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Content as a Process

Content as a Process

As Abraham Lincoln famously said “The problem with quotes on the internet is, it’s so difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine”.  There are many reasons why content on the internet garners so little trust, but for many organisations the reason is because they view their online content as a project not a process.

I recently read a website which had a disclaimer at the bottom of every page “content correct at time of publication”.  Or to put it another way “we have no idea whatsoever if this is true or false; but if it’s false we’re not to blame”.  This is classic content–as–a–project thinking, which serves us well in the offline world, but lets us down badly on the web.

Since the inception of modern marketing theory, content has been driven by deadlines, because communication has been driven by presentational methods.  The magazine goes to print next Friday and I need to provide my content by next Monday and then forget about it and go on to something else.  The press campaign launches next month and I need to provide the main headlines for my boss next week, and then I can get back to my other tasks.  The annual report has just been printed; it nearly killed me to pull it together, but it’s done now and I’m off for a celebratory beer.

For presentational marketing, the publication of the content has always heralded the end of the project.  For interactive communication (the web), the content publication heralds not the end of the project but the start of the process.  This is because the annual report, the magazine and the press campaign come with their own context, they are clearly labelled for a certain time and will naturally expire or go out of public consciousness.  However web content has a variety of contexts, all of which depend on how the user has reached the content and for which purpose.

Therefore content firstly needs to be accurate and secondly needs to work hard to provide context.

The old joke back at school was that your Da had to sell the TV in order to be able to afford a video recorder.  You wouldn’t dream of buying a car but not being able to fuel it, or run a business but not be able to service your customers.  We understand that buying the car or starting the business is just the start, and they will run into terminal disrepair after a while if they aren’t maintained and reviewed.

And thus we need to see content as a process, which needs servicing, once it is live.  That servicing involves reviewing it on a periodic basis to ensure that it is up to date, still accurate and still relevant.

This leaves us with the context challenge.  The content on your website is not linear, like lots of individual pages of information, rather it is a matrix of nodes.  And your customers will travel throughout that matrix any way they wish.  We owe it to them to help them read the content on our node, and crucially help them to make the next step on their journey.

That means that we should make it clear to our users where they have been to get here, by providing them with intuitive navigation, and it also means that we need to work hard to think about what they wish to do next.  Helping them decide which direction they will take in the labyrinthine maze they find themselves in will lead to happier customers, and more sales.

So review your content on a regular basis to make sure it’s up to date.  And when you publish it make sure it answers the most important question on your customers’ lips; so what?

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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