I’ve had several discussions with clients in recent weeks about various aspects of content governance and putting some definition around what it is and isn’t. It seems to be the hot topic of the moment, making it an appropriate focal point for this month’s feature article.

It’s intriguing to me that so many are raising questions about this topic within the same time frame. What’s prompting these inquiries? Why is it coming up so frequently now?

Is this the year of content governance?

While content governance practices have been in place for quite some time, especially in large web content environments, I believe it’s the burden of maintaining fast-changing, cross-platform content workflows that are stressing the need for more effective practices.

It’s also most certainly a by-product of content teams that now need to create more content, for more products and platforms, and in less time. This fast pace of change leaves little time for planning, effective process development, documentation, and training. But omitting these steps can be the ultimate failure in a new content effort. And while we are seeing more attempts at the risk taking required to drive new content business, the number of failures and the revolving door of personnel are prevalent. These are strong indicators that maintaining effective methods of launching and managing content practices is necessary to create viable, long-term success.

Lack of clear content governance practices and adequate oversight is an invitation for chaos, opening the opportunity for processes to easily fracture. Human nature invites rogue approaches if no person or group is providing guidelines, direction, reinforcement, and adaptation when processes need to be changed or updated.

Successful, thriving content processes need constant care and feeding to stay healthy and to keep up with today’s shifting requirements and standards. Content governance provides the answer in that it implements the constant auditing and adjustments needed to keep things working effectively and efficiently. Failure to govern content practices results in workflow noncompliance, extra cycles, broken processes, and inefficiencies that creep in over time. Those inefficiencies degrade performance and content quality, and increase costs and chaos. (It also makes it harder to onboard new staff successfully.) There’s often hesitancy to invest precious budget on what at first seems to many a superfluous role, but the overall cost without it is magnitudes beyond the cost to support the role—costs in inefficiencies and missed revenue opportunity.

If you are in the content business, it goes without saying that each day brings a new content challenge or twist—a new design, new technology, new product or content type, new business direction, the next reorganization. The pace is rapid.

At the process level, we need constant oversight for workflows and timelines, clear roles and responsibilities, appropriately assigned authority, and successful, effective application of tools and technology. The hands at the keyboard are too busy to solve this on their own.

To bring neutral perspective to content processes, I often use the term “content conveyor belt” or “content manufacturing process”. In a large manufacturing process, there’s consistency, there’s standardization, there’s quality control and training—why wouldn’t the same apply to content production if we want to achieve success?

A content process is a pipeline that needs to work well, without bottlenecks, and be well maintained. But we haven’t even talked about what’s in the pipeline: the content.

How does content governance help us produce high-quality content?

  1. Content governance helps to continuously refine the business objectives that content should satisfy to make sure that what is produced gets results and the effort is well spent.
  2. It also defines the recipe for different types of content, meaning the structure and format for how it should be prepared so that it not only works in its first instance of use but is usable in any form, on any platform, at any time (a critical component that determines success or death on the mobile platform). This means it needs standards and consistency for how it is prepared, with well-defined labeling of content elements so it’s transformable and transportable to other uses, with consistently defined metadata.

I found some great articles on the subject. Content Strategy: Let’s Talk about Content Governance by Ahava Leibtag on CMSWire.com is particularly helpful at explaining the basics. “Some think of governance as a phase of content strategy, similar to plan or create,” Leibtag says. “However, I firmly believe that governance belongs at the center of any content strategy. This is because governance:

  • Creates a consistent customer experience across channels
  • Avoids content bloat
  • Sets internal organizational controls

The tools involved in content governance may include, among others:

  • Content workflows (my addition here; this includes timelines, roles, and schedules)
  • Editorial guidelines
  • Style guides
  • Taxonomies
  • Web content committees
  • Archiving standards

“The right tools for your organization are rooted in your culture and attitude,” she continues. “If you work in a place where people are generally supportive of trying new things, then you’ll probably have a pretty smooth time introducing the concept of governance to your colleagues.”

Here’s something to consider: In a recent audit conducted by a client on internal content, the content that had supporting workflow systems had a much higher likelihood to have metadata defined and for that metadata and resulting content to be usable—a great example of how content governance through process and technology has increased the value of content for this publisher.

If content can’t be found or reused after its first use, there has been a cost and valuable effort expended on that content that cannot be further leveraged as an investment. Consider it disposable content. In today’s publishing economy, that’s a large loss in investment. To remain competitive and pursue new content business, any investment in content needs to be usable in multiple ways. As one client said, “We’ve come to realize it’s just bad business not to protect our content assets.” And that’s true: the content is your gold, it’s your investment. Everything built around that should protect and maximize the investment—that’s where content governance reigns.

In addition, managing the quality of content using styles guides and clear documentation of expected, optimized practices keeps processes and roles clear, time spent effective and efficient, and content in optimal shape for all its purposes.

But let’s not forget the last but significant leg of the content governance stool: training. And we don’t mean just instructor-led training to keep skills focused and process understanding up to date. We also mean bidirectional training, where we learn “back” by listening to issues and concerns, and gathering feedback on where breakdowns occur.

It’s also understanding new business requirements and rolling those changing requirements into existing processes—continuously. Change should not be static; it’s constantly moving and shaping process, standards, roles, and timelines.

Managing continuous change in how content is produced needs both strategic and tactical oversight, and needs to account for new changes and shifts that happen every day. Recognizing content governance as a formal need and responsibility within your organization is a critical component to content success.

I’ve had so many great conversations about this in the past month, and I’d love to continue the dialogue with all of you. So I ask, do you have a content governance role in your organization? How have you implemented content governance to create content success? Send me your thoughts, and I’ll continue this thread. If you found this article helpful, please “like” it by clicking the button at the bottom of this page or leave me a comment, and please do share it with your colleagues.

Here are some additional links on the subject:

TFP’s March Book Picks: Content Governance

Posted by: Margot Knorr Mancini

A thought leader in the publishing industry, Margot Knorr Mancini has helped numerous publishers redefine their missions to become nimble content generators with the ability to repurpose content easily and efficiently. As Founder & CEO of Technology for Publishing, her analytical mind allows her to remain a step ahead of the industry, recognizing early trends and developing pivotal best practices.