Content management for small gardens

This post is about gardening. It’s also about content management. Let’s see how we can fit those two into the same yard.

Planting trees

Garden management and content management results

Last week I planted a tree. It’s not hugely expensive. Still, I worry about it. Sometimes I suspect I read too much. Has the following ever happened to you?

You know you need, say, a new pair of trousers. As luck would have it, all the stores sell the wrong type (the one that doesn’t fit or that makes a size six look like an overweight hippo). They do have nice shirts though, and you end up buying one of those.

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Using content management to improve your content creation

How do you manage your content production?

You may feel you’re cranking out plenty of content, but do you manage to cover all the topics you need to cover?
The wider your range of topics, the more you’ll need to keep a tab on all the content you’re creating or having created. Getting organized is the key factor if you’re to deliver regular, relevant, quality content. How to manage your content (marketing) efforts?

How to create enough content for every topic

I’ve written before about the importance of content management for your content (marketing) strategy. This time, let’s start with my blogging habits. I publish two posts per week on this blog. Since I’m interested in different topics, I have several categories on my blog. With ‘just’ 8 categories, it would take me a month to do one post about each topic.

Content management - use it to get enough variation in topics

How do you create content for every topic? – Flickr image by HikingArtist

It’s unlikely that any (business) blog has the same number of blog posts on every topic. For each topic, the question is: how often do you have something new to share with your readers? Have you:

  • read anything new about a topic?
  • been involved in a project with aspects relating to a topic?
  • attended an event?

If not, you’re less likely to come up with a brainwave for new content. No events also means fewer opportunities for making short interviews which you could share.

Content management for a business website

If you have a business website with dozens of topics which you all need to keep updated with fresh content, gaps may form while you’re busy on other topics. You don’t want to be confronted with content gaps in specialized areas which you then need to fill – which may take days, or weeks, from the moment you contact a relevant subject matter expert.

Every piece of content has to meet your quality standards, right? That means investing time in research and in editing your content.

You can rarely serve every visitor with one format for your content. For every piece of written content, you need a picture that adds interest in the shape of information, entertainment, or a new angle on your written content. Start with visual content and the opposite applies.

First, test-plan your content

Use an Excel sheet, a whiteboard or even a sheet of paper to:

  • List all of your topics horizontally
  • Lists the days (full week or weekdays) vertically.
  • Try to plot one piece of content per topic per month. Use something like yellow sticky notes, because this is just your first step.

You could be looking at anything from 8 to 50 pieces of content per month, and in the latter case you’ll be publishing new content every weekday of every month.

How often do you publish new content now? On your blog? On your website? Elsewhere?

You could tweak your overview by:

  1. dropping your required amount of content to one piece of content per 2 months.
  2. using fewer, less specific categories.
  3. only creating content for topics your customers are interested in. A website that aims to attract customers should start with their needs.

Get your business content organized

  1. Meet your subject matter experts (SME)
  2. Plot every event.
  3. Brainstorm for topics with every SME.
  4. Determine whether each SME is able and willing to write content to specific requirements, talk about their topic(s) in front of a camera or for a podcast. How much of their time do you need?

Take your SMEs for a testdrive. And (although I read this too often) this is a rinse-and-repeat process. Experts are by definition extending their knowledge base, rather than your content base 😉

Plan your content creation process backward

Plot every idea for, or piece of, content on the overview you made earlier – on the day you need it published. Then, we travel back in time…

  1. When do you need this content to be delivered?
  2. How much time does it take to get interviews transcribed, images selected, text edited?
  3. When do you need to contact or meet anyone?

Now you have a simple Content To-Do and the start of an editorial calendar (add details as you go). Using things like colors for different kinds of content helps. Organizing and planning your content gives you insight into:

  • the effort it takes to get your content published.
  • why your company’s content creation efforts seem less successful than you’d like.
  • whether you need to delegate, streamline, or skip tasks.

That’s why you need to testdrive – not just for your SMEs to get used to contributing. You need a trial-and-error phase (or call it a pilot) for everyone. Doing everything at once may be a bit steep.

[Content inspired by this article on Huffington post]

How content management will help your content strategy

How is content management related to content strategy? And how can content management help your content strategy? The answer to the first question differs depending on your professional background.

Before going into the connection between content management and content strategy, here is how I see the two in their respective roles.

What is content management?

Content Management - Content Strategy - Content Planning

A content inventory allows you to find content gaps and planning to fill them

Content management inside an organization is pretty much an administrative role.

