How to navigate the politics of content: Hilary Marsh

Posted by on Jun 10, 2013 in Conferences, Content Strategy | No Comments
How to navigate the politics of content: Hilary Marsh

“Content strategy challenges are mostly people, process, business and collaboration challenges – not writing challenges.” Hilary Marsh aptly summed up one of our core content challenges in her presentation on “Working with a Content Surplus: The Complexity of Distributed Creation” at Confab 2013.

The scales of some content challenges are small, but some – especially government, non-profit and university websites, or large corporate intranets – are vast. These sites have disparate sources and rely on siloed departments, which creates a wide array of content without any sort of central governance. Every organization has politics to navigate, but when the site is huge and the sources disparate, the magnitude is amplified.

What’s a content strategist to do? Marsh offers a logical solution to the political challenges of large, disparate sites:

Respect the siloes.

Uncover the buried treasures, and respect the rest of the data in the siloes as existing there for a reason, but not needing to be universally accessible. With a content strategy for a vast and disparate site, you’re adding value by adding a layer of curated, more broadly useful content. In essence, you’re highlighting “tip of the iceberg” content to share across the organization.

Respecting the siloes also creates an atmosphere of respect within the organization, and between those heading up the content work (the content strategist) and senior managers from across all business units.

Start with your strategy.

Content is where user needs, business goals and technology capabilities all meet. To bring everyone together, it’s critical to develop a strategic statement tying content and communication to business goals. Armed with this, you have a way to assess specific content requests.

Use tried and true tools for success.

These will help you achieve your desired outcome without getting stuck in the fray of organizational politics:

  • Create and distribute writing guidelines – Take a tangible step at getting everyone, and all content, on the same figurative page.
  • Foster collaboration – Get senior management on board with a carrot instead of a stick.
  • Spur motivation – Build an army of content evangelists.
  • Create an “all for one” culture – Make success everyone’s business.
  • Offer rewards – Sloes often exist because departments are budgeted separately; use recognition as a reward.

When approaching a large, disparate content project, keep in mind the word “content” is often a challenge in itself. It feels lightweight to some SMEs, who will say, “I don’t have content; I run a program.” Oftentimes there’s a misunderstanding of how broad and how critical content is, and all it takes to convey this is changing the language from “content” to “program” strategy.

Ultimately, your goal as content strategist is to act as orchestra conductor, pulling people together to bring out the best of what they have to offer.

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