Publishing Content for Everywhere - CONTENT FLOATS - The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)

The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)


Chapter 4. Publishing Content for Everywhere


We need to forget much of the way we used to think about producing and publishing content. In today’s media-hungry world, people access your content whenever and wherever it suits them. Therefore, your content needs to be able to float easily on different channels without compromising its integrity and thus compromising the possibility of a sale or connection with your company. To do that, you need to manage your content carefully and structure it to work on many platforms.


multichannel publishing; mobile content; content modeling; content strategy; content management systems; structured content; adaptive content; content transportation; time-shifted content; portable content; orbital content

In the film The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker lands on the planet Dagobah in search of the great Jedi master, Yoda. He crashes his ship into a swamp, trapping it in the muck. Later, after being trained in the great ways of the Force, Luke is unable to use his new skills to lift his ship from the marsh. He believes the ship is too great a mass for him to move with his mind. Yoda responds, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Then Yoda uses the Force to lift Luke’s ship safely to dry land.

Unlearn What You Have Learned

Get ready to challenge your assumptions about content creation and publishing. If you want your digital properties to wear the digital crown, your thoughts around creating and publishing content need to change. Many of us learned about the editorial and publication process in a print environment. Many of us are still stuck thinking about digital content as printing a publication.

Digital technologies have changed the process of publication. Producing content is now an instantaneous, easily editable endeavor. This means you and your digital teams need to rethink publishing content as divorced from a print publication.

This chapter helps you navigate the world of multichannel publishing, creating content that is ready for display on any device: smartphones, tablets, traditional desktops, and other technologies we haven’t even thought of yet.

Like Luke, we must unlearn what we have learned—the legacy days of print publishing are over. The speed at which modern business moves means there is no time to edit a document that lives in 18 different places; there are no more pages, no more versions. Instead, we begin a new journey today. May the Force be with us.

Content as a Concept

In the last chapter we introduced the concept that there are three parts to content: information, substance, and structure.

Information is the main fact or idea we want to communicate.

Substance is how we typically think of content—how it is presented—also known as its format.

Structure is how we code our content for distribution on different channels.

Information is not messaging. Messaging is how we shape the information to suit our brand. Information is simply a clear fact, such as “this is a phone number you can use to get in touch with us.”

Do not confuse structure with distribution. Structure is how we package our content so it can be viewed, seen, and shared on the web. Distribution is about the channels we use to talk to our audiences. We will talk more about distribution in Chapter 5.

Attracting Surfers

We used to have two ways to talk to our audiences: print and broadcast. Print channels are newspapers, magazines, circular ads, billboards, and so on. Broadcast channels include television and radio. Now, on the web, we have myriad distribution channels available to us: social media channels, websites or blogs, ads, and so on.

Customers surf these channels on a wide-range of devices: desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Our content needs to float right along with them, no matter what the technology or display format they use to converse with us.

Customers surf web channels on myriad devices: desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Our content needs to float right along with them, regardless of the technology or display format they use to converse with us.

Intersection of People, Process, and Technology

Content stands at the intersection of people, process, and technology. We will revisit this idea many times, but I bring it up now because this chapter addresses the challenges we all have around publishing content.

Publishing content means interfacing with technology and using a process to push content out onto the web so others can consume it. Much of this is transparent to us until something goes wrong. Then we notice that something doesn’t look right, like content hovering over the menu or a set of links that are floating in the middle of the page when they should be flush to the left or right.

When your digital content publishing efforts go awry, typically the problem is with people, process, or technology (Figure 4.1). How do we get every person in one organization to follow the same standards and guidelines for publishing content every single time? Multichannel publishing and structured content is one way to solve this challenge.


FIGURE 4.1 Content stands at the intersection of people, technology, and process. Ahava Leibtag. All Rights Reserved.

What Is Multichannel Publishing?

Multichannel publishing is the ability to publish your content on any device and any channel. People access your content from the device of their choice: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, video game consoles, and so on. Even trickier, these devices evolve on a frequent basis, leading to disparities in size, power, and operating systems.

As a content professional and publisher, you need to adapt and change your publishing process. You can no longer count on a customer accessing any of your digital properties from a traditional desktop computer. The technology that runs behind these other devices is different and varied. You need to change your publishing mindset to suit a universe of devices.

