The Content Corner: Humanizing Structured Content

Jun 1, 2015
Network of human figures

Over the past several years, DigitalGov has been extremely focused on structured content, content models, and their role in future-ready content (and rightly so). A shift of focus back to the content itself as opposed to where it will be published is critical for agencies as we aim to reach as many customers as possible, regardless of what device or screen they are using.

Making the end user an extremely high priority in our content publishing is also important, but there are several other user groups that we need to make sure aren’t lost in the shuffle:

  • Content producers or subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Managers or decision makers

The Same Rules Apply

One of the most important themes of content creation revolves around using plain language and speaking in terms a general user can understand. The same concept needs to be used when we discuss structured content and content models to our content providers and SMEs. We not only need to share with them the importance of using content models and correctly filling out specific CMS fields, but we also need to share this information in simple terms.

The more involved or invested you are in something, the harder it generally is to maintain perspective. Many of us in the digital media profession and within government are very passionate about structured content and its power, but we get tripped up by that very same passion as we try and share it with others. It’s a pretty typical “geeking out” scenario that begins with a calm explanation of content models and specific field titles and structure that suddenly becomes a wild-eyed sermon about the power of metadata, XML, COPE, future-ready platform agnostic self-aware content blobs…and our pitiable victim has either zoned out or is watching out for Skynet.

What’s in It for Me?

I have conducted more content management system training sessions than I care to admit, but the same tactics that work in that setting work when discussing structured content and all content generation: think of the customer or the user, their needs and objectives, and apply them to the new concept.

By default I approach every content provider or SME as someone who is terribly overworked, and content creation is just one item on a very long to-do list. In the real world, it is very rare to find someone who gets to spend most of their day completely focused on their content generation and publishing. So I always try and respect the person’s workload and encourage them to look at properly structured content as a way to get the most bang for their buck (this approach also works for management).

A graphic illustrating the COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) content model strategy

The create once, publish anywhere (COPE) concept can be a powerful explanatory device, as long as you don’t jump too far into things like APIs. But for someone who is either overworked or concerned about budgets and workloads, the idea that a little extra time on a few additional fields will allow one piece of content to be reused in a wide variety of ways has appeal.

Content Was Made to Be Seen

I have also found that a majority of content creators have a deep passion for what they are trying to share with users, especially with SMEs. One of our jobs is to help them share as effectively as possible with their community. Properly structured content is also useful in making sure the maximum number of people are exposed to the content that an SME has taken the time to develop and share.

Everyone can understand concepts like “your content will be more likely to appear in someone’s search results,” but many might not need an explanation of algorithms or metadata standards. And many SMEs don’t actually need to know this stuff: it’s not their job, it’s ours. But, a few simple pointers can make a big difference in both their content’s exposure and our own workload.

Time to Turn Inward

As structured content and our content models continue to mature and evolve, we seem to have a firm handle on the many technical aspects of creating platform-agnostic content. We have also fully embraced the content first model or even as some suggest a “structure first, content close behind” model.

I feel one of the next areas that we must concentrate is on what Silicon Valley tends to refer to as the “evangelizing” phase, especially among our content contributors and decision makers.

We need to speak in plain language and be able to clearly show the ROI both short-term and long-term. We also have to stress that the time to commit and begin is now (or yesterday, actually). Properly structured content creation in one of those tasks that is so much easier to do in the moment instead of having to go back and fix metadata or structure after the fact.

The old adage of “do it right the first time” has rarely been more true than with structured content. And without both the content creators and managers fully embracing the necessity and benefits of structured content, then models, a CMS, and metadata can only do so much.

Have you had success communicating with various stakeholders about structured content? Please share in the comments below.You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.