Content Management is an Emergent Skill

By Deane Barker on December 22, 2016

Note:
There’s a meta-postscript to this post at the end. If it’s too long to make it through, and you think this is all ridiculous, maybe skip down and read that for context.

I’m trying to learn how to cook. I’ve done this in stops and starts for years, but I just read The Mindful Diet, and I’m trying to get more “in touch” with my food, which means preparing my own meals. So far, I can sautee mushrooms pretty well (pro tip: lots of butter and wine).

I initially looked forward to that moment when I will have learned how “to cook,” but the reality has been sobering. There simply is no single skill of “cooking.”  If you say, “I can cook!,” what are you saying?  It’s not like you stand there and then just…cook. It’s not binary, like you’re just “cooking” or “not cooking.”

Instead, cooking is what I’m calling an “emergent skill.” What we look at as a single skill is actually a bundle of skills that come together to form a larger, more complex skill. It’s an umbrella over a cluster of skills.

For instance, here are some of the things you need to be good at to say you “know how to cook”:

  • Raw food prep: You need to de-stem mushrooms, clean produce, fillet chicken, and de-gut shrimp. You need to know what each food needs done, and how to do it.
  • Cutting: You could lump this in with the above, but I’ve found that there a million ways to cut stuff, so it’s basically a skill of its own. (A sad, tedious skill of its own…)
  • Estimating: How much raw ingredient is a serving? This is harder than you think. More than once, I’ve ended up with a ton of one thing, and not much of another because stuff changes size when you cook it.
  • Timing: How long is something gonna take to cook, and how do you make sure everything is done within a reasonable timespan of each other so some things aren’t rushed and other things don’t get cold?
  • Shopping: How do you pick out good produce? How do you know if something is a good deal or over-priced? What’s the difference between “stock” and “broth”? (Generally: stock comes from meat, broth comes from bones.)

And I could go on and on (note that I left out actually cooking food).  To learn how “to cook,” you have to become good at all of these things and probably a dozen more. You need skill in a broad survey of individual skills, and what emerges from that is a larger skill — an emergent skill — that we call “cooking.”

And, of course, I found a way to relate this back to “content management.”

I put phrase that in quotes because I’ve come to understand how ridiculously vague it is.  What does it even mean?  It’s like a wrapper that holds together dozens of other disciplines.

Just for giggles, I figured I would list them. Or try, at any rate.

Along the way, I decided to avoid technical stuff (programming languages, databases, etc.), because that’s easy for me, as a developer, and it dovetails too heavily into generalized programming and development.  I’m still not totally convinced that being a CMS-oriented developer is enormously different than other styles of development.

So what I ended up with was a list of editorial subskills to the larger, emergent skill of “content management.”   But, even then, I found “skill drift” toward Development (capitalized to refer to a formal department or group in your organization). There are things that a content manager does which require some overlap with Development — they require a “developer mindset” in some ways.

And, on the other side, I found drift toward Marketing (with the assumption that Development and Marketing are opposing forces, as is often the case). Many things a content manager does require thinking like the Marketing Department, if, in fact, the content manager isn’t actually part of the Marketing Department.

It felt like there was a tension between the two sides:

  • Marketing will often over-abstract things. “We need to increase engagement by doing a digital transformation to improve the user’s experience…”
  • Development will often over-reduce things. “Well, we could move variable definition outside this loop, which would increase page speed and make users happier…”

And in the middle sits the content manager, trying to figure out what any of this means and how much of it is actually worth doing.

However, rather than lamenting this situation, perhaps we should look at it as an opportunity to use this emergent skill to improve life for everyone. For each sub-skill below, there’s a chance to bridge the gap — to frame the situation in two ways: one which makes sense to Development, and the other which makes sense to Marketing. Call it “content ambassador-ship,” if you will.

A couple last minute notes:

  • I struggled with how to put these in order, so I didn’t — they are literally in the order that I thought them up, so don’t read into it except as a representation of my thought processes and preferences.
  • Some of the questions below might seem persecutory and arrogant. But understand that I’m not needling you in an “I know this, do you?!” type of way because I’m not good at a lot of this stuff either. If anything, this can be read as an idealized list of “Things I really wish I was good at myself…”.