Charles Darwin said it best: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” If you want to keep engaging with your customers, and having smart, intelligent, task-focused conversations with them, then you need to adapt to multichannel publishing.

We use a multitude of devices these days, as customers and as content creators. Is there a day that goes by when you don’t check your phone countless times for email, update your Facebook status, write or check Tweets, then go on your laptop or tablet and watch a video or check the price of a product? It seems second nature to us now.

Making Your Content Accessible on Any Device

Simply put, your content needs to be displayed on the device of your customer’s choosing, not your own. This is called being platform-agnostic, meaning that no matter what type of platform or technology your audience uses, they can still view and interact with your content.

Therefore, your content needs to be accessible on a desktop browser, tablet, smartphone, or laptop. And if that doesn’t freak you out, these statistics should:

• By 2015, more US Internet users will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PCs or other wireline devices (International Data Corporation, 2011).

• Global mobile data traffic grew 70% in 2012 (Cisco, 2011).

• The number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the world’s population in 2013 (Cisco).

• Global mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold between 2012 and 2017 (Cisco).

These numbers are a wake-up call. Whatever content you create will need to float, meaning it will need to be available on multiple channels, immediately, without you or your team having to spend all night repurposing it. This is the goal of efficient content creation, and it is critical to organizations as they move toward publishing more content.

The traditional framework we use to think about this is “mobile” versus “traditional.” You need to unlearn this fallacy—like Luke—because your customers want to talk to you, and they don’t care if you think about it in terms of mobile first or content first. You need to be ready to respond on any device because they say how and when.

They Say How and When

Our audiences, particularly those who have grown up using these mobile devices (called digital natives), don’t think about which device they are going to use based on the type of content they want. They simply engage on a device—usually the one that’s closest. It’s all about what’s fast, easy, and immediately available.

Without sounding like my grandmother, I would say that a degree of impatience exists in today’s audience that is new. If the information isn’t there, doesn’t load fast enough on whatever device they’re using, or doesn’t give answers right away, they move on and never come back. In fact, 75% of people would not return to websites that took longer than four seconds to load (Munchweb). The phrase “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” was never truer than it is today. Can’t give me the information I want NOW? No? Then I’ll be over here, talking to one of your competitors.

Changing Patterns of Content Consumption

These changing patterns of content consumption challenge the way you organize and publish your content. You can no longer afford to think of your desktop website as the “mothership” of your content. R. S. Gracey explains this well when he speaks about abandoning the primary platform: “Historically, all content has been designed and created for a ‘primary platform’ whose format is well understood. After its initial publication, it must then be reformatted to meet the design realities of any contexts in which it is to appear” (Gracey, 2012).

He expounds by describing a situation we are all familiar with: A marketing department creates a sales brochure and then posts it on the web as a PDF. But now that content is trapped inside the PDF and not easily available for consumption by your audience, who might not have the software necessary to download it on one of their devices.

The PDF is handed back to the designers, who have to redesign the print piece to fit on the web. Who has time for all of this? It’s a complete waste of business resources, especially when there is a way to create content once, and then publish it everywhere you want it to be (like Visa).

The content of the conversation with the audience matters most because the device will change for each audience member, several times each day, if not each hour—making their context shift. If technology mediates the conversation, then each device they use to interact with your content changes that context.

When you think about the way customers use technology, you should realize they don’t want it to mediate the conversation. They just want to have the conversation they want to have. They assume that if you want to have that conversation with them, you will deliver it in any way they want.

If you don’t deliver in the way they expect, they will end the conversation.

Tasks Versus Information: Forget “Pages”

Gerry McGovern, a noted content expert (who said we should stop calling customers “users” back in Rule #1), says that we need to stop thinking about pages as units of content, and start thinking of tasks as units of content (Snare, 2011). Therefore, customers come to websites (or applications) to accomplish tasks, and the content should support them in completing those tasks.

However, I would argue that getting a piece of information is also accomplishing a task. You need to answer a question; the task is done when you find the answer. Tasks raise the question of developing a mobile application or mobile website—which one will help our customers accomplish their tasks faster and more easily? You will have to answer many questions before you make this decision; know that whichever direction you go in, information is the starting point of content.

