“If the ‘S’ in your CMS doesn’t stand for strategy, you’re focusing on the wrong ‘S,'” offered digital strategist John Eckman to a crowded hall at WordCamp Boston. It was 2011, and John was delivering an uncommon but compelling message that the audience needed to hear. As a contributor to ISITE Design’s CMS Myth blog, he was familiar with the misconceptions surrounding content management systems. Even today, among users of open source and enterprise class content management systems, that message is relevant—and all too uncommon.
If you’re a content strategist reading this, it’s time. Let’s have that conversation with our clients, our CTOs, and our project managers. CMS without content strategy is short-sighted, and we know that from so many projects that run over in time and budget. We talk amongst ourselves about it, but that doesn’t do much good. It’s a bigger conversation with questions about culture, process, and planning.
Before you implement that new CMS, consider your content strategy. Before you meet with vendors and weigh functionality, first consider what you need it to do—not just what it can do. What do you need from your content? What do your content owners, editors, reviewers, and contributors need their content to do to best engage your target audience and communicate your brand?
Those are big, heady questions, but their answers drive concrete tactics for content creation and management, and you’d be foolhardy and wasteful to ignore them. Let’s say your brand needs to communicate its rapport with a key segment of your audience. There are many ways to do that: testimonials, case studies, video interviews. Interviews can combine copy with video modules, and reassemble them based on the user’s device! You’ll find features among many CMSes to support those content types and adaptive requirements. But how do you know what content types are best, and what features are most important, and what tools will really meet the cultural constraints of content creation in your organization?
(Sartre, hell isn’t other people. Hell is other people with diverse content expectations.)
Also, how do you know what CMS can best support the granular structure your content needs so that it can move and reconfigure across devices, platforms, and contexts? Content management on the modern web means your content is going places… but only if you unshackle it with structure within your system.
Embracing that other S
All those questions are bigger than content management. They’re content strategy. And if you work in content strategy, you know this. You get it. You—okay, we—come together over drinks to bemoan it.
Content strategy demands you clarify those goals, determine their order of importance, and then address organizational publishing culture. It demands you address the constraints you need to fit—time, budget, creativity, or a particular skill set. Does your publishing culture demand collaborative creation with extensive internal review cycles? You’ll want a CMS that can facilitate the process. Do content creators have deep expertise in video production? You’ll want a CMS that can natively support rich media and tag volumes of video testimonials. Do content creators expect to use the CMS daily, or will they dip into it only every few months? You’ll want to choose a CMS that can welcome and accommodate both power users and more casual users. But you won’t know that without digging into your content strategy.
Hope and change
Last year, a prospective client called me with a request that would normally elicit a hug or a high five.
“We’re starting to look for a new CMS, but first we need to better understand our content,” he explained. “We need help with an audit.” I was nearly electrocuted by the tears of joy I shed on my keyboard.
He was right, of course. Before they could manage their content and determine the time and budget to port it over into a new system, they needed to assess what they had and see if it was any good. That meant we needed a message architecture against which to measure quality. It was an exciting discussion—and I’m thrilled to take part in it with more and more organizations.
That’s also why I’m excited about the upcoming CMS Expo. Over the past two years, the conference has increased its focus on content strategy. This year, I’ll be speaking about content strategy for content management. And if you’re really ready to dig in, sign up for the workshop on how to develop a brand-driven message architecture to guide your content audit.
CMS Expo will offer a forum for commiserating about content management and exploring new options. But amid all the conversation about CMS, we’ll focus on that other S—strategy—and how to bring it into your process as well. Hear Sarah Beckley talk about adaptive, structured content, the team from Whole Foods on their approach to content strategy in a retail environment, and more.
If you’re a content strategist, put this conference on your calendar. We can roll our eyes about the lack of planning and strategy in so many CMS implementations, or we can start teaching about how to do them differently. You know the IT manager who’s implementing the new CMS, who stakes a project on “out-of-the-box functionality”? Yeah. That’s who needs to learn more about content strategy. Join me in having that conversation this May in Chicago.
Want to attend CMS Expo and save $100 off the three-day registration? Use the code CMSX20794. And let me know in the comments if we’ll see each other in Chicago!