So, all that said, here’s a list of skills that The Ultimate Content Manager® shoud know a thing or two about.

Contents

Content Strategy

At its core, this is the practice of relating content topics, processes, and production to the mission of the organization. Along the way, you have to deal with the politicized mess that often comes with determining the true mission of the organization, and then you need to decide how content can be used to further that mission.

Hilary Marsh has explained it like this:

[ …] everything your organization makes or does IS your content. Your organization’s work is rendered in the world through media — text, video, audio, images. It’s because of this integral nature of content that things get political and territorial, and why content management and content strategy are so difficult.

Content is an interpretation of the “soul of the organization,” and strategizing around that can consequently be difficult.

What is the degree of relevance of content to the mission? Is it ancillary, or is it the only thing? What type of content does the organization need? How is this content going to be used? You have to somehow roll all this up and devise a strategy that says, “content can benefit this organization by doing X, Y, and Z, and here are the ways we’re going to best enable those benefits.”

Content strategy goes back to the adage, “management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.” Content strategy is really content leadership. It’s making sure that the content you’re managing is worth the trouble. All the management in the world around content that doesn’t further the mission is simply wasted effort.

Content Modeling

This is the skill of examining a domain of content — or even a single piece of content — and deciding how it should be structured for more efficient storage, display, and re-use. This is one of those skills that’s “developer-ish,” but very handy for a content manager to know.

Do you understand your current content model? Do you know how the content types in your CMS are structured, and the limitations around those properties/fields/attributes and their corresponding datatypes? Do you know why they were structured this way? If part of the content model seems unintuitive, you can bet there’s some reason why it was done this way, and it’d be helpful to know what this is.

When your content model invariably changes, being able to dictate this structure (or at least assist with it) can help enormously in how usable the end result is. Developers can have blind spots to how editors work, and being able to recognize dangerous over- or under-structuring can be critical. Do not let developers simply impose structure without explanation. Understand why it’s being done a particular way, and what the alternatives might be.

The content model is the fundamental framework on which all your content is hung. This is the foundation that holds everything up. You need to understand how and why it works the way it does.

Content Production and Operations

At some point, content has to be actually…made. Contrary to popular belief, content doesn’t spring magically forth from the ether. Someone has to type words on keyboards, make graphics in Photoshop, or record video on their iPhone.

But that’s almost the easy part. Content production is a process of refining something from raw to presentable. How do you initiate this process, then guide content through the sometimes circuitous route of workflow and approval, then get it actually entered in your CMS and published to visitors where it can create value for the organization? What is the journey from “fingers on keys” to “organization realizing benefit”? Even moving text content from a source document to a CMS can be an arduous process, full of technical problems, formatting inconsistencies, and questionable supportable functionality.

In a larger sense, how do you move this process from a one-off milestone to a something that’s documented, standardized, and repeatable? Producing content once is complicated enough. But developing a process to do it again and again with a minimum of drama is the real challenge.

(The process of throwing content around a CMS is almost an emergent-skill-inside-an-emergent skill. I called it “content operations” once, but it overlays a lot on “Content Administration,” which is next.

No joke, I didn’t know whether to put the “…and Operations” suffix on this skill or the next. The idea of “content operations” is kind of an umbrella over both, so I put it on both.)

Content Administration and Operations

This is the actual management part of “content management.” Once you have a significant mass of content inside a CMS, how do you make sure it all stays safe, effective, and manageable?

Apart from human-oriented governance issues, you need to understand concepts like permissions, versioning models, and archiving paradigms. You need to know logical models of content organization in use across various CMS platforms, and how it affects your content in your CMS. You need to know who on your staff is doing what, and how to keep them from running over each other. You might need to implement some method of administrative organization so when someone says, “where that’s one news article we wrong about that one thing, six years ago…” you can find it again.

A CMS full of content is like a nuclear reactor at full steam. How do you keep the balls in the air to avoid a meltdown?

