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Content Strategy for Content Agility

by Tom Johnson on Apr 30, 2011
categories: technical-writing

The following is a guest post by Noz Urbina, organizer of the upcoming Congility conference, held May 24-26 in Gatwick, UK.
Noz Urbina

We live in a multi-in, multi-out world.  There are so many information pipelines running into, out and around the organisation these days that it's overwhelming companies the world over.  The famous information overload is in stark contrast to an endless pressure to deliver excellent content — quickly and cost effectively.

The only scalable answer is to change not (only) the process and skill set (or sheer number) of the people working on content, but actually change the content itself.

We need content that inherently does more for us than it does today. I call content that does this magical 'more', content with 'agility'. But what does that even mean?

I put the question to the Congility 2011 speaking group and got some very interesting replies. One of my favourites was Mark Forry from NetApp:

For many organizations, the expectations of their customers have outpaced with the information managers can provide — and in some cases, can even conceive of. The notion of 'agile content' would thus seem to encompass several aspects: development of increasingly sophisticated information in multiple media, storing it in such a way that it is accessible and relevant throughout an organization, and designing the optimal user experience when the information is needed.

In my own experience as a field consultant, the 'can even conceive of' part of this snippet rings very true. Just this month I was doing an onsite Content Strategy Audit for a high tech company. They said to me quiet succinctly and eloquently:

  • We can't keep up with the information requirements of customers as they are today, both internal and external ones, and yet we're expected to up the pace dramatically in the coming years.
  • As a result we spend far too much in hand-holding and live support.
  • Content is going out in a mix of old and new templates (Word, in this case) because it takes too long to move things from one to the other and you can't apply templates globally.
  • We can't assure that either marketing messaging or technical info is consistent and actually representative of the reality of product.
  • We want to start localising and translating all this too.
  • Competitors are breathing down our neck for our business and provide a far more integrated product and information experience.
  • We would love to be able to deliver to both web and print formats.

So — they get it. They could be delivering presentations at an CCMS or structured content conference discussing the business drivers. But they actually couldn't even envisage a solution. Several dialogues included phrases like, "Maybe a solution is just not feasible", "Maybe I'm asking for magic", or "It would amaze me to see something that could actually solve these problems".

What this tells me is that the world is far too divided into the haves and the have-nots when it comes to content with agility. Even though solutions have been around, and falling in price, for decades, understanding of them has not permeated the market nearly far enough.

In my own opinion, content has agility when it is meaningful, optimised for business and user goals, reusable, portable and accessible. To do these things it needs to be:

  • Freed from proprietary formats. If I have to spend time converting, QA'ing or waiting for a software company to release an update with 'output to format X', then my content is not agile.
  • Freed from its visual style and page paradigm. Have you seen PDF-based 'eBooks' on a Smart Phone? With little 'flippable' pages you need to zoom in and out of to read, with no social media features? Pathetic. If your content can't be represented differently and automatically according to the target media, it's not agile.
  • Freed (as much as sensible) from its original context. Context is king, yes. But can you reconstruct context flexibly, or are you locked into only one potential arrangement, forcing you to cut, paste and rearrange every time you want to adapt things? It needs to carry its metadata with it, so you can find it, and know what contexts it can be both used and understood in. If it's not findable, shareable and reusable, then agile = no.
  • Freed from the bias of the creator. Content should be optimised for the audience and support business goals. Commercial content's business goal is to persuade users. That means delivering the optimum information to best reflect the brand and support the messages to that user, making customers comfortable and motivated to hand over money. Technical (tech communications, support, training and service) content enables. Users should get the content they need and want, no more, no less. In both cases, inaccurate, out of date, hard to consume, or published 'just because we've always published that way' are major detractors from customer experience.

I'm impassioned enough about these issues to, for the fifth time, be organising an international event gathering globally recognised experts around breaking down these barriers.

Congility 2011, this May 24-26, just outside London, England, is for content professionals looking to advance their organisation's goals with better content strategy, management and process. It is the only European platform bringing together such a diversity of content experts and learning opportunities under one roof. Learn from 'The Mother of Content Management', Ann Rockley, renowned content strategist Rahel Bailie, and case studies from eBay, Nokia, AMD, IBM, AGFA and more.

As part of an arrangement with this blog, you could attend completely free, by taking advantage of this unique discount code. The first person to use the code below will be given access to the conference (but not workshops) at no cost to them besides travel and expenses. Everyone else who uses the code will be entitled to the 20% discount*:


* If you can't go even at 20% discount, you can cancel your registration without commitment or penalty.

B. Noz Urbina is a marketing and presales manager for Mekon Ltd, where he defines and enhances the customer engagement process from beginning to end. With years of experience as a content strategy and content management consultant, he has provided services to Fortune 500 organisations and small-to-medium enterprises. Since 2006, Noz has chaired the Congility events platform (formerly known as X-Pubs). You can connect with Noz through the following links:

Congility is a sponsor of I'd Rather Be Writing.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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