Pages Are Dead

I used to tell my writing team to look at the website of the organization before they begin writing content. Why? Because they could see how the content will display when published—this helped them envision the reading experience for the audience.

However, that’s over, folks. We no longer have the liberty to think in terms of pages, which is really a framework created by print publishing. Instead, we must divorce the way the content may appear to our audience, in the same way that we need to divorce how they may find us from our own website, blog, or social media channel. Content floats now—untethered to design or location.

While many things need to change before organizations can start creating reusable content, the most fundamental challenge is a change in mindset. Content creators need to break free of imagining a single context where their content is going to ‘live’ and instead plan for content reuse.

(McGrane, 2012)

If content is floating, waiting to be interacted with, it may be in the form of a phone number, a blog post, a link to a product offering, a coupon code for a sale, and so on. We have no idea which device our audiences are using to look for and pick up that content.

Strip Content from Display

So we cannot think about the way they will see it—known as the display. Instead, we need to think about the information they need and the best content format to use to communicate that information.

In Content Everywhere, Sara Wachter-Boettcher explains, “As connected devices continue to multiply, and as users continue to expect to access your content in more and more places, the less you can afford to be rigid, manually applying content to each and every page. Instead, you need to create content in chunks, giving it the fluidity and flexibility for it to travel—across devices, sites and channels—so users can experience it in whatever context they choose” (Wachter-Boettcher, 2012).

We need to unlearn what we’ve learned about print publishing, like Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. We need to strip content from display, so that it can travel where we need it to go. We need to rethink the concept of a “page” on a website in the same way that electronic readers changed the way we thought about pages in books. We need to think about future-ready content.

So If It’s Not About Pages, Then What?

So if it’s not about pages anymore, then what is it about? Well, this is where it gets a bit complex. You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m going to skip this part and move on to the chapter about social media.” Trust me, hang in there. Because the rest of this chapter teaches you the technical details you really need to know to manage content and distribute it effectively. The knowledge of these technical details will also shape your vocabulary, so you can talk to your programmers and developers in an intelligent, informed fashion. And who doesn’t want more respect at work?

Here’s a quick example. Let’s say you make televisions in China. You need to think about getting those televisions from China to the rest of the world so consumers can buy them. Would you think to yourself, “I’ve made the televisions, so who cares how they get to the consumer?” No way. You would figure out the logistics of getting those televisions to the marketplaces where you could make the most profit.

Using that same mindset, you need to think about how to publish the content you have worked so hard to create; the two processes are intimately intertwined. Content is a shared system of assets within your organization: How it ends up distributed and consumed is very much your business. Therefore, learning about publishing content is important for you as a content professional or as someone who is responsible for the content professionals within your organization.

Think about it this way—you’re spending so much time trying to fix content, keep it consistent, merge it from other websites, and have your teams think about how to repurpose it. What if there was an easier way?

Where We Fix Your Problem

Multi-channel publishing is the reality of content creation and publishing today. In a way, you can think of it as “chunking” content—breaking it apart into small bite-size pieces, each being told where and how to appear, depending on a device’s template. We need to think about the material in terms of chunks of content, otherwise known as structured content. Think of this as breaking up any blob of content into smaller parts, so it can float.

Remember the televisions we were selling? If we were creating content about the televisions, we would need to create one piece, or chunk, of content about each component: a picture of the TV, the price, the specs, reviews, and the stores where they are sold. Each of those chunks must float separately because they will display differently on different devices. When we structure our content properly, we can deliver the best possible digital interaction. Our end goal is to deliver the most user-friendly experience (one day we shall call it customer-friendly, but for now we will bow to the industry-friendly term).

Defining Some Terms

Before we dive in, let’s define some terms around content so we are all on the same page (but remember, no more “pages”):

Content formats: A type of content the audience consumes. For the sake of this list, let’s talk about a news article

Content attributes: The modules and chunks that make up that content type: title, author name, date published, headings

Content model: How these different elements coexist so they display in different relationships within a certain preprogrammed format

Content Management Systems: CMS is software that manages publishing, editing, and changing content as well as maintenance, all from a central interface

Now we’re going to talk about how you can structure your content so it can publish to all the different devices your audience uses to have a conversation with you.

