content. And, each of these characteristics breaks down into specific functions, which extend into particular applications. When looking at vendors, do not expect that there is a single-source solution. Note: I said nothing about delivery.

The solution will be the integration of technologies, into a content experience eco-system (Figure 2). Some technology comes from outside what we call the “learning industry.” The best description of my view of the architecture is a “mashup” of various component and application technologies, which live and work as one. By the way, today’s solutions more often reside external to the IT organization and function on a “platform as a hosted service” and “infrastructure as a hosted service” (PaaS/IaaS) on top of which are the integrated applications offered through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.

Figure 2: Content Experience Eco-system (Download a larger PDF of this image)

My depiction is a glimpse at possibilities. You may discover that your organization has elements of this architecture. The question is whether you can leverage it for the larger required solution. The beautiful thing today is the greater commitment by vendors to “open source” and “Web services” solutions as companions to some vendors’ APIs (application programming interfaces). And, the structure is already virtualized and in the “Cloud.”

The point is that your solution has nothing to do with my depiction. Your organizational requirements are about doing what your content needs to do. Build it to suit your strategy, and they will come.

Fundamental Six: Execution

Now to Fundamental Six (It’s alive). Execution. It does not matter that the content is faultless and the technology superior. Bringing it to life is the most exciting, rewarding, and daunting of all the labors – and the work is continuous and untiring. A successful payoff on content strategy requires organization and determination with a broad-based collaboration across all major divisions of the organization. The strategy must contemplate the type of organization, resources, structure, processes, and diversity of job experience necessary to accommodate the new solution and the technology behind it.

As the less-than-complete graphic illustrates, there are many pieces in the content management puzzle, each imposing its own rigor, processes, and structure (Figure 3). The ability to manage it all is distributed around the organization, because content is simply a product generated from many sources inside and outside the enterprise.

 

Figure 3: Content Management Elements

Not surprisingly, the emerging mastermind and exerciser of ownership and oversight across the content landscape is what we could call a learning architect. That role in American enterprise more regularly seems to be falling on the shoulders of the chief learning officer (CLO). In businesses where I have exposure, the real embodiment of the CLO job is someone with a background that goes beyond learning to include marketing and communications with a bit of product development experience and customer service or sales thrown in for good measure.

In all instances, this master architect is a professional capable of garnering collaboration from executive management peers – someone who is conversant with current thinking in media (particularly related to the Web and mobile worlds), as well as being up-to-date on developments in learning and technology. The person is comfortable both in the boardroom and with tackling smaller critical tasks. The important functionaries of today’s learning practice will move from instructional design to content curation and from LMS administration to CEM administration (content experience management, a term that I am just now bantering about to define the unique platform, infrastructure, and software application mashup). The organizational contributors are many and varied, with a convergence of human capital from Web content writers and editors to learning content programmers and developers. As content types continue a move to greater interactivity and video, we’ll see more production geared to audio and video where classrooms become studios with “sets.”

The content strategy will spell out the staffing and resource requirements, which could be some of the more challenging decision processes, if not out-and-out contentious ones. Change is not easy. I believe that the learning organization offers experience with content development and learning solution design, while the marketing organization and its Web content group offer innovation and capabilities to influence and manage audience responsiveness. You should take neither group for granted nor discount them. Both groups, with other content sources, have to own the strategy.

Execution will be about a content team as pragmatic (and spiritual) hands-on performers managed by leadership expecting to exploit, expose, and extend the value of content, particularly for knowledge transformation and acquisition.

I am depending on you!

Do you want to offer your organization millions of found dollars — literally? Then create the means to mine the value of content. Open up the digital markets. Double down on investments to create and manage content.

How? Rethink the way you create, manage, publish, and deliver content. Liberate yourself from the production processes, technologies, and ideas that just do not cut it. To succeed in the digital revolution think differently. Adopt a content strategy that takes into account business goals and insures that the strategy is socially-enabled, always-on, location-aware, globally-connected, and capable of responding to the device-dependent world.

Adopting a content strategy is the first step. However, success occurs with the re-engineering of production processes. You have to transform content in ways that allow greater efficiency and effectiveness – automatically and on-demand. And, the content has to support an increasing array of formats capable of being contextually adapted for the content consumer. That will require adopting new tools, technologies, standards, approaches, roles, and responsibilities.

Make content multichannel. Make content findable for a worldwide multilingual audience. Make content smart-appliance adaptable. Make it Intelligent Content!

References

Weinberger, David, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room, Basic Books, New York, NY 2011.


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Very good article Rick, specifically the "It's Not About The Technology" portion. We often get too wrapped up in the latest flashy gizmos that content unfortunately takes a back seat. Well done.

Justin Ferriman

http://WPLMS.org
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