Getting the Most Out of your CMS
4½ minute read
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” ― Marshall McLuhan
When it comes to deciding on a content management system for a business or organization, how much should you expect your CMS to do? Is the solution you choose going to be a magic bullet that automatically enforces policy and standards? Should it encapsulate your entire workflow? While vendors would certainly have you believe it, the real answer is a bit less ideal.
Furthermore, a common (and quite legitimate) question often arises: How involved should the content team be in the specification and implementation of our tool? Should content strategists be involved in choosing features? Should the content team be involved in product demos and higher-level strategy discussions?
Features vs. Process
It is almost always cheaper to modify a policy or process than it is to refactor the tools you use to implement them.
Your content is fluid and unpredictable. No matter how much time you have invested in content architecture, editorial and style guides; no matter how carefully you have constructed and cultivated your system parameters; know that exceptions will occur. Changes will be needed. Remember that it is almost always cheaper to modify a policy or process than it is to refactor the tools you use to implement them.
Less Is More
With this in mind, it is advisable to start simple and lightweight with your CMS. Fancy features are attractive, but until you’ve lived with the tools for awhile, your understanding of which features will actually add value is going to be limited. In the words of content evangelist and CMS expert John Eckman, “just as you shouldn’t start renovating a house you just moved into (because you don’t yet know what it is like to live in it), don’t start imposing complicated workflows at launch of a new site.”
Governance Is Key
Of course, relying heavily on policy and procedure means that good oversight and enforcement are critical. If your content team isn’t aware of the rules, how can you expect it to follow them? Furthermore, with flexibility comes the opportunity to stretch or disregard the rules, so strong governance is essential. The following elements will help ensure strong governance:
- Clearly document policies and procedures: Having an accessible reference of editorial and style polices, as well as your workflows is important. Put it in practice to regularly review them.
- A committed review process: In this “less is more” content management approach, the individuals who review and approve content are a key part of the process. They are enforcing these policies and procedures.
- A mix of central and decentralized publishing teams: While it may seem to be more cost effective to distribute publishing authority across the organization, the risk to governance and content quality increases dramatically. Aim for a mix of centralized and distributed publishing teams; the centralized team possessing the core expertise in writing, navigation and search, while the distributed teams contain the subject matter experts.
It’s About Balance
You need to balance the needs of the business with the needs of the system users.
As CMSWire staff reporter Dom Nicastro puts it, “Ultimately, you want to select a content management system that does two things: supports your requirements and is easy to use.” In other words, you need to balance the needs of the business with the needs of the system users.
Your content team may be enamoured of the latest content-slinging platform with the gorgeous user interface, but if it doesn’t fit your budget, it’s a non-starter.
If your company requires absolute ownership of content for regulatory, legal or cultural reasons, a cloud-based solution isn’t going to be feasible, no matter how attractive it may be.
The bottom line is, your content needs to support the goals and objectives of your business. You are creating this content to help boost sales, to increase brand awareness, promote a new product, or generate new customers. Whatever your business objectives, the content exists first and foremost to support them. Your CMS should be tailored to allow this to happen as efficiently and seamlessly as possible.
A CMS is a product. Products have users who, when their needs and goals are met using it, are more efficient, produce better quality and are generally happier doing their work. The content team is, by and large, the primary user class for your CMS. You need to consider them throughout the specification, evaluation and implementation processes.
Your content strategists and non-technical users need to be involved in initial strategy meetings; in product demos; in implementation testing. They should be treated with the same priority that you give your customers when developing your products.
Research their needs and pain-points. Involve them in usability tests. Solicit their feedback. This goes for all stakeholders in the system. Content creators, reviewers, approvers; anyone who is a touchpoint in your various content workflows.
The Way Forward
Don’t put too much stock in your CMS as a silver bullet solution to your content needs. Clear process, guidelines, and governance are just as important as any fancy publishing tool. Starting small and aiming for a lightweight system will ensure that your team is flexible and able to grow and adapt as content needs change over time.
Don’t forget that your content strategists are a key part of your team, and your CMS is the critical tool they’ll use to implement your content strategy. As such, it makes sense that they should be involved in the planning, review and implementation of the system. By understanding their needs, goals, and pain-points, you’ll be able to better craft a process that produces better, more efficient results. You’ll likely have a more satisfied team as well.