Explaining a Bit About Format and Display

Let’s understand this better:

When we type something into Microsoft Word, and we highlight it and bold it, Microsoft Word makes it stand out next to “lighter” text. Called “applying a style,” it tells the highlighted piece to display a certain way on our screen and when we print the document (Figure 4.2).


FIGURE 4.2 Sample of text with applied styles in MS Word.

Most websites are published using WYSIWYG-enabled (pronounced Wiz-ee-wig) interfaces. WYSIWYG stands for What You See Is What You Get. It’s a program that allows people who are unfamiliar with html (hypertext markup language) to post content without (hopefully) having to look at the back-end code. With WYISWYG, you “get” or “see” the content you input the way it will look on the web. So content authors put content they’ve written, or someone else has written, into the WYSIWYG part of a content management system (CMS) without having to manipulate any back-end code.

CMS use templates to control the structure of information across different pages and views. Those templates are then formatted (typography, color, white space) with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). But let’s say the content author wants to change a format. She probably can override the style sheet and change formatting. However, when the content is published to a different template, like a smartphone page, the style changes, or worse the style messes up, the intended display format.


Why Design Isn’t Always the Answer

You may have heard of responsive design, a format that allows for the display of a website to shift depending on the width of the screen, or the size of the customer’s viewing area. “Responsive design calls for building sites using flexible grid layouts, flexible images and media, and CSS3 media queries. Together, this allows the site’s layout to shift on the fly, based on the display size of a user’s device. The result is a single website that responds to the device you’re on, delivering the same content in a way that’s optimized for that device’s display” (Wachter-Boettcher, 2012).

While this solves many of the design issues of mobile, it doesn’t solve content issues regarding different devices because as the design “reads” the size of your viewing area, it serves up certain types of templates designed for the dimensions of your screen. In most cases, responsive design uses this pattern of grids to take horizontal layouts and turn them vertical for easier viewing on mobile devices. Responsive design can substantially alter a template based on the screen width (Figure 4.3).


FIGURE 4.3 Horizontal versus vertical formatting: Mozilla-provided instructions about how to transform a horizontal layout to a vertical one (Mozilla).

Template Talk

Templates are the designs created for different viewing situations. There is a different template for each: smartphones, desktops, tablets. However, unless the developers or designers specify, these templates don’t prioritize content—they just prioritize layout depending on the screen size of the device (Figure 4.4).


FIGURE 4.4 The same content as seen on a desktop computer, tablet, and smartphone.

This provides a challenge. If the digital team has not thought through which types of content are important to the person accessing the content, important content may be buried, according to the way the template is structured. For example, when you access a recipe from a mobile device, you may want to know how long prep time will take. If the template shows that piece of content all the way at the end of a long scroll, customers may jump off the mobile page in frustration, because that piece of information was under a long, heavy pile of ingredients.

Therefore, instead of a normal conversation flow, technology impedes the conversation. It’s mediating the conversation in a way that’s unsatisfying to the customer. Bad.

Adaptive Content to the Rescue

So we admit it. We cannot predict how our customers are trying to have a conversation with us: a small screen, big screen, on their way to work, on their way to a date, in bed, or on the couch. We don’t know what they want to do: Acquire a piece of information, talk to a friend, or update a status. Their task is unknown. One thing we do know: they want to communicate, to have a conversation, to connect.

As Gracey reminds us, “It’s time to admit we’re powerless over technology and its users. We can never know enough about our users, their needs, or their devices—let alone how devices will have changed by next year—to teach our content how to adapt to them. Instead, we must build into the content solid information about its structure and meaning, so that we can allow others to make decisions about how it should look and behave” (Gracey, 2012).

Adaptive content is a methodology that prepares your content for repurposing. Think of the relationship between content and design for multi-channel publishing like this:


What Makes Content Adaptive?

According to Karen McGrane, author of Content Strategy for Mobile, “there are five elements that make content adaptive (McGrane, 2012):

1. Reusable content: content has been developed to maximize reuse across platforms; where that’s impossible, different formats or types of content are available.