Content Abstracting and Labeling

The assumptive perspective on a piece of content is the full and complete version, displayed as intended. But content almost always has shorter versions and sometimes several of them. Your news article has a headline, and that headline might appear in multiple places of varying length, in addition to a teaser or some other “preview.” Creating this is an art all its own.

How do you accurately represent content in one-tenth the space of the original?  How do you write a navigation title that visitors will correctly associate with the content behind it? How do you educate a browsing visitor as to the message of the content so they can form a valid opinion of whether or not to retrieve the full version?  And how do you do this without coming off as clickbait-ish?  Or, more sinisterly, if your job sadly requires it — how do you misrepresent content in such a way to get people to click on it without lying in a strict sense?  (Related: how do you do this and still look yourself in the mirror…but that’s an editorial comment.)

Content has many facades, and they each play a different role. You need to ability to evaluate a piece of content and decide that it should be represented in perhaps a dozen different places, formats, and lengths.

Localization

When you have to provide content in more than one language, this has both theoretical and practical implications.

Practically, you need to be aware of the physical aspects of languages — some are vertical, some are right-to-left, some are (much) longer than others (looking at you, German…), some are glyph-based (well, technically all are), some can only be represented by Unicode, etc. On top of that, there are the cultural and locale issues —  number and date formatting changes, some cultural and social norms will necessitate image and design changes, some content might use figures of speech or colloquialisms that just don’t work in other languages, etc.

Eventually, someone needs to actually perform the translation, and this needs to be incorporated into the workflow and approval process via manual content operations or automated processes (XLIFF or other connectors). This process is often governed by permissions (so Bob can’t just “wing it” and use Google Translate so he doesn’t have to wait to publish his stuff…)

And like content production itself, all these things need to be repeatable. You need to translate a body of content when you first decide to localize, translate new content as it’s created, and manage the re-translation process for content that has changed over time. Wrapping both technical and process workflow around this introduces a whole new set of challenges.

Information Architecture

Large repositories of content need to be organized for maximum findability, not only on launch but over time as you add new content. This requires an understanding of information architecture principles, user behavior, cognitive models, and even a dash of library science.

How are users looking for your content? How do they associate and mentally relate two different pieces of content to each other? How do they perceive your entire repository of content as they “move” through it? If there is more than one way to cognitively perceive your body of content, how do you cater to both — do you allow navigation down multiple axes? How do you do this without getting users confused if they go “down” one axis and try come back “up” another?

How do you manage this process over time? Content repositories grow and (more rarely contract). Avoiding a patchwork IA as content comes and goes with the whims of the organization can be challenging. You can come up with an organization method, only to find that over time, the content in it has withered to point when there isn’t enough for it to make sense anymore, and then what do you do?

Information architecture is about creating a framework for information. You need to drill into your content to figure out the thought models behind it, and how those thought models will manifest themselves as user behavior, then account for that.

Text Formatting

This one seems mundane, but text formatting is a woefully misunderstood subtlety of writing. Beyond fonts and typography — which both dovetail into design — how do you simply lay out a page of text?

There are lots formatting tools are your disposal: bold, italics, (gasp) underline, bullets (there’s an art to them), numbers, tables, quotes, indenting , outdenting, etc. Which should you use? What effect does the text selection for a hyperlink have on a reader’s understanding of text? If you have a “wall of text,” how can you make that attractive, interesting, and non-threatening to encourage consumption?

When configuring your CMS, how do you determine what formatting tools your editorial team needs, and how a WYSIWYG editor should be configured. And you need to watch for repeated formatting patterns to know when to move from tactical, one-off formatting to strategic, repeatable formatting. When do you see something enough to ask for a configured CSS style for it?

I firmly believe that intelligent text formatting can reduce stress levels and encourage readership. Many a great piece of writing went unread because it looked terrible to the eye. You can’t persuade someone of something unless they’re willing to read what you’ve written, and formatting text is the first step to “selling” it.

Rich Media Management and Manipulation

Throwing an image on a news article is simple on the one hand, and complicated on the other. First, you have to source the image, then you have to evaluate it for artistic merit, then for technical merit.

