Online innovators are missing a trick

As part of my transition from a print past to a digital future, I’ve learned a lot about web content strategies and content management. There are some clever people out there, paving the way in these fledgling areas, learning from their own successes and failures and those of others who are happy to share.

It’s fascinating to see philosophies, procedures and best practices emerge from what is still a chaotic and evolving online environment.

I just read the second edition of ‘Content Strategy for the Web’,  by two of the leading advocates for this young discipline in a growing field. This book is a thorough and comprehensive guide to what it means, why it is important and how to harness its potential to help your business achieve its key objectives.

Barring the odd typo, it is well-written and well-structured, as you would expect, offering practical and accessible advice on how to go about making a success of your company’s website.

But … when dealing with the design of workflow and governance processes, I can’t help thinking the authors might have benefited from taking a screen break and making sure they weren’t re-inventing the wheel. Did it never occur to them that similar obstacles might already have been overcome by practitioners in other fields? How do they think the media and creative industries managed procedures, workflows, proof-reading, sign-offs and quality controls for the last half a millennium?

The book describes the creation, revision and approval of online content as a messy and daunting process. Coming from a background of production management in the publishing industry, I can’t disagree. What I can do is suggest that budding web content managers and content strategists look at some of the tools, methods and workflows that editorial departments, design studios and advertising agencies have developed to make their operations as effective and efficient as possible.

The first thing I would suggest is a simple job-booking system, with mandatory fields for essential information. Live jobs should filter into a digital dashboard, accessible to all, using a traffic-light system to give an instant overview of job statuses and highlight problems. There are several such trafficking systems, usually based on FileMaker Pro.

If none of these customisable off-the-shelf solutions suits you, flesh out your user requirements, write a business justification and lobby your directors to sponsor it as a development project.

Just as the offline world can learn lessons from their online colleagues around issues such as disintermediation, disruption and personalisation, the digital natives might occasionally cast an eye over more established business models, just on the off-chance that they might have something to teach them.

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