multiple views from a multi-sided mirror
Without a strong content governance framework in place, you open your organization up to brand damage or worse. PHOTO: Erik Eastman

Large organizations are publishing more and more content across more and more channels. But combine that scale of content produced on a daily, or even hourly basis, with the diverse skill sets of the content creators, and bad processes such as checking content only after publication, and issues arise. These issues leave organizations wide open to brand damage, potential breaches of external legislation, and poor and inaccessible customer journeys.

So how can organizations ensure their content is accessible, usable, up to date, error-free and relevant before it is published?

The solution lies with a redefinition of the content publishing model, which places content governance right at the heart of any institutional digital governance framework.

A CMS Doesn’t Equal Content Governance

Speak to any web or digital manager within Higher Education (HE), the sector where I've worked for over 15 years, and they will tell you that governance is a hot topic. The ability to proactively plan, manage and measure digital activities and personnel based around sound policies, procedures, regulations and standards is now becoming the priority for forward-thinking, strategic managers. 

At the heart of this emerging governance framework is the issue of "content" and how that is planned, allocated, created, reviewed and published to be error-free, usable, accessible and relevant to its audiences.

Content governance isn’t a new thing. People have been writing about it for years, often in the context of Enterprise Content Management.

But what seems to have happened is that organizations researched, tendered for and implemented a content management system (CMS), without considering the strategies and associated methods and tools to surround and support it. And a CMS isn’t enough to establish governance. As Jonathan Kahn wrote in 2010:

“Trying to fix an organization’s content problems by installing a content management system (CMS) is like trying to save a marriage by booking a holiday.”

A CMS is just one part of the overall content management ecosystem, a point often forgotten within large organizations with devolved, and diversely skilled, teams of web content contributors and editors. A content management ecosystem needs to be defined and then actively managed.

Content Management Is Never a Smooth Process

In an ideal world the publishing process for any piece of content would be as simple as Assign (to an author), Write, Review, Publish. 

Of course, in the real world it’s more like: Assign, write, review a bit as somewhat pushed for time, publish, review again and realize there were errors, amend, publish, review, gah — missed something again, publish, OK that’s fine till the next scheduled review and then we’ll see if anything else comes up and if it does we’ll assign it to someone and start again.

In my work with and in HE institutions, I've seen a lot of CMSs in action, or had first-hand use of them. In my experience, not many organizations are using their CMS's workflow capabilities to reflect the reality of the very uneven content management process.

They either don’t use workflow at all, or have the piece of content work its way through the pre-determined workflow process, passing from person to person, simply ticking the "yes, I’ve seen it, read it and checked it, and it’s all fine/needs editing" button, without having read it at all. This leaves the organization wide open to errors and issues.

A CMS is a very passive system — it is only as good as the content you put in, and the capabilities (such as workflow) you choose to use and how you choose to use them. They don’t have much "intelligence," bar a spelling and link checker to tell you when things go awry.

And the more people who have access to your CMS, in the absence of a sound governance framework, the greater the risk of falling foul of legislation relating to accessibility, GDPR or sector-specific regulatory demands.

While content authors may not feel responsible for the content they are creating and publishing across the institution’s digital channels, it is the organisation that will take the hit should they fail to meet the standards required by these external bodies.

Effective Content Governance Requires a Human and Technical Approach

So, what can digital managers do to establish effective content governance?

Systems, both human and technical, need to be put in place to make existing digital footprints work well for the user, and be streamlined and effective for the internal teams that are using them.

Governance which establishes effective checking, reporting and amending of content all need to be built into the content management cycle, before publication, to cut down on errors and issues.

This can be difficult to implement in a sector like Higher Education due to the sheer scale of content, number of channels aimed at different audiences and highly devolved publishing model.

Training will be key. Most universities I know have well-defined, established training programs for different levels of content creators, moderators, editors — but this is often defined by the roles already established within the organizational CMS, rather than a traditional publishing process.

But things change. New legislation takes effect, staff come and go, faculties change their names, ‘linked to’ content is moved or deleted, logos change. It’s difficult for such a large, diverse group of content creators and editors to keep on top of these changes and to implement them at short notice into their working practices. Governance processes and the related training needs to factor in the ability for editors to make these changes as part of everyday work.

Technology can certainly help your devolved publishing community keep on top of things. This needs to be efficient. For example, it’s possible to get a one-off snapshot report of published content and potential errors, but these can sometimes create more work than it prevents.

A better approach is to use tools which integrate some of the everyday governance processes with your CMS. There are several effective tools and plug-ins which are worth investigating. Tools that deliver dashboard reporting can also really help the digital manager’s efforts to coordinate activity when necessary.

Archiving and versioning are also important. Effective content governance will record and archive every page and piece of content that has been published, enabling digital managers to ‘go back’ should they need to see what was online at a particular point in time, as well as who created and/or published that piece of content.

Content Governance Is Key

Having a sound digital governance framework within a large organization is more important than ever before, and the governance of content within that framework is fundamental to its success.

The whole content management ecosystem needs readdressing. Marrying content management and governance systems together provides the solution, but it must be done in a way that is seamless to the content editor — they already have enough to worry about.

By marrying training and engagement for your publishing and editor community with appropriate approaches and processes which utilize and extend the capability of your CMS, you can evolve your content governance, resulting in improved customer experiences and reduction of issues.