How big is it? What’s the resolution? Does it need to be resized or resampled? If so, how do you do that? Managing media images is an art in itself as well — Digital Asset Management is an entire field of study. How do you organize renditions as opposed to images? Are you embedding an image or a rendition of that image? Will the renditioning parameters change over time, and how will that affect our content? And what about video and audio? Different quality levels have huge impact oh file sizes and usability — do you understand how quality is measured?

What sometimes get tricky about media is that it’s often a one-to-many relationship. One piece of media often supports multiple pieces of content (in how many places do you use your logo?), which can make for some interesting management challenges. Additionally, media has a way of “coming back around” when someone says, “we used an image of the building in a news release three years ago, so just find that and use it again.”

Media is not just additional content. It’s used in different ways, leading to different problems and corresponding solutions.

Marketing Technology Management

One of the trends in the content management industry over the last half-decade or so has been the infiltration of marketing tools. We’ve gone from simple personalization to full lifecycle marketing management. CMS and CRM have almost collided, and some systems are essentially both platforms in one.

How well do you understand this? Are you prepared to deal with audience detection and personalization, which means having multiple versions of your content for specific audiences? Can you connect your content to marketing campaigns?  Can you take advantage of knowing how the user interacts with your content no matter what platform, device, or channel?

More abstractly, are you prepared to start looking at the customer from a lifecycle, omni-platform perspective? The Holy Grail in this space right now is an “eternal” customer record that slips seamlessly between platforms, from your main website to your blog to your email marketing campaigns. In some ways, anonymous content is out, and contextual content is in — content should be related to a specific visitor as much as possible, to avoid the “throw all the content at the wall and see what sticks” syndrome.

To be sure, a lot of this is still an idealized pipe dream, but the industry is trying very hard to push us from being content-centric to being customer-centric, where content conforms and supports to a customer’s lifecycle or journey across all your digital media. This is a huge paradigm shift from the days when we just managed a website, full stop.

Content Governance and Standards

Rules need to be put around content. Your organization needs some human-oriented guidelines that govern how content is created, archived, and deleted.

How do you manage the content ideation and creation process before anyone even logs into the CMS? How do you handle user account and permission issues from a human perspective? If the CTO suddenly decides he wants to edit the news releases, who is empowered to make that call? If someone wants a redesign, what process do they go through to get that ball rolling? If there’s a perceived problem with the website, or a need to make a change, how does that request get formalized, and who evaluates it?

Even larger that than, can you navigate the organizational politics around the website and the content on it? Can you create content processes and policies that provide and prove value to the organization? Can you communicate this to leadership in ways that they’ll understand? Can these processes demonstrably protect the organization from risk?

Governance is about processes, roles, and responsibilities. Who can and should do what and why?

Project and Product Management

Managing content over time is both continuing, transactional processes (“we publish three news releases per week”) and discrete projects (“we are releasing a new section to support our new product line”).  Projects require a different skill set than operations.

Goals need to be defined, timelines need to be developed, the budget needs to get funding, development changes need to be scoped, external contractors might need to be engaged, etc. Projects have a lifecycle — they begin, are executed, then are closed and the results need to be integrated with the “standard” content management processes that have already been defined.

Stepping up one level from project management, we can look at our digital efforts as a product that needs to be managed over time.  How do the individual projects combine for form something larger, and how do they need to be coordinate to come together effectively, and not run over each other or work at cross-purposes?

Analytics

Content is designed to be consumed, and you need to understand how to know how this is happening. The biggest hurdle of analytics is simply knowing what’s possible, in both a practical and theoretical sense.

What can different analytics packages track?  Regardless of platform, what is a “trackable action” at all?  What can visitors do on a page that’s worth tracking?  More theoretically are the core questions that you should be asking: What is an important metric at all?  Page views might not be the best indicator that your content is being consumed. And is behavior on the website even a valid metric? Would you be better off tracking business metrics, like conversions?

Where these two intersect is likely the most core question of all: how does on-page behavior correlate to business metrics? Does tracking the micro-clicks have any relationship to the macro-conversions? If we bump the former, can you bump the latter?