2. Structured content: discrete content chunks can be combined in different ways for different platforms.

3. Presentation-independent content: design decisions can be made by the platform, rather than having style and format imposed on the content.

4. Meaningful metadata: category, tag, author, and date information can be used to filter or highlight content, and metadata can be used to help platforms decide which content to display.

5. Usable CMS interfaces: content management UI and workflow encourages people to create well-structured and metadata-enhanced content, without letting them fall back on making styling choices.”

Reusable Content

Now we understand reusable content. We want our content to go everywhere it needs to go. We want it to float. We don’t want to have to edit and change it every time we invent a new technology or device. We don’t have the time to update or edit 18 different documents. Reusable means we can use content for multiple purposes and in multiple places without worrying how it will display. This is called content parity—we want content to be separate from its formatting so we don’t worry about how it will look on every single display and device known to humankind.


Daniel Jacobson, former Director of Application Development for NPR, recognized the need for flexibility in content creation several years ago when he wrote a piece about COPE: Create Once, Publish Everywhere, NPR’s content management system. As he describes it, “The basic principle is to have content producers and ingestion scripts funnel content into a single system (or series of closely tied systems). Once there, the distribution of all content can be handled identically, regardless of content type or its destinations.”

NPR’s development of this system is based on several basic philosophies:

• Build content management systems (CMS), not web publishing tools (WPT)

• Separate content from display

• Ensure content modularity

• Ensure content portability

In a presentation about COPE in 2011, Zach Brand, Senior Director of Technology and Strategy at NPR, summarized the company’s experience with COPE (Jacobson, 2009) that “to be findable, your content should be flexible” (Brand, 2011).

Structured Content

For content to be adaptive, and “fit into” the different templates that have been created on all of our different devices, we need to “structure” the content. This means we use metadata (information about the chunk of content) to tell the content what it is—to give it a designation that later will be interpreted by a web browser.

Markup is one way we tell content how to behave—it’s snippets of code wrapped around the text—that direct how a program will interpret it. For example, if you were reading the following sentence on a website it would look like this:

“Markup labels content so it behaves the same way every time depending on the code.”

It looks bold to you because on the back-end of the code, there is markup around the sentence that says <strong>. Markup labels content so that it behaves the same way every time depending on the code </strong>. (Strong in markup means bold.)

So how else do we tell content how to behave? Well, we don’t just need it to appear in a certain style, like bold or italicized. We also need it to separate itself into fields of meaning, otherwise known as content attributes, so it can display on different devices the way it is supposed to look.

How to Structure Your Content

Structuring your content means deconstructing it—breaking it down into pieces of information that relate to each other, but don’t have to be together to create meaning. For example, you can read an article without knowing the author. But you can’t read an article without the main body copy of the article.

Here’s an example from a popular website, You’ll find a case study about their content strategy project at the end of Part 3.

Welcome to the World of Hip Hop

As one of the most visited hip hop sites on the web, HipHopDX attracts traffic to its traditional website, as well as to its mobile site. To avoid having to change articles depending on how their audience will access the content, the developers created a custom Content Management System (CMS) with structured content. Much like Jay-Z, they wanted to avoid having 99 problems.

A news article on HipHopDX first has a piece of content: the article. Now we break out the different chunks of the article into content attributes (Figure 4.5):

• Headline

• Summary

• Author’s name

• Date published

• Photograph

• Body of the article

• Related articles

• Social media connection portals


FIGURE 4.5 Traditional website page of All content attributes boxed in green show up on the mobile menu (Figure 4.6) and article page template (Figure 4.7). The purple boxes show up on the article page template, but do not show up on the mobile menu. The red boxes do not appear on the mobile versions. By telling the content how to behave on different devices using structured content, a better user experience emerges.

When you look for the article on a mobile device, the summary appears in the menu to give you more information to decide whether to click on that link and read the article. However, it doesn’t appear on the mobile article page, because the designers and developers probably decided you didn’t need a summary (that content attribute) on the actual mobile article page. The video also doesn’t appear on the mobile page (Figures 4.6 and 4.7).


FIGURE 4.6 Content on the mobile menu. The headline, subheading, and picture from the desktop site are displayed.


FIGURE 4.7 Content on the article page template. All of the elements from the desktop version are transferred to the mobile template.

