Beauty and meaning through structure (photo by lotus8)
The Breakout: Last month saw the return of Confab: The Content Strategy Conference for its second year. Not only was Razorfish a sponsor, four of our content strategists traveled to Minneapolis (from opposite coasts!) to soak it all in. We’ll share a series of posts on the most interesting themes we noticed, starting with Lisa Park’s exploration of some of the discussions around structured content.
If you’re a content strategist working within a content management ecosystem comprising numerous websites, apps, tools, platforms and programs, or simply one who’s about to delve into a database housing thousands of pieces of content, you’ll want to structure your content to be flexible so that it can adapt and extend across various platforms and be easily reused for multiple purposes. This was a recurring topic at this year’s Confab Content Strategy Conference.
Mark Stahura’s Flexible and Smart Documents with Re-Usable Content and Cleve Gibbon’s Defining Content Architecture were two sessions that successfully tackled the subject. Both experts shared their experiences with structuring or setting up content—and its associated processes and properties—to be fluid and flexible. By designing content and content systems to be adaptive and responsive, they were able to effectively repurpose and monetize content into new products and across multiple platforms.
Identify Key Content Types
To start, when you’re working with a ton of content—for example, Mark’s case study involved 15,000-plus assets—you should most definitely take the time to develop a comprehensive understanding of your content so that you can chunk it up appropriately. Be sure to identify and organize the content into key themes or types.
In order to effectively understand and bucket the content, think through and figure out whom this content is for and how your users want to use that content. By knowing who your audience is (from figuring out the demographics and the psychographics to understanding what your users’ pain points are), you’ll be able to appropriately assign the right rules around how to best structure your content.
Get Useful Content to Users with Metadata and Tagging
Once you’ve gone through this exercise, Mark says, “train the content where and when to show up” by employing metadata and tagging. He cautions that there is such a thing as the bottomless pit of “possibly useful metadata” along with “death by over-tagging.” Therefore, it’s crucial that you identify your core audience and the key tasks or goals your users want to accomplish, so that your tagging efforts are spot-on and ultimately deliver truly useful content to your users.
As well, think about what your business goals are. Is there a business opportunity to engage new users? What does your organization need? The answers to these questions also inform and influence the way your content gets structured—just so long as they jibe with the goal of optimizing your users’ experience.
Develop content that’s site- and product-neutral, Mark adds. Tagging and metadata should relate to the content’s structure and the content itself, respectively. This makes content easy to repurpose and/or license across other partner sites and platforms.
It’s Not Just About the Content
Of course, it takes a village to manage content, or more specifically, content, people, process and technology, according to Cleve. He adds that complexities or challenges arise in content management when people match up the wrong tools or methodology applied towards the technology solution.
That said, he urges UX designers, content strategists, engineers and all of the folks involved in driving towards the solution be cognizant of the fact that what you’re building—from the content itself to the APIs and authoring tools—is sustainable and will continue to work well after launch. The idea is to execute against a long-term strategy that can accommodate change, one that flexes and flows as the content management ecosystem expands and contracts.
Structure Content Interfaces and Systems, Too
Cleve is aligned with Mark in that how content is structured and tagged is a key component to combatting the complexities. He adds that where that content is housed, and behind what authoring interfaces, is another vital element that will solve or avoid problems altogether. By developing content models that identify key content types and tasks, establishing editorial workflows that are repeatable and predictable, and building a role-based authoring tool to publish content, you’ll be able to drive towards a solution that makes the most of your content.
In the end, what it’s really about is taking the time to craft and then manage against a strategy that includes structuring content to maximize its use and reuse across web, mobile, print—wherever the business requires the content to live. By doing so, you’ll not only give users the content they’re looking for, but you’ll also add value to your business. A win-win situation if there ever was one.