Professional Publishing
Product Content Strategy

The Content Lifecycle

Denman

It has been a year since I spend a few weeks on beautiful Denman Island, British Columbia. Aside from doing a few other things, I did find some time to work on some models of the Content Lifecycle - usually in the early mornings and usually while drinking coffee on the cabin balcony where I would be distracted by the view across the channel to Hornby Island.

The Morning View of Hornby Island

A terrible burden, I would agree. Nonetheless, I did go through many iterations of a Content Lifecycle model in addition to a good deal of coffee. It proved a challenging exercise because I was trying to achieve a number not-altogether-compatible objectives:

  • I wanted to find a way to introduce a position for the ascendant notion of "Content Strategy";
  • I wanted to "demote" (or simply "put into its proper place") the generally over-emphasized practice area of "Content Management" (CM);
  • I wanted to introduce an element into the model that gave a prominent place to the type of "engagement" that social media is making possible and even obligatory;
  • And perhaps mostly strangely of all, I wanted to have all this come together into a model that could then be used in conjunction with an evaluation framework, such as would be deployed in the development of a Content Strategy. 

Complicating things still further was the fact that I was aware of a number content management and information management lifecycle models and part of my task was to ensure that whatever I came up with would subsume, or at least be compatible with, those previous models. Not generally the task people normally set for themselves as they pack their bags for a few weeks on Denman Island. 

The good news is that I was reasonably happy with the result of this effort and I spent much of the year since that time refining the model by:

  • integrating it into presentations and workshops so that attendees and colleagues could provide feedback (which they most certainly did);
  • integrating it into articles such as one in the May 2013 edition of STC Intercom magazine (The Technology Side to a Content Strategy); 
  • and finally, and by far most importantly, deploying the model and the associated evaluation framework on new projects (of which, fortunately, there were several).

The model underwent a number of changes over the year based on the foregoing. So now it is time to uncover the model more publicly and thereby to solicit input from a wider community. Therefore, with no further ado, I give you the Content Lifecycle: 

The Content Lifecycle
The Content Lifecycle

Content Strategy establishes how an organization will leverage its content assets to achieve its overall business goals. A content strategy also provides a roadmap describing how these goals will be realized. Part of the focus in these management instruments will fall upon the nature of the content that will be needed. And part of the focus will fall upon how this content will be handled and leveraged. Very specifically, one of the things that a content strategy will set out to do will be to determine the optimal balance between improvement investments among the other lifecycle activities. Over-emphasis on any on the other activities, for example Content Management, leads inevitably to problems.

Content Acquisition addresses the question of how an organization will acquire the content assets that are called for in the content strategy. The acquisition activity will encompass the creation of new content, the revitalization of legacy content, or the licensing of third-party content as necessary. Under this activity, you will consider what authoring practices might apply to your content and what authoring tools might be used.

Content Delivery focuses on the publication of information products and their provision to users wherever they may be and in whatever circumstances they might find themselves. The delivery activity will establish the process whereby content assets are selected, assembled, and formatted so as to effectively address all identified user requirements. It is as part of this activity that you will consider what content transformation tools and techniques you will deploy and what publishing platforms you will leverage to generate information products of the highest possible quality.

Content Engagement injects the perspective of information users into the content lifecycle. The content engagement activity involves content stakeholders in the process of validating, improving, augmenting, and contextualizing content through the provision of rich feedback. Engagement, as a management concept, is a measure of how much a stakeholder is invested in something. Accordingly, content engagement seeks to maximize the degree to which content stakeholders, and in particular the users of the information products being published, are willing to invest in the improvement of the content. In a very real way, content engagement becomes an expression of how useful the information being provided is to those stakeholders and therefore how valuable the content really is to the organization. It is as part of this activity that you will look at how your organization leverages social media to involve your user community in validating, improving, and extending your content. It is also here that you will look at how analytics and other assessment techniques might be used to gain a clearer picture of how content is being used and therefore how effectively you are leveraging your content investments.

Content Management introduces the level of control and security into an organization’s content environment that is appropriate to their business activities. This management activity will put into place the processes whereby content assets are maintained as relevant, valuable, and effective given the needs of the other lifecycle activities and the business objectives being supported. It is here that you will consider what repository technology will be used, how security procedures will be implemented, and what facilitating tools, such as workflow automation, will be deployed.

The content lifecycle model identifies the main activities that an organization will perform as it acquires, delivers, manages, and leverages its content. Some organizations will conduct these activities very poorly while others will be innovators who relentlessly pursue improvements. How well an organization performs these activities and how well these activities are balanced will determine, to a surprisingly significant degree, how well an organization performs overall. The productive interaction among these content activities will drive what we can call the Content Dynamic.

The Content Dynamic
The Content Dynamic

Within this dynamic, an organization’s content assets iteratively evolve in response to the experience of users participating throughout the lifecycle, but perhaps especially within the content engagement activity. And as content assets evolve, the environment within which they exist must also adapt in order to better support the changing content. In fact, the content, the technology, and the business processes must all evolve together and in a way that establishes and maintains an optimal balance. It is not too much to say that the central role of content strategy, on an ongoing basis, is to initiate and support this evolutionary dynamic and to harvest the resulting benefits for the organization.

Finally, we should set this Content Lifecycle into the context of the implementation investments that would be needed in order to move from good ideas about what could be done to actual benefits being realized. Three further elements, therefore, need to be introduced into the picture although they are not so much part of the Content Lifecycle as they are enablers. These are Content Engineering, Content Technology and Content Solution. (Attentive readers will note that this represents a further adjustment over earlier versions of this model in that Content Architecture was featured instead of Content Engineering. Content Engineering has been prompted because it more fairly describes the activities whereas Content Architecture is better used to describe one of the deliverables of the Content Engineering activity.)

These new elements represent the design and implementation activities that take a strategic vision and turn it into a working reality. Content Engineering sees rigorous engineering discipline being applied to all aspects of the content lifecycle and to the Content Technology that will be deployed. Content Engineering subsumes all design activities from determining the content architecture that governs how content will be created to determinng the solution architecture of the technology components and processes that will operate on the content. These design decisions will determine how, technically, the content assets will be represented at all points in the content lifecycle. All of these things become, as an outcome, a functional Content Solution that will establish the working environment within which all stakeholders will collaborate throughout the Content Lifecycle.

Content Solution Framework

The Content Solution Framework

At the very least, this representation helps to convey just how many things need to come together to deliver a genuinely effective Content Solution. Digging into the full meaning of what is really entailed within "content solutions" is material for an upcoming post.  

This is enough, however, to give us some perspective on how much opportunity lies ahead for us, as an industry, to improve on how we help organizations turn content assets into concrete business benefits.

The View from Cobble Hill, BC

In April 2014, the topic of the Content Life Cycle was revisited in a webinar convened by the Society for Technical Communication (STC) Content Life Cycle (CLC) Special Interest Group (SIG). Visit the CLC SIG site and the recording of the Webinar (best accessed on the Adobe Connect site directly). The slides are also available on Slideshare.

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