Keeping Up with the Pace
At times it feels overwhelming to keep up with all the content that comes our way. And it is not just the amount that competes for our attention and mental capacity. The delivery speed and channel diversity also test our ability to absorb content in a manageable fashion.
Although we do have some control over how content reaches us, we are not always successful in containing it to our liking. Moreover, the digital transformation of businesses and our personal lives continues to generate new content at an exponential rate. This trend demands innovative technologies and approaches to manage content and its consumption.
Likewise, in e-commerce the fine line between B2B, B2C, C2C, and C2B interactions has become blurry. In a way, everybody is a potential creator and consumer of content. “Click-to-subscribe” or “Follow” are familiar catchphrases that we have become accustomed to.
Therefore, creating targeted and compelling content is even more critical now than just a few years ago. But simply reusing content is no longer sufficient. In fact, channel management and adapting content delivery is as important as the quality of our content.
Overall, our digital world provides new opportunities to reach and interact with target audiences. And to realize these opportunities, companies must learn how to effectively manage their content.
The Content Lifecycle
Content management involves several activities that we can group into logical stages. These stages then define the content lifecycle, which is a framework for deploying our content.
Typically, a content lifecycle includes four or more activity stages. Personally, I prefer a six-stage content lifecycle with the following activity stages: 1) Conceive, 2) Create, 3) Adapt, 4) Publish, 5) Deliver, and 6) Evaluate.
Moreover, the term “cycle” implies that we are dealing with a closed-loop ecosystem. In other words, each stage receives input from the preceding stage and generates output for the subsequent stage. This cycle repeats itself and determines how effectively we manage our content.
The original idea of the content lifecycle emerged at a time when content creation was much more static. With the advent of the internet and the rapid evolution of social media, content has become much more fluid and diverse. And this also triggered a rethinking of the traditional content lifecycle. Concepts such as granularity, modularity, agility, and shelf life—to name a few—took on an expanded meaning.
Also, there is no standard designation for the lifecycle stages. So, we might find variations of the lifecycle with slightly different designations. In the model introduced here, the first four stages (Conceive, Create, Adapt, and Publish) are carryovers from the traditional content lifecycle. The latter two stages, Deliver and Evaluate, are characteristic of a mature content lifecycle in a digital world.
This stage is the first and most critical group of activities. It is here where we conceive our content roadmap and approach for all other stages. Taking shortcuts and skimping during this stage can lead to ineffective and haphazard content management.
In addition, we must revisit questions about content granularity, modularity, and shelf life for each delivery channel. The content type and purpose can give general direction. Therefore, in addition to knowing our target audiences we should also understand how they use different content channels.
Ideally, we have defined user personas, collected feedback and data that we can utilize for our planning. Some information might not be available until we deliver and test the initial version of our content. With each cycle, however, we can optimize and adjust the content accordingly.
Because our content is in continual motion, managing shelf life is a key objective. That is, choosing the right granularity and modularity can extend shelf life and provide greater content versatility. The main goal of this stage is to formulate a clear picture of what content we need to deliver, to whom, how, and when.
Content creation might seem more intuitive to many of us. Nevertheless, given the channel diversity at our disposal, content creation is a balancing act between quality, flexibility, and appropriateness. Although a content map can help refine our content, it might not set us up to deliver all content types across diverse channels.
The main goal of this stage is to design quality content that is consistent, appropriate, and that can support diverse channels and output types. This is where defining a good information and content architecture, including granularity and modularity, is essential.
The first thing that people might think of when discussing adaptation is language support, translation, and user personas. However, proper adaptation must also consider channel diversity and the associated delivery methods as well as technologies.
Historically, companies would develop technical documentation for print only. Eventually, they would offer documentation in PDF format for web download or on a CD. Or customers could access a version of the content as Online Help. And with the many content delivery channels available today (including social media), adapting content is crucial.
Traditionally, the publishing stage included both the actual output and the delivery of content. However, because the delivery of content is no longer a fire-and-forget activity, it makes sense to consider content delivery as a separate stage. This confines the focus of publishing to output activities. For example, creating a PDF version, an Online Help version, a website version, and so on.
One could argue that some channels combine output and delivery, but that is a matter of the technical workflow implementation rather than a content lifecycle perspective. So, the goal is to generate the various output formats to enable our content strategy and channel support.
By treating content delivery as a separate stage, we can accommodate a more complex and sophisticated approach to content delivery. In essence, content delivery is a strategic decision that involves proactive selection and management of delivery channels. If done properly, it becomes a two-way communication channel. Furthermore, this allows us to adjust content delivery based on individual behaviors and the interactions we have with our target audiences.
And the idea of proactive content management is not new. For instance, content marketers customize content and utilize diverse channels to engage with prospective and current customers. AI-enabled chatbots that provide customer support are another example. Other business areas can learn from this and elevate their content delivery as well.
For technical communications, the conventional practice is to design documentation as a one-size-fits-all user experience. Uniquely customizing product documentation based on individual behavior, preference for detail, appearance, and channel is not commonplace. Whether we deliver marketing or technical content, the technological capabilities exist to offer unique content delivery.
One of the biggest opportunities a digital world provides is the ability to leverage big data. And when combined with the advancing capabilities of AI, unique and automated content delivery seems obvious.
Naturally, the role of marketing has always relied on customer interactions to gauge awareness and interest in a company’s product or service. Consequently, content marketing evolved as a routine practice to engage with customers. Still, good content addresses only half of the challenge. Without evaluating the customer’s response to delivered content, pushing more content is a shot in the dark.
As a result, all content creators face the same dilemma: How do I know that my content is effective and meets the needs of my target audience?
For content marketers, this might include tracking features to gauge website traffic, email click rates, direct response rates, social media engagements, and other useful metrics. In contrast, customer support activities might use simple yes/no questions to measure the helpfulness of presented content. This is a common data gathering approach for Online Help and online technical support.
In contrast, most technical communications teams do not have a formal strategy and process for evaluating the effectiveness of their content. The reasons could be resource issues (including budget constraints), lack of management support, or simply unawareness.
Also, testing content effectiveness is the result of the chosen communication channel, format (formal/informal), and timing of the engagement. It further requires routine review and adjustment of the testing strategy and processes to ensure that collected data provides valuable feedback.
The content lifecycle is a helpful framework for developing a good content management strategy. By breaking down and grouping activities into logical stages, we gain a much better understanding of content evolution. Moreover, the content lifecycle offers a structured and streamlined approach to content management.
In addition, a digital world provides new opportunities but also imposes new challenges. For example, we must manage more diverse content at a much faster pace and across multiple channels. Therefore, content creators must be more agile and flexible, but can also be more creative to deliver their content. For example, social media can be a powerful tool for any content type.
Likewise, testing content delivery and evaluating user behaviors should be part of a content management strategy.