in Digital Web

Content Governance for the rest of us

During my #ConfabMN talk last week, we discussed among other things the various ways that enterprise content governance happens.

The first message I tried to impart is how within most organizations there’s not a culture of appreciating the challenges of managing large websites. It’s just low on the priority list. Often times, the people managing website who aren’t aware of the history of how we arrived at this place.

User roles are a fallacy based on the idea that people who manage web content have the time, talent or expertise to do it. When we first started managing websites, webmasters received content from everywhere and put it online. It eventually became too much for one person, so distributing the content management responsibilities across the company made sense. Often times, the people we gave permissions to manage aspects of the website were versed in some level of HTML or were easily trainable. Nobody wants extra work and the notion that you’re going force people to manage their content by putting it in their job descriptions. Yet, we hear of clients often whose leadership propose this very strategy of governing content.

Fast forward to 2015 and none of these things are necessarily true. Getting people to manage content is often like pulling teeth. This leaves websites with old or outdated content and leaves those of us responsible for bringing these disparate silos together on the web in a tough position to bring it all together.

Do your people know how to get content from their desks to the website?

There is no perfect model of governing content.

Stop! Drop! Roll! is is a helpful thing we tell kids in elementary school (here in the US anyway) if they find they find their clothes on fire. I have no idea how much this happens anymore, but the bottom line is, it sticks with you.

I propose a simple way of helping your end users understand how to get content to you in the same fashion. The high-level conversations of strategy are too alienating and don’t focus well enough on business goals in an environment where senior leaders are shifting priorties elsewhere. Only when you make digital properties relate directly to the bottom line, do I find that you’re able to resonate across silos.

During my Confab talk, I asked the audience what percentage of them believed that if you asked any random person in their companies how to get a piece of content from their desk published to the website, whether that person would be able to answer the question. Barely anyone raised their hands.

We’re spending an increased amount of time talking about the tactics surrounding content publishing and investing lots of resources into the tools of content management without focusing on the processes.

The trick is: there isn’t one.

It’s dependent largely on the way your company is setup, the structure and organization of your web content infrastructure.

Here are some models we’ve devised after seeing lots of different governance structures inside diverse companies and organizations:

Single-Payer Model

  • Every user has some skin in the game related to the CMS. Whether they are trained to edit content or approve content, the single-payer model gives everyone in the organization a relationship with the content management platform.
  • The problem? Hard to enforce. Also, once people have put their content in the CMS, many of them never want to deal with it again and would appreciate if you’d never, ever speak with them about it.

Most people responsible for managing websites are not empowered to implement widespread strategy or affect massive organizational change.

Policy-Based Model

  • Assemble a committee of stakeholders, preferably with at least one senior member. Work together to establish or revise existing policies that give you a baseline to manage content.
  • Policies can envelope responsibilities for governing content across departments, content on platforms outside of the CMS, approved tools and more. The key is to ensure policies are fluid enough to be workable in most scenarios rather than constraining the people in charge of managing your sites.
  • Problem: The policy-based model often requires a unique amount of consensus coupled with a leadership willing to delegate core responsibilities to subordinates. While we’ve seen the policy-based model work — and it’s the most common setup — it can be fraught with other challenges like outdated policies that once codified are hard to revise and a lack of senior stakeholder engagement that leads to stagnation once you’ve assembled a committee.

Centralized Model

  • Content is managed & approved centrally by a team. This can be done departmentally or company-wide. This ensures that areas like legal, marketing and product teams are part of the content development process. Provides support to web managers and takes the burden off one person or a small team to chase down folks to get content.
  • Bad news is having all of the power rest in one area, department or person is great when things are going well. It’s less good when things aren’t working as well. Having policies in tandem with a centralized model seem to work best for the people we’ve talked to.

Head Person In Charge Model

  • The closest thing to the old “webmaster” model where one person has control of pretty much the entire digital presence. A lot of people think this model no longer exists, but there are still lots of smaller institutions that leave the website in control of a centralized web person embedded in marketing or some related office.
  • There are lots of issues with this model, but the most challenging is what happens when the smart person you’ve entrusted with everything decides to leave. The vacuum of knowledge often leaves with that person and unless there’s 1) a lot of documentation and 2) a period of transition, you risk going backwards in your digital operations as a result. Ways that end users are used to interacting with one person might dissipate and leave you starting from scratch.
  • The other thing about the HPIC model is often that someone has responsibility for management of the website, but someone else has authority over the presence. This leader is often divorced from the day-to-day process of managing content which can cause many problems depending on the challenges faced by the team executing content from communication to funding breakdowns.

Bumper Car Model

  • I explained the bumper car model as “a bunch of people running into reach other, not communicating and trying to do a lot of the same things at the same time at varying speeds.”

Governance is not a topic that will move the need in most organizations. It’s our job to bring it down to Earth in measurable ways that help people understand how it can help us do our jobs better, save resources and improve communication.