3 12 2013
Why professional in-house content management matters?
Managing content on professional level in company’s intranet and extranet sites is very important. Often companies underestimate the importance of information quality and instead focusing on improving it they try to find other ways how to make people use materials provided through these sites. In this posting I will go through main problems related to content and give my advice about how to get things under control.
Based on experiences. This posting is based on my experiences on working with my SharePoint customers on intranet sites that must support the work of up to hundreds of employees. There has been also smaller intranets with complex content consumed by users who are running complex software in their machines and who just don’t use the content when it is not easy to use. And, of course, companies who have found it hard to get professional content management working when doing it in-house.
High-quality content never doesn’t come easy.
- users responsible for content are always busy and working with content is annoying additional task that takes time,
- users have no good idea how content should be organized and structured,
- not much writing and editing skills,
- not much knowledge about users and their preferences,
- not all content formats are convenient for users.
If you see nice and easy to follow guidence and support materials in some intranet site then you can be sure that there is somebody with good content management skills.
What is the problem? To understand the problem better, imagine that your intranet site is restaurant that users visit. What they expect? Nice interior? Yes, sure. Convenience? Of course. Good food and great service? Correct! If they are going to restaurant and it turns to be small dirty stand-up bar instead, then what they do? Of course, they leave. Now think that your intranet is digital restaurant that serves digital materials and go throug the questions and answers again.
Examples of annoying content
Users want consuming of content to be quick and easy. Main obstacles, based on my practice, are listed below.
- How to get there? After opening intranet site in browser, how much clicks must user make to find the content? Often there are too much clicks and search returnes poor results. Getting to content needs focusing on navigation and users stay away from intranet because they have to focus on it.
- Inconvenient fortmats. Word documents, PDF files, Excel sheets and other non-browser content is disturbing for users. They need to download something and it opens in some other program and they have to wait. Again, users start avoiding information made available in formats that are not quick’n’easy to consume.
- Poor content. Often people responsible for content have totally different things they mainly work on. Managing content is annoying task they are forced to work on. Content is created very quickly and with minimum effort to get just something done and move on with main work. The result is – materials doesn’t actually help users or are so confusing that users just doesn’t want to waste their time on these materials.
Avoid hard to consume content! Users prefer information sources that doesn’t waste their time and doesn’t need too much additional moves to get there. This is beacuse focusing to something else when working is interruption in work. After every interruption people need some time to focus back on work. If it is complex mental work then focusing back may take 15 minutes, by example. Don’t be surprised if it takes 30 minutes instead.
Solution – professional content management
To keep users happy and support their work with really useful materials the best way you need professional content management procedures and some people who have time enough to work with content if needed. Some tips and tricks:
- Browser based content – there are different materials that can be published as pages in your intranet. Most of your users are able to use browser, they know how it works and therefore they don’t lose focus from work when reading materials through browser.
- Be short and concrete – when working, people want to get information they need quickly and they don’t want to spend much time on going through guidance materials. Don’t write long articles or novels – users have not time enough for this kind of content. Be concrete, write easy to follow texts and avoid information noise.
- Pay attention to formatting – it’s easy to just write and publish something but it takes time to get professional looking materials that users really like. Split texts to sections of small size, have short paragraphs, add understandable images and charts, go through text and think you are user who has something else and more important to do.
- Keep same style – after some practicing make sure that you stick to one concrete formatting and writing style. It is confusing and annoying for users if all texts are different by structure or formatting. Users get used with something – it’s often painful for them – and after that they want as less changes as possible. Also keeping same style gives your guidance sites more complete look.
From practice I know that people like easy to follow content that is helpful and looks professional. Some of my customers who had troubles with users not using guidance materials available in intranet have been successful after following my advice. Of course, in practice it’s more than just content management but professional content is key factor to success.
Here is one simple content page for techies who are responsible for deployments of one system we are building:
Sometimes you need more advanced study materials. In this case you are focusing on people who are learning something and they are not in hurry with other burning things. In this case you have to focus on educating the one who is reading the text.
Here is the example from my extranet. This text is for developers who start working in our projects and before doing anything the must know very well how we build things:
Training content manager
Now you ask if somebody form your company can do it and how to get moving the cost effective way. It is possible and you don’t have to bury tons of bucks to get the results. You have to find somebody from your company or if you have a lot of content to take care of then hire somebody who will work on content. Often companies find somebody and organize the work of employee the way that there is enough free time to work on new content.
You can send your content manager to training but it is also possible to let the employee to learn and practice independently. Just make sure there is study plan and learning to work with content is managed, controllable and organized process.
Study plan can be something like this by example:
- find employee who will be responsible for content management,
- have meeting together and agree on how much time the employee needs to get started (gathering basic information, reading advisory materials, etc),
- on next meeting let employee to tell you about the progress and then select some materials that need publishing or editorial work,
- agree on when the new look of this materials is done,
- talk with some other employees to validate new materials and give feedback,
- go through feedback with content manager and agree on next steps,
- going couple of times through publish-feedback process helps to get the common details in place.
Of course, this is not so black and white process and you really have to keep also yourself on track with progress of new content manager to make sure that professional content really happens.
Helping companies with internal content management is one of the services I provide to my SharePoint customers. Internal content management is not just about writing texts but it is more about creating, establishing and enforcing the managed process of creating, publishing and spreading the information about new or changed content. Also I have some professional content managers working with me. If you feel that you need help on getting started or go through the whole process or you want to buy content management services in then please contact me. I’m sure I can help you!