Compliance and Legal Issues

For some organizations and scenarios, content has legal implications. The obvious ones are issues of libel and credibility, but there are other issues involving attribution, copyrights, and fair use.

In many industries, archiving becomes a legal concern as well — the legal department needs a clear record of everything that was on the website and when. This sometimes goes beyond simple content versioning to entire site versioning. You might be asked to produce a working copy of the website as it appeared to the public at any particular moment in time.

Does it make promises that the sales team doesn’t know about? Does it make claims that are regulated by the government? Can something you publish come back to haunt you years down the road?

Delivery Formats and Channels

Of all the places where your content can come out, your website might be the simplest. What about all the other channels?

How does your news release look on Facebook? LinkedIin? Twitter? Given the standardization about Open Graph, those might even be easy. What about RSS?  Decisions need to be made about how your content should appear there since some systems will consume your RSS programmatically. Do you have an app?  How does it look there? Is the content going to appear in an email newsletter? How will it look there?  And do all these different channels need their own version of the content, even just a facade that points back to the original, canonical web version of the content?

Content often doesn’t end with your website any longer. You need to know what channels being used by your organization (we did an audit once, at Blend), how content is re-purposed to go into them, and the limitations and idiosyncrasies of each of them.

Form and Interface Design

If you’re working with content that takes in data from the visitor or otherwise supports some interaction beyond customization, you need to prepared to design these interfaces. Text formatting is one thing, but interface design is quite another.

Some organizations have form design standards, others have no rules. You need to account for form element selection, labeling, help text, error handling, etc. If it’s beyond a simple form, like an interactive graphic, there are other decisions that need to be made about user models, touch interaction, responsiveness, etc.

Designing a form is an entirely different animal than generating text content — it’s far more dynamic, and non-linear, with edge cases based on user interaction and feedback. Navigating through a body of text is a much more controlled and known use case than data capture from filling out a form that could ask for anything, and ask for it using hundreds of possible interface elements and patterns.

There are so many ways to go wrong, but spectacularly and subtlely. And in many cases, you won’t realize your form isn’t working until you realize that no one is filling it out.

Workflow Theory

Content approval can sometimes get complicated. The simplest are simple one-step, serial approval chains, but more regulated organizations can require complex logical with parallel approvals, branching, conditional step execution, and logic integration from other systems.

There is actually an entire working group devoted to nothing but the theory of workflow patterns. Some workflow has significant legal implications, with the results of workflow approvals having to be archived and retrievable in the event of legal action. Workflow also overlays heavily on collaboration. Should users invoke a workflow just to get feedback on content, or is this inefficient and should there be some other collaboration platform tied into the CMS itself?

In general, the need for workflow is over-stated. I find that it’s one of the most over-purchased aspects of a CMS. But for some industries, it’s required, and for others, knowing what’s possible (and, conversely, what’s not possible) is critical in understanding what you should be doing. When you start to consider workflow as a set of processes that can be performed on content, there’s a world of new possibilities that open up.

A Practical Example

So, clearly, this is all a lot of stuff to know.

And this leads me back to my original point: there is no actual skill called “content management.” This is a skill that “emerges” from the intersection and confluence of about a dozen other skills.  Like cooking, you learn these skills then one day you think, “well, I guess I know how to manage content…”

The (recently departed) John Holland has discussed this in the context of complexity theory, and the feeling of “wetness”:

There is no reasonable way to assign “wetness” to individual [water] molecules; wetness is an emergent property of the aggregate. In this sense, wetness differs from a property like weight, where the weight of the aggrgeate is simply a sum of weight of the component parts. […] Emergence itself is a property without sharp demarcation.

One water molecule and we’re dry. Two, three, four, a dozen, and we’re still dry. But eventually we’re going to start to cross a blurry line, and then at some moment, we’ll say, “Hmmm. This is wet.”

Here’s an example of how this all comes together. The bullets below might be individual water molecules. But they come to form something only in the aggregate.

John the Content Manager hears for the first time at the January staff meeting that his company, a global law firm, is finally moving forward on plans to open a new line of business. Sure enough, John gets invited to a meeting from marketing about a new section of the website which will need to be created and maintained to support this new line of business.

