Content Management Tidbits

Cooking and serving content for you… since 1998

Archive for February 2008

Designing and Writing (and Managing, Yes)

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People involved in the content publishing process often talk about the content lifecycle, a concept that comes in handy especially when you have to adopt a Content Management System. But I don’t want to talk about technologies. Yet. Let’s stick for a moment to the sheer (human) tasks and skills of somebody who’s in charge of being the voice of a company. Be it on or offline (did I stress that enough?).

The job of a Content Manager consists of three main tasks: designing, writing and managing. And, depending on the organization, it can easily cover all the three. Let’s take a closer look at the first two tasks (I will save the last one for another tidbit: indigestion could be lethal!)

Design? Yes, content is a very vague entity, a raw material that needs to be cut and shaped to fit the needs of a company. It has nothing (let me state it once again: nothing) to do with graphics, and it has a lot to do with having a vision. Let’s make an example: your organization needs a website. Not a corporate website, but a simpler product website. Maybe they need something eye-catching, or they’re thinking about a mixed strategy (an online competition? A support for a direct mailing? You name it, web is the limit). The staff in the Communication department came up with ideas, and they’re smart enough to ask for the Content Manager’s advice. After a thorough analysis of the documentation, a lot of questions should arise. What do we have to say in this website? What’s the more effective way to say it? Will it be periodically updated? Where do we gather data from? Can this be done internally or do we have to rely on external contributors? Who will be our internal point of reference? How can we bind them so that data don’t stop flowing abruptly after the first month online?
It looks pretty overwhelming, doesn’t it? But, in fact, this is not. A check of the strenghts and the limits of a project, content-wise, pretty much shapes the content design by itself. Remember: content design is not about drawing the perfect website, but about serving the users’ needs within a budget (and within the limits of an organization).

Writing. Whether you manage content or you manage people producing content, it can’t be simpler than that: a Content Manager must be a good writer. Not as in “My prose has been published on the New Yorker”, of course, but a CM must be able to tame the power of words. When I started working in the content arena, there was no way of being trained as a Content Manager, and in Italy, for instance, you could count the number of CMs by the tens. They were copywriters, journalists, freelancers, embarking on a new endeavor. Personally, I started working at a monthly magazine that was just projecting its website — a great opportunity to learn how the traditional publishing process works. But it was also the right environment to learn how to take care of content, how to shape it, how to tell a good piece of work from a bad one. And in the meanwhile I was popping out article after article for on and offline newspapers: it was the greatest informal CM training I could get. Just the last personal memory: a couple of years after, I was working as a Content Manager for a web agency, and I needed to find a junior. A girl walks in for the interview, and she starts telling me what a great CM she would do, even if she’s fresh out of college, and how she dreams about managing writers, and so on. Great. I ask her: “Can I see some of your writings?”. She looks at me as if I asked her to produce her criminal record, and replied “I don’t write. I am a Content Manager”. Needless to say, she didn’t get the job.

Written by Paola

February 5, 2008 at 9:47 am

Web Content Manager or Content Manager?

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Browsing through job listings you can see that companies look either for a Content Manager or a Web Content Manager. Is there any difference between the two?

No. I mean, yes.

No, because Content Managers were born more or less with the first big wave of corporate websites.
Yes, because, in time, companies with a vision realized that managing web content can’t be really detached from the task of managing the whole content produced within a company.

Those companies understand the pivotal importance of centralizing their content: communication-wise, of course, but also money-wise. I will deal with the economic aspect of this process later: now I just want to stress the importance of having a strong unified strategy when the means of communicating with people tend to multiply. Websites, intranets, corporate blogs, newsletters, forums, but also brochures, houseorgans, direct mailing, press releases. Can you imagine so many heads delivering so many different forms of content without a unified strategy? In the best case scenario (where there are no redundancies, or, worse, inconsistencies) the overall time spent by all heads involved will be anti-economic for the company. The worst case scenario (well depicted by the analogy of silos in Managing Enterprise Content by Ann Rockley) is so scary I will have to devote multiple posts to give a faint idea of the horror.

So, back to the differences:

  • do we always need a Web Content Manager? Yes, if you are a company and you want your Internet presence to be at least not damaging;
  • do we always need a Content Manager? Yes, if you are a company and you want your content to be effective and consistent, and you don’t want to invest (and lose) loads of money on producing it;
  • do they have to be different persons? No, not necessarily. It depends on the size and on the type of the organization the company has.

Written by Paola

February 1, 2008 at 1:40 pm