It is a generally held truism in the digital marketing community that “content is the biggest challenge to manage.” But according to a presentation from Erin Scime, Associate Director of Content Strategy of Razorfish at the recent MIMA Summit, people are the root of the problem when it comes to creating and executing a digital content strategy.

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When People are Lacking

One big people-related problem Scime related in her presentation is actually a lack of people. As in, no content owner equals no content strategy, translation plan, publishing plan, job descriptions or expectations, which ultimately leads to either discarded translated copy or reactive, ad hoc publishing. However, the process of creating digital content is almost always touched by more than one person, yet organizations expect one “super-human” to tie the whole “system” together.  

When People are Political

Another significant people-related problem that plagues digital content is corporate politics and bureaucracy. A new digital design or site expansion leads to new titles and roles, sites areas to manage, patterns for distribution and a whole new way of integrating into a larger advertising ecosystem. That leads to difficulties relating to politics and process. Proper advance planning to put structure in place will mitigate most process-related issues and putting the right management in place will stave off most political issues.

Four Tactics for Turning around People Problems

Scime offered four tactics to help companies turn around people problems:

  1. Identify Your People Problems – Scime says organizations must know how to differentiate business problems from people problems. For example, creating a digital vision is a business problem, but aligning people to that vision is a people problem.
  2. Position a Content Owner – The digital content owner tends to be the missing key player in the digital content strategy equation. Scime advises creating a senior VP-level position responsible for overall digital content product, long-term strategy and vision, overseeing all publishing factions, communicating with top-level stakeholders, serving as content lead on high-profile initiatives and establishing relationships with owners of key business functions such as marketing and IT.
  3. Build a Nimble Team – Companies must hire and cultivate nimble digital employees who are flexible and embrace change, contribute to creative solutions, understand major digital platforms and can think on their feet. Nimble employees should be incentivized based on new and updated KPIs and site goals and have flexible job descriptions that change as the strategy changes.
  4. Have a Socialization Plan – There is often a disconnect between digital content goals and tactics. To close this gap, Scime suggests companies enlist their digital marketers to create a socialization plan that connects strategists (high-level execs) with tacticians (editors, writers, etc.). The plan should be mapped out to address different business levels at different times to allow it to gain momentum, operationalize and then be executed.

The Proof is in the Content Strategy

Scime closed her presentation with a real-life example of an automaker that had people problems preventing effective creation of a digital content strategy. These included having no content owner, intra-company turf wars, micro-focused business units and outdated roles and responsibilities.

In response, the company positioned a content owner, socialized a content vision to its business units, standardized content production, customized its content management system to produce responsive content, redefined existing corporate roles and set new expectations, and then further socialized the company and offered additional training.

As a result, the automaker went from spending 60% of digital content expenditures on emergency requests and 40% on standard requests to spending 90% on standard requests and only 10% on emergency requests. The company was also able to reduce associated labor and IT development resources by 56% and reduced the time it took to launch a new page by three weeks.

Aligning the Audience

Properly aligning the people inside your organization is an important step in surviving on the razor thin margins digital publishing offers. Bob Egner, VP of product management and global marketing at web content management solutions provider EPIServer, was quoted in a December 2011 EContent article about the importance of also aligning the digital content audience to your strategy.

“Anyone can be a web publisher, but to attract the most eyeballs, you need more than just web content management,” stated Egner. “You need to create a community, encourage social interaction and source correct content from the right database."

Digital Content Must be Desirable

 In May 2012, RocketSpace and Pearson Publishing put together a panel discussion in San Francisco on "The Future of Publishing.” Panelists agreed that storytelling is “most basic, important, emotional tenet of being human” and that the “Book” as a philosophy will not die despite changes in format. Thus in addition to solving internal people problems, publishers of digital content must have “desirable content” at the heart of their strategy. Everything else is essentially management and delivery of desirable content by means that reflect the current state of technology and consumer expectations.