Forrester_logo_2009.jpg On the first day of Forrester’s Content & Collaboration Forum, we focused on the ways companies are (or should) collaborate online, whether it’s in the cloud or through employee portals. On day two, we’re tackling content.

Two keynote speakers this morning tackled the distribution of content through multiple channels and the development of successful content management strategies. Stephen Powers, a Forrester analyst, taught us how to Orchestrate Our Multichannel Engagement Strategy. Zach Brand, senior director, chief of technical strategy and operation of NPR Digital Media, told us How and Why NPR's Content Goes Everywhere.

Create a Multichannel Engagement Strategy

Managing customer facing content has evolved. It’s not just about moving content from point A to point B. Customer expectations have increased and content is increasingly being consumed across channels.

To effectively understand your content ask yourself: How is it created, by whom and who is expected to manage it? Think about technologies. How many different systems do you have in place. Chances are that there are many: WCM, DAM, ECM, CRM, analytics, testing, search and archiving systems, to name only a few. Are they connected? Probably not.

Content is also about process management, which can also be challenging. What is the process for updating? If you don’t have a strategy, be prepared for some risk -- old and outdated content can cause confusion, embarrassment and a lack of credibility.

While content is the foundation, it’s only the beginning. Powers introduced what he called the 7 Cs:

  1. Content has evolved to include more rich media, like video, audio and interactive media.
  2. Contextual content is based on user preferences. Content can be recommended to improve the user experience.
  3. Consistency: you may have many methods for distributing content or brands within a company, but you want to keep consistency across channels.
  4. Channel: It’s about more than just a single channel of content: Think about print, mobile, email, web content and other emerging channels. Content may be global, but it can overlap.
  5. Community groups are created based on similar interests, likes, purchases.
  6. Consumer: thanks to analytics we know how consumers are using and interacting with content.
  7. Creation: What is the process? Who is in charge?

Content Process Management

What about the technologies that manage these processes? Is there a single suite solution that can help you do it all? Not yet, but even if there was, that’s not the point. Integration is. No one should be expected to abandon their current systems for an all-in-one tool. Not only would that be expensive, it’s also impractical. Why not work with what you have and have it talk to each other? Now you’re onto something. (see Harvest Your Silos, Don't Smash Them: Information Agility with Open Standards)

Even with the best technologies and processes, content management is about people. How can you make sure that everyone involved not only knows how to manage, create and distribute content, but are able to scale those strategies into person to person communication?

For most businesses, content is for their constituencies, namely customers. If customers aren’t getting the information they need from your online systems, they should be able to access if from a customer representative. Just as fostering innovation is a company-wide initiative, so should your content strategies be.

How NPR's Content Goes Everywhere

The story of NPR’s content starts with flexibility. Flexible content works, can be found easily and can be transformed across platforms and interfaces. But how do you get there? Let NPR lead the way.

First, don’t attempt to build the all-in-one system mentioned previously. Not only does it not exist, it’s expensive. Integrate instead and learn how to COPE -- Brand’s clever acronym that lets you Create Once Publish Everywhere. As well, use your content management tools to work across presentation layers, which is not just the web, by the way.

Second, find and understand your atom. At NPR, their stories are their atom. Stories contain assets like video, photos and other multimedia.

While everyone wants a perfect system, Brand encourages us to work with what we have and reminds us that if your content is ready, but the systems are still in progress, it’s okay. It’s better to be incomplete than inaccurate.

Content First, Application Second

If content is king, making sure it’s targeted at the right people is important. At NPR they outlined their target audiences to see how they could make content better and more accessible. By implementing and launching an API, NPR was able to transform their content, presence and the ultimately their reach. Remember they’re in radio!

In order for their API to work effectively, however, it was about more than just code. It was about process. They had to update editorial and photo editing policies to ensure that content was optimized for multiple channels. They also needed to understand digital rights management to guarantee that nothing got mixed up and created unknown risk.

An API is not a magic bullet. While it made it possible for NPR to share and spread their content across websites, mobile and tablet devices, it also required a lot of restructuring of information and processes. Even if an API isn’t in your best interest, making sure your strategy is up to date and relevant is.