Although content management systems (CMS) help you structure the content your organization has, the role of content manager hasn’t gone away – people who have trouble structuring information generally find the cure, or system, worse than the disease.

Not getting your categories, keywords, tags sorted means you and your coworkers will have a hard time finding stuff back. It’s a major reason why many people keep their own little archive – to make sure the information that matters most to them, or even to their coworkers, won’t get lost.

What is content strategy?

Content strategy is a word from the realm of content marketing – just like search engine optimization (SEO). Content marketing is about how and when to bring your message to your audience.

Some basic content marketing questions are:

  • What audiences do you want to attract?
  • What does their customer journey look like?
  • What kind of information do they need at various moments?

Your content strategy is also about more fundamental issues, like defining what you will share at all and why (not). This means structuring what you have and planning what you don’t yet have.

The article “How to build online engagement with health care communities” makes clear that you should realize who you, the organization (or person) providing content to your audiences, are.

  • What types of content you can offer to what audience flows from your organization’s identity – the roles you play in the careers and lives of your various audiences.
  • Then there’s the topics you want to publish about – the services or products your organization offers. Which topics can you share with which audience?

How will content management help your content strategy?

Any decent kind of content management (using tags and the like) will help you take inventory of the content you’re already publishing. The first time you see your content inventory and your content strategy laid out side by side – what you have versus what you should have – you’ll probably find quite a few gaps in your published content. These gaps are the should haves you don’t have yet.

You may also find that your content management is fine in traditional (administrative) terms. Thinking ahead in order for your content to be found later on is part of content management. You may still need to look at your content (tags and all) and wonder: where is my customer? If you can’t find them, make sure you put them in.

Next step: use your new knowledge to fill in the content gaps

You now have a good view of your content landscape. Simply put, what you do next is: fill in the content gaps, add tags that make sense to you and to your audiences, and plan ahead to keep the flow of content going.

Why tools fail: learning curve in knowledge management

Getting to know a tool for knowledge management – or for anything which sounds as if your organization should be doing it – is like receiving a present. It’s gift-wrapped and looks very promising on the outside. But there is an issue.

Big Tools for Knowledge Management?

Using Big Bait for Knowledge Management? – Flickr | HikingArtist.com

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Interviews as a time-saving part of your business content strategy

You may have noticed that bloggers like Mark Schaefer (@MarkWSchaefer) and Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) interview subject matter experts on a regular basis. Interviewing experts has got some advantages to asking them to produce content for your blog:

  • You don’t ask much of their time – catch them at a congress if you want a video. Or ask them a specific question through any medium: e-mail, Twitter, or their own comments section.
  • Visiting your SMEs may give you some opportunities to get video footage. If you don’t have much time, pick up the phone and get a few short questions answered.
  • If there’s any writing to be done, you’re the one doing it. That’s an advantage if your SME is not used to writing for the audience you’re interested in.

Interviews can be a valuable part of your content strategy – if you decide to make the most of them.

Bits For Your Business Content Strategy

Bits of content for your business content strategy

SME interviews as part of your business content strategy

Remember those busy subject matter experts from my post about single versus multiple content creators? What if they’re your colleagues?

You could simply make a few phone calls or pick up your mini-cam and head over to wherever your SME is hanging out and interview them for the business blog or website. When you’re done, you tell them when you intend to publish.

Then publish and let your SME know, so that they can reply to any comments – if they want to. Or you can opt to have your SME post the video themselves in an online community. If you send them the video (or URL) via e-mail:

  1. Make sure your SME knows the procedure (see 2-5).
  2. Add instructions, starting with the publishing date. Inform your SME that if the video isn’t posted by [exact time on specified date] you will go ahead and post it yourself.
  3. Add a copy-paste text for them to use or edit.
  4. Check if it’s posted.
  5. If it’s not posted, post the video yourself and notify your SME. You can even invite them to reply. Add an example like “My personal favorite from this list is actually X.” This isn’t a must-do, but it can help.

How do interviews save you time?

The time-saving won’t work if you spend an entire day on an interview then share the results only once.

You may want to share the original interview soon after it takes place. But every interview can be ‘mined’ for later use. You can structure the content you’ve collected soon after the interview to have bits of content ready which you can integrate into new posts or save for a content emergency.

  • You quote from the interview.
  • Top tips from your SME for achieving a certain goal.
  • Mining the interview to get ideas for related topics.

Getting strategic about your interviews

On the other hand, if you do a series of interviews in which you ask one or more identical questions, you can:

  • collect the answers as you go.
  • share the answers to a specific question in yet another piece of content. Or two. (Or three.)