During the meeting, while ideas shoot back and forth across the room, here’s what’s going through John’s head:

  • Who is actually going to do this work? I have most of the team tied up through Q1 on the new accessibility changes. I’m not sure I have staffing for this and all this content is going to need to be created.
  • I know Marketing is just going to give me page titles and descriptions. Someone will actually have to write the copy.  That copywriter we’ve used in the past is going to send over monolithic Word docs with a bunch of embedded graphics, which we’re going to have to pull apart and enter in the CMS.
  • Marketing is going to develop new designs for how they want this section to look. Will those work with the current content model? They keep talking about things “under the navigation,” but the only navigation is on the left, and the content model doesn’t support elements there right now. Are we going to have to change it?
  • They want a video. That’s tricky — I’m going to have to see if I can engage that video firm we use three years ago. And last time, they only delivered an HD version which was ginormous and didn’t work well on mobile. I need to remember to get multiple versions at different frame rates this time, and make sure development has the web server configured to serve them up to different devices correctly.
  • They’re talking about having case studies with different sections for “challenges,” “results,” etc. How are we going to format this so it makes sense? If we do this in rich text, how do we make sure the editors don’t screw it up or do it differently every time? Would it be more or less work to change the content model and generate a new template to keep the formatting consistent?
  • They keep talking about how this is “huge in the Chinese market right now.” I assume they’ll want a Chinese version. Can we do a direct translation of the content on the main site, or will I need to stand up another version of the site? We actually don’t localize to Chinese right now, and I’m not sure the templates support it. And does the translation firm we use have Chinese translators?
  • I don’t know that we’ve ever done anything with social media sharing in China. What platforms to they use? [Thirty seconds of Googling later…] Renren and Sina Weibo? I don’t even know what our content looks like when shared on those platforms. Do they comply with Open Graph?
  • What are we going to do about the billing app? Line items have pop-up help explaining the service that’s being billed. We’re going to need to create a new category of these descriptions because some of these services sound similar to other, unrelated services.
  • Where are we even going to put this new section? It’s a service, clearly, so it could go there, but it’s also heavily related to an industry, so it could go there too. We’ve never had a situation where we need to cross over those axes so strongly. How can we reorganize the navigation to make this work? We’ve done “sub-service” sections before, but the navigation on those gets to deep that analytics tells us no one ever browses there. Maybe we could surface this to the home page as a “Featured Service” or something.
  • What do approvals for this look like? This belongs to Marketing, so we could use their existing workflow, but they keep bringing up the Chinese office so much, that I feel like they’re going to scream if they don’t get a look at it first. Would it be easier to put a conditional step in there, or just create a new workflow?
  • They just mentioned that they want to promote a particular angle of the service when the exchange rate with the dollar is good. How do they plan to do that? Do they want to watch the rate every morning and publish and unpublish a particular page based on their impressions? No, they’ll never actually do that. We have personalization options in our CMS. Perhaps we’d go so far as to do a real-time check of the exchange rate and show or hide the page based on that.
  • How do they want to archive this stuff? Can we just delete it? Or do we need to consult with our compliance group about how long we have to keep this content around? They’ve hinted before that keeping some stuff around can actually be a liability. Maybe they want to even exclude this? Is there anything in this content that might come back to haunt us in 10 years? I need to have this new group and Legal sit down to figure out if there’s any risk here.
  • What do they want to do with the submitted form data? I assume they’ll want it in the CRM, but what if someone is already in there. How do they want to de-dupe them? On email?
  • They want a “contact us” form for lead capture. Last time we did that, no one used it. I think it was confusing and asked too many questions. Maybe I can show them some prototypes of different form styles and talk them into something simpler.
  • Now they’re talking about a downloadable white paper. That’s fine, but will they want to track that download? If so, what do they want to do with that information?
  • What do they want to do about the email newsletters? Our system is currently designed to send summary email digests generated from the RSS feeds. Do they want to do this too, or do we need to filter their stuff out of the RSS feed?
  • Six months after this launches, someone is going to want to post-justify the expense. For this, they’re suddenly going to want answers to a ton of questions about what visitors did on the section. I need to push them on these questions beforehand and set their expectations on what we can and can’t find out, so that no one gets pissed with me when I can’t give them what they want.
  • I need to convince Marketing and Development that we need to have a formal project kickoff and timeline just for my group. They’re going to try to lump me in with that process, and they never talk to each other, so that should be a fun conversation…

Clearly, John has a lot of demanding groups to deal with here, but these problems do exist, it’s just that no one actively thinks through them. This is sometimes because they have a lot to do, but it’s also due to the fact that they don’t even know these problems exist.

