Data can have a big impact on your content management practices, but at the recent Smart Content conference in New York, it struck me that it's often not living up to its potential.

Two weeks ago, I attended Smart Conference: The Content Analytics Conference, a daylong conference in New York that focused on both the technological advancements in content delivery, as well as the emerging popularity of content strategy.

The Visionaries Panel really caught my attention, as all three panelists discussed how they manage data, from analysis, delivery to clients and how it affects both long and short-term business decisions. Moderated by John Blossom, president of Shore Communications, Inc, the panel brought together Michael O. Lavitt, director of online and editorial production at Aviation Week; Natasha Fogel, executive vice president of Edelman Strategy One; and Mark Stefik, a research fellow at the Palo Alto Research Center. You can read more about what they said in Content Strategy: How do we make our content smart.

How does data influence the management of content?

What occurred to me is that we don’t have a good schematic for how data impacts content management. Before we create one, it’s a good idea to define each of these critical pieces that affects content strategy.

What is data?

Data is raw. It is numbers and patterns that have no interpretation. It reminds me of that joke:

“In a company, when you ask the marketing department what 2+2 equals, they will tell you 3.99. When you ask the engineering department, they will tell you 4. When you ask the accountants, they will respond “What do you want it to be?”

Analyzing data, whether it's user behavior patterns or accounting numbers, requires a list of questions about why patterns are emerging. Answering those questions requires an understanding that we may never know for sure. Instead, we should use user behavior data to point out areas where users are having success on a website, or failing at using the website. Then we can fix those pages, or troubled transitions, that are giving our users a hard time.

What is information?

Information is many things, but in the context of this conversation, it really revolves around understanding what the data is telling us. Data should provide information about what is happening to users on sites so we can understand how to make it easier for them to get the content they need when they need it.

Data cannot answer every question we have about our websites. However, just as in research, we talk about triangulating data to form a conclusive point, so too, content strategists can use user behavior pattern analytics, social media analytics and conversion analytics to draw some distinct ideas about why users are behaving the way they are.

What is content?

Content is digestible forms of information. Data gives us raw material from where we can provide information about our users. Information informs us how to make our content better -- if it’s clear, pertinent, easily shareable, etc. then we know how to manage it. If the information we synthesize from the data tells us it is bad content, unclear content, or content that is on the wrong page, we can manage it better.

What is action/understanding?

What we really want is for our users TO DO something with our content. Act on it, share it, print it, copy it, understand it, analyze it, etc. That action then feeds into our data, so we have more raw material with which to understand user behavior patterns.

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How data informs the management of content

How do you use data in your organization? Do you have a streamlined, efficient approach? Or do you have no idea what your users are doing -- are you throwing things over the wall, hoping for the best? Let us know and maybe we can give you practical suggestions on how to better use your user behavior data.