This means you make collecting data from multiple interviews part of your business content strategy. I’ll admit it sounds like research 😉

This approach will let you (re)share parts of your content much later in a different context following the principles of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

Why knowledge management is like herding cats

It struck me quite recently:

Knowledge management shows some uncanny similarities with herding cats

The moment you try to get a whole company to embrace knowledge sharing, storage and the like, you just know at least one cat will scoot off under the sofa and another will claw its way up the curtains. And that’s before you reveal you prepared a nice B-A-T-H for them 😉

Interior with cats

Interior With Cats – Amsterdam Museum Collection (Willet Holthuysen)

Previous IT (tool) projects thought to support knowledge management often delivered digital archives where knowledge either went to die or refused to show up at all.

People who still ‘do KM’ focus on separate activities that should amount to a more mature way of handling knowledge. They also typically try to instill the basics of a new attitude towards knowledge in one team after another – dealing with one cat at a time.

Why is it so hard to get people to take knowledge seriously enough to share, store, and acquire it in a structured way?

Let’s go back to where the trouble starts.

1. The nature of knowledge

The point about knowledge is that it has little in common with concepts like truth. Your knowledge is what you know about the world and bits of that world. Personal knowledge is by default incomplete, and in large part inaccurate, irrelevant, and possibly obsolete (and an information specialist’s nightmare).

2. You can’t manage what’s in people’s heads

Think about yourself for a moment. You can barely manage what’s in your own head. So-called ‘critical thinking’ doesn’t seem to start even until the age of 8. Your own most unshakeable ‘truths’ were probably instilled in you before that age. If a situation gets awkward, and you catch yourself talking nonsense, remind yourself it could well be your inner 5-year-old talking. Surely that’s a great reason to snap out of it already 😉

3. Knowledge management does (not) equal a lot of things

Crystallized applied knowledge that results from any key process in your organization is in essence your archive. Most organizations are required to store this kind of information for some years.

Then there’s basically know-how, know-what and know-who:

  • Knowing the best way to get things done (procedural knowledge).
  • Knowing the essential and other useful facts about your organization, its peers and competitors, et cetera. Who did what in a similar situation? (archive)
  • Your network as a part of the organizations ‘relation grid’. Who has had contact with whom, when, what topic? And so on. (customer database)

And there is content resulting from research or activities conducted by your organization. Which is not generally seen as archive, but (perhaps for that very reason) it can be notoriously hard to determine what content your organization has produced in its outlying regions 😉

There are more elements to knowledge, but they’re not often the major focus of KM: that’s trying to stop knowledge from walking out the door.

I think it’s time to pull the rabbit out of the hat…

Possible motivators to start managing knowledge

  1. Responsibility: Here’s all this knowledge sitting in my head, took years to collect, don’t get hit by a bus now…
  2. A love for teaching: What’s the point of gathering knowledge if you don’t intend to share it?
  3. More time for challenging tasks: Here I am instructing new employees again… I’ve explained the same thing 4 times this week. Got to write the basics down. Hopefully then they’ll only come to me for the complicated stuff.

These are my personal reasons for wanting to share knowledge. Starting with the last potential motivation: I did record most, and before I left a previous employer, all the knowledge I had about some vital procedures. And having them documented somewhere really helped me and the company. Documenting procedures was recognized as important in making processes less dependent on the good health and availability of employees. Part time employees tend to be more understanding in these matters 🙂

How to avoid beating potential knowledge sharers into submission

Would you encourage people to benefit from sharing their knowledge freely? Would you help them share their knowledge in a way that suits them? Getting buy-in from everyone means you need to sit down and figure out (together with them if possible) what is important to them and recognize what obstacles they see. At this stage it’s so easy to slip into the ‘expert’ mode and tell them how to solve their issues. Or rather: their company’s issues. Don’t!
This is where your knowledge-of-the-world meets theirs. Try to understand the picture they are painting for you. Recognize your own urge to take over – stay in listening mode. Identify the knowledge sharer’s needs. Perhaps they need to know it’s official that they can spend 10% of their time as a mentor. Perhaps they’re more comfortable being interviewed about their knowledge than to document it all in some system. Or they’d love to ‘teach’ new employees if only someone would ask!

Sometimes all there is to herding cats is to put down a bowl of milk.

More reading (found via LinkedIn: Gurteen Knowledge Management community):

I hope you enjoyed today’s post! Please add your thoughts about knowledge, management, and the art of cat herding in a comment!