Technology Won't Solve Our Content Problems

It’s easy to believe that if only we had the right technology our content problems would be solved. With better tools, we’d have seamless architecture, organized assets, and current information. Content would drive visitors to build meaningful relationships with our organizations. We’d meet our timeframes without chaos. Puppies, rainbows, and bliss.

In reality, disorganized, outdated assets and missed deadlines happen no matter what technology we use, and on-boarding the latest slick tool is more appealing than rooting around in the messier people issues at the core of ineffective information. But unless we do the tough work to address the underlying causes, we'll end up in the same bad place where we started. So before we start blaming our technology, let’s evaluate the real culprits behind our content problems.

Missing or Misallocated Resources

Managing content successfully requires two significant resources: time and people. When we’re missing or misallocating these resources, the resulting issues often get written off as technology problems and we hear things like:

"It always breaks my formatting."

"This has never really worked right."

"It takes too long to load my content."

When I hear these kinds of complaints, I first look at how we're spending our time before jumping to explore new technologies. When web teams don’t have adequate cycles, build out gets rushed, code becomes disorganized, and testing just doesn’t happen. We don’t have enough time to ensure our systems make content easy to maintain. Instead, things break, tasks become cumbersome, and content is caught in the midst. Then people start blaming the tool and believe if only we had something different, we’d have a flawless, humming website. But if we don’t have time to thoroughly implement good maintenance tools, perform ongoing testing, or build workflows that reflect our business process, we won’t have time to do those things in another system, unless we change how we allocate our time.

Good content management also requires the right people. Maintaining a complex enterprise system takes different skills than running a group of WordPress sites. Depending on what we’re being asked to support, it might appear like we have an adequately-sized team. Four full-time developers should do the trick, right? We have a whole pool of writers. What’s the issue? But maybe we don’t have enough programmers who speak the languages we need. Maybe a writer isn't transitioning well to web production. If we swapped out some skills on our core team, it might make a huge difference in how our technology is supported and used.

In large, distributed systems, the people who aren't on the web team but are actively using our tools might not be in the right positions, either. These users are key because they carry the reputation of our team and our solutions throughout the organization, and users placed in the wrong roles can severely affect the success of our technology. Many users get stuck updating the web because their boss needed to find someone to do it, not because the have the interest or skills. On top of this, the false promises made by folks marketing the hot new CMS or content gathering tools tempt us to believe our technology is to blame.

“You’ll never have outdated content again.”

“Makes updating and content loading a breeze.”

“Anyone can do it.”

The harsh reality is not everyone can do it. Sure, we can provide good training, tools, and support, but some users might not be the right fit. And if not ushered out of their web duties, these users become frustrated, they get upset, and they become the seed for negativity, which leads to culture problems.

Negative Culture

If we’re working in a negative culture, it honestly doesn’t matter what technology we use. People won’t like our tools simply because they heard a friend complain or they don’t like the person who led the implementation. Negativity is an easy bug to pick up, and it spreads.

Sure, we’ll always hate aspects of our systems and users in our organization will have grounds for frustration. But isolating complaints so they don’t infect the whole is an extremely challenging task when leadership isn’t creating a positive vibe. If we work in a bad user culture that we can't influence, it might be best to look for a new job instead of a new technology.

But if we believe our culture can change, there are a few things we can do to put our tools in better esteem.

  • Create opportunities for face time. Let users get to know the people behind the technology so they see it as human instead of machine.
  • Build a fanbase. Make sure users know why we’re using our tools. Explain how they fit our available resources and how they'll help us meet organizational goals.
  • Don’t make technology your scapegoat. When we’re responding to issues from users, we have to be careful not to let our tools take the fall. Owning up to our mistakes and limitations instead of hiding behind technology keeps us from perpetuating negativity.

Poor Process and Communication

Outdated information, content bloat, and missed deadlines all happen when organizations lack clear processes for collaborating and managing shared responsibilities.

Distributed models are messy human systems. Some people who need to take ownership for information management don’t see it as their responsibility. Others are happy to help, but maybe they don’t have good support processes backing them up. And then there are those who don’t follow the process and cause unnecessary confusion because no one steps up to enforce the workflows.

Before we jump to a new technology, we need to make sure our problems aren’t stemming from:

  • Lack of repeatable processes for gathering, approving, or maintaining content
  • Ill-defined roles and responsibilities
  • Little education about standards, policies, and best practices
  • No governance, gatekeeper, or consequence for breaking process or policy

When we don’t have a consistent workflow for gathering, reviewing, and publishing information, it’s impossible to expect our content management teams to be successful. And when we have a process in place we have to follow it without exception. That means we need gatekeepers who say no to adding those 50 new links to the menu or enforce file naming conventions. We won’t always meet last minute requests and make friends, but each time we let process slide we lose a little bit of the stable ground that good content needs to thrive.

Lack of Strategy

In my experience working with agencies and internal web teams, requests often come to the web team in the form of specific demands. A web author wants a new asset storage tool because the CMS doesn't work for them. A marketing rep just watched a webinar for a must-have widget they believe will build leads. Not that adding new widgets or tools is inherently bad, but being asked to implement a solution without a strategy is like trying to hit a bulls eye with our eyes closed. 

Instead, all web requests should start by identifying a problem and then a goal. Once we isolate the issue and clarify what we're trying to accomplish, we can all work together to figure out what’s standing in the way and explore possible solutions.

For example, if our web authors are having trouble finding the assets they need, maybe the problem is our asset taxonomy and we'll have headaches no matter what storage solution we use.  What we need are new organizational structures that may or may not involve a new tool.

Or if we’re not generating enough leads, we need to look more broadly at our audience and their needs before jumping to a solution. Maybe a new widget is a hot ticket in a certain industry, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be used by our audience.

I’ve seen a lot of time and money wasted when the web team gets implementation requests before someone thinks about strategy. We need to change the way we do this work and start bringing questions to the web team so we can all have a conversation about:

  • The problem
  • Business goals
  • Audience needs and preferences
  • Best practices
  • Options for solutions

It’s our job to ask the right questions and set a strategy before locking in on a technology fix. We might decide we need to change systems, but without proper assessment and smart strategy, a new tool won’t solve our problems.

Don’t Expect a Silver Bullet

We can succeed using all kinds of technology if our strategy, resources, culture, and processes are in good shape and we take full advantage of all the benefits our tools offer. But we'll fail if our organizations continue to blame problems on the technology we do or don’t have before really exploring the issues. New tools can certainly improve the way we work and make creating and maintaining good content easier. But they’re not silver bullets and they each require a lot of human work.

Kelsey Lynn