Content Management White Paper: Collaborative Communication

If your content production or management should include collaborative interaction between employees and, optionally, freelancers or agencies, you’ll need some means for facilitating that communication.

There are a few times when collaboration can be most useful:

  • Content planning
  • Content production and revisions

Content planning

At some organizations, decisions about what content should be created or otherwise acquired come from team discussions. There might be multiple such teams in an organization. One might include folks from Marketing, while another includes people from the documentation department.

In most cases, these discussions will take place outside the content system, often in more specialized creative collaboration or project management tools, some of which might be provided by the authoring or creation tool directly. But the content system can also be useful to content teams while they are making their decisions:

  • Permit teams to easily determine what content has already been produced
  • Enable teams to accurately determine which existing content is popular and appreciated
  • Provide teams with a placeholder for directives for content production or procurement

Those first two points might seem obvious: Enable people to search and see statistics. What is important there are the words easily and accurately. Will content teams know what to search for in order to determine whether a piece of content has already been produced or procured, or is in the planning stage with another content team? Do statistics show numbers in the context of trend, time and other factors? Or do they just show total numbers of downloads since the content was added to the system?

In this capacity, the content system serves as a research tool to planning teams. Speak to those teams and ask them how they now come to decisions with regard to what is needed. Then, make sure the content system can deliver on as many of those needs as possible.

The placeholder concept is valuable because an empty content record is the start of the proposed content’s lifecycle. In some cases, an empty record could define a wish list content item; in other cases, a content placeholder can be created for content that is expected, such as quarterly filings and annual reports for the next decade.

A placeholder not only enables others to see that a piece of content has already been planned for, but it enables planners and designers to provide development directives and schedules. This, in turn, enables content creators to prioritize and plan more in detail in other production or collaboration systems. For example, if a content development directive comes in, and the placeholder record shows that the content must be created in a week or else it will not provide any value, development teams can use this information in their planning.

Additional value would come from the content system having connections to other planning systems, such as product releases or marketing campaigns, so that content teams could see what was coming.

Some content systems have built in communications tools. In some cases, they might be as basic as email notifications between users; in other cases, complete workflow engines guide users through planning and production.

Though the idea of a workflow engine can seem attractive, the value of such a tool depends on one very important factor: How well can you “templatize” your content planning? In other words, if you do not have a consistent method through which content is planned, it will not be easy to translate that into an automated workflow.

This concern carries through to the production of content.

Content production and revisions

Extending many aspects of content planning is content production.

As mentioned, placeholder records can become production directives that provide content and scheduling guidance. But they can also serve as locations for content-specific collaborative discussions.

Worth noting is that many creative tools have built in discussion or annotation features. These features might be valuable at times since they enable content creators and reviewers to discuss, decide and make changes while the production of the content is ongoing. Once resolved, many of these discussions need not to be considered again.

Examples of comments that would be added during such creative reviews include:

  • “Move this logo further from the photo.”
  • “Remember to save this with lossless compression.”

Examples of the types of comments you’d want to keep independant from the creation process include:

  • “We will need this content approved for use by the end of the month.”
  • “Contact the Japanese distributor for guidance about an alternate hero image for the Japanese version. The chosen image could be considered culturally insensitive for that market.”

Comments like these explain directives and strategic decisions that affect the creation and use of content. These are the kinds of comments that will be valuable for managers to see later. But artists benefit too, because directives and change requests are always found in a single location.

After content has been available for a while and someone sees that an update is required, that person will know where to go to start the process, even if the first step is merely to ask other managers if they agree that an update is required.

Contrast this to a production cycle in which email is used to communicate, and people are required to know where to find review files, to whom comments should be sent, and where all this information is archived.

When using a single system as a production directive and commenting hub, you are able to have a master record that is easily accessible to everyone who should see it for each piece of content you produce or otherwise acquire.

  • Why was a different graphic used on the Japanese signage?
  • Why did we get a rush charge to have these graphics produced during that time frame?

Questions like these will be answered by looking at the discussion archive. Being able to see what has been suggested and why it was or was not accepted as an idea can save teams from wasting time doing and trying things over and over.

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