Mastering all the skills in the list above isn’t necessary, but being aware of them certainly is. The content manager must be a polymath. They should be jack-of-all-trades, master of a few.

Closing

I’m suddenly thinking back to Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” quote:

[…] there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

It’s harder for unknown unknowns to hide if the content manager has had experience across the board. Knowing a little bit about everything gives you a chance to make “unknown unknowns” into “known unknowns,” and that’s the first step to avoid getting blind-sided by them.

Ten years ago, I made a post on this blog: I Want a Masters in Content Management.  In it, I lamented the lack of an advanced degree in my field. Someone posted a comment that annoyed me a bit back then, but that I’ve come to realize is more and more true over time. I’ve never forgotten it.

What, exactly, do you want a master’s degree in — managing content? developing a CMS? implementing a CMS? creating the business and governance structure of a CMS?

“Content management” involves business, editorial, and technical issues, and people with each of those skills.

I suspect that complexity is why programs don’t exist already. Just like MBA isn’t one degree but any one of many, a masters in content management (MCM?) would have to specialize in one aspect of the field.

I went back to find that comment to quote it, and was stunned to find that it was made by Hilary Marsh. This proves she’s been listening to me talk for far, far too long.

But it also proves that she knew the truth of the situation: “content management” isn’t a single, discrete thing. It’s an umbrella over a vast array of skills which come together to form something unique.

Now, go out there and do all of it.

Meta Postscript

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this blog post over the last few weeks. It’s 6,300 words, which is patently absurd, and I’m sorry for that. This post is even longer than a few chapters of my book. If you read this far, you should either be proud or ashamed of yourself, I’m not sure which.

A few people looked at it and said, “What is the purpose of writing it? What are you trying to achieve?” Beyond unbridled narcissism, the only answer I can supply is, “because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I want to get it down in words to help me sort it out.”

Gadgetopia has no real purpose than to be an echo chamber of what’s in my own head, and to give me an opportunity to work ideas out in writing, a la Rubber Duck Problem Solving. There is no greater example of it than what you’ve just read.

Finally, some people said I should split this up into installments. But, in the end, I couldn’t find a way to split it — the list of skills in the middle is hard to split — and I feel like there’s an arrogance to forcing people to sit around and wait while you piecemeal things out. You’re all adults, and if this is too long, you’ll come back to it. So, I decided to dump it all, “Netflix Original Series” -style.

God bless you for reading this far. Now go do something awesome.

— Deane

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Comments

  1. Wow. Finally finished reading this. Kept coming back to it on my cell phone over the course of five days. Now I can close my browser. Thank you!

  2. Great post Deane. I think you captured a large subset of Content Management quite well. In the old days we’d call it WCM but it is beyond that not. I think the delineation is Content Management for content published by the organization for public consumption. Of course anyone running an internal intranet site would argue that qualification but for them the “public” would be the employee base.

    As you likely recall, I’ve spent most of my career managing most of the other content in an organization. The emails, budgets, proposals, collaboration sites, and pretty much all work artifacts. Many make their way to the other side of the CM world but many never see the light of day until they become evidence in a lawsuit or part of a historical retrospective.

    That said, many of the same skills are applicable. We don’t worry about producing content as much as determining how people produce content and capturing it without impeding the normal work process. That CAD diagram needs to be managed, shared, approved, and governed just like content for a marketing campaign. It is just on a much smaller scale.

    In short, there are some skills you’ve missed that apply to my side of the fence but many of the skills apply to both sides.

    Many more thoughts but this comment is long enough, though in scale the right length for a post this long. :)

    -Pie

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