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Websites: Content Management Strategy

While attending workshops on web Content Management Systems this week, among the things I saw emphasized again and again was something called "content strategy." It brought me back to what Laura Massey of the West Plains (MO) UU Fellowship had said about content: "You need to carefully consider the content of the Web site. It’s content, not fancy graphics or special effects, that really makes a successful site."

So what does that mean? A panel of workshop presenters had these thoughts:

Always keep the GOAL in mind. First, look at what you're trying to accomplish, then develop your strategy. What's the difference between a plan and strategy? A plan takes place in a closed system. In other words, event A, then B then C occur, with no allowance for additional factors. Strategy allows for a dynamic system -- one that responds to changes in users' needs or new situations. EXAMPLE: When social networking (like Facebook and Twitter) arrived on the scene, there had to be a way to integrate those into the strategy. Content was now appearing in multiple venues and often needed to be in different forms.

Remember the skill sets needed to accomplish a task like a website: communications, marketing, tech. Strategists should be deciding strategy. Tech should be deciding systems. But make sure everyone is "on the team." Collaboration trumps workflow.

A fundamental problem with managing content is that it gets overcomplicated. People can get tangled up in a circular process of approval and rewriting. Too many people on the task tends to clog up the process. An effective strategy is to make content approval a PRIORITY.

When something needs to be done, the answer is not to throw people on it. Strategy: have smarter people and ask the right questions.

Plan USEFUL CONTENT for your site. Pay attention to what's on it. Review periodically. Keep it updated! Is there outdated information? Is contact information - people, e-mails, phones - up to date? EXAMPLE: An organization I belong to just made a decision to review their entire site when a new Board started its term - an experienced member volunteered to read everything on it and do the research to make sure the entire Board had an overview of what was on their site so they could make decisions on replacing stale content. Often a group decides to create a website but then treats it like a phonebook ad - something that's static (at least for a year) and doesn't include anything timely.

Determine ways to MEASURE IMPACT. What are the "metrics" we're out to achieve? Is it more traffic to the website, more visitors to the congregation, more people joining? How will you measure this?

CHANGE things gradually. Renovate "one room of the building" at a time. On a technical level, if you are updateing an existing site, roll the new Content Management System out to one section of a site - and make style changes to the rest for a consistent look. EXAMPLE: I recall that when the UUA made major changes to their site(s), they did experience a period of confusion as old links no longer worked and people had not gotten used to the new organization of some of the information. Tech: pay attention to re-directing all the links within the site.

What's the USER EXPERIENCE? Determine who are the stakeholders. How will they be engaged in the website? Pay attention to the people using the system, but do this on a regular basis. EXAMPLE: a user says they can't find something on your site. "Make a big button link on the front page" isn't an effective solution, especially when the next comment comes in and the next button gets created. Have people review the site navigation periodically, or collect the comments over time and look through the lens of overall user experience. What do people use the site for and how do they approach it? What REALLY needs to be on the front page?

I think what it comes down to is keeping your eye on your communications goal and having sufficient oversight to deal with a website as a whole entity. Get out of "panic" mode ("oh no this needs to go on the website right now") and instead pay attention to the channels of information for effective upflow to the site. Then review and adjust.