Without the markup around the content attributes telling them how to behave, the content would just appear the way it wanted, probably breaking the design on a mobile site.

Now look at the content in the back end of the CMS (Figure 4.8).


FIGURE 4.8 The back end of the CMS, where CMS authors input the content into fields, allowing for multi-channel publishing based on responsive design.

The content could have appeared in a big blob (not a technical term), with all of the information coded into the same big blobby field: Headline, name of the author, article text, etc. Instead, the developers, designers, and content authors thought through how the content should appear on different displays, and they created different attributes for each piece of content. What they did is called content modeling—they plotted the relationships between each piece of content to determine their importance to each other.

Now instead of a huge blob appearing on your screen, and scaring you with its blobbing out of the frame, there are precise chunks of content. A field for the:

Author’s name: one content element.

Date published: another content element.

Headline: another content element.

By assigning metadata to these fields and telling them how to behave on different displays, the content doesn’t become unruly and unfit for any display. In fact, it can float right along, showing up wherever and whenever it is called for duty.

Pull information out of content. Pull content away from design. Float.

Content Modeling

Content modeling involves understanding the relationship each content attribute has to every other content attribute. No runways are required.

The developers at HipHopDX asked themselves:

• For this news article, what is each piece of information that is important to the central news story? They are the content attributes: author’s name, date published, accompanying photo, accompanying video, related content, etc.

• How important is it for the audience to see each content attribute on every display type they may use? For example: Does someone on the mobile site need to see the summary on the article page? Maybe the summary functions better to help them decide if they want to click on the article.

• What other pieces of information relate to this main chunk of content that we may need to repurpose or use later?

Then, to make content authoring an easier task, they input meaningful metadata (or markup) into their CMS so it would be easy to enter the right pieces of information into each field. By doing it this way, content authors don’t need a PhD in computer science, and HipHopDX content floats in cyberspace without hurting any other content or display.

Content Management Systems (CMS)

Anyone who has ever worked with a CMS will laugh at the following quote from Karen McGrane: “Many content management systems look like a database got drunk and vomited all over the interface” (McGrane, 2012).

As defined earlier, a content management system (CMS) is software that is supposed to help organizations manage the publishing, editing, and changing of content, all from a central interface. First, you enter the article’s title, its author, its publication date, and so on, into the system as separate attributes. Then, you can use the CMS to program exactly how each of those attributes will look to the audience, depending on what device the audience is using to access the content. So, yes, it is a lot of pieces of information, but it is all well organized, accessible, and manageable.

It Comes Down to People, Yet Again

Another joy of our world is that structured content doesn’t solve all your content problems, in the same way responsive design doesn’t solve all your design problems. As Sally Bagshaw, a content strategist with expertise in content authoring, explains, “Content will turn to crap if the people putting it into the CMS don’t care” (Bagshaw, 2012).

Bagshaw describes one of her clients who operates like most large enterprise systems: They have a distributed content workforce of about 400 people. She explains, “There are quite a few CMS authors (people who put the content inside of the CMS) who are enthusiastic and motivated and want to create great content. The majority of the 400 just need to update lists and put in driving and parking directions. Yet, all 400 people have the exact same training and support, when in reality their needs are very different.”

I call the parking directions type of content “assembly line content,” and there are all types of it out there:

• Maps and directions

• Bios

• Rosters

• Event calendars

• Payment information

• … and so on

Assembly line content just needs to get up and out there, but that does not change how valuable that information is for the audience. These types of content need to live on your digital properties—in fact many times, they are the only conversation our audiences want to have with us at that moment.

However, to get that content out there correctly requires our content authors to understand structured content. They need to know how to input content into the CMS so that it retains meaning across different templates, devices, user settings, syndications, and more. In other words, we need to think about hardcoding our content’s end behavior while we are creating it. That way it is programmed to display appropriately on varied devices and within different templates when it shows up on our end customers’ screens.

That’s a massive technology, process, and people challenge. Welcome to the sweet spot of content!

The Challenge of Content Authoring

It used to be that writers would write their stories and then “content producers” would upload the content into the system. However, as we move toward a multi-channel publishing world, it’s going to be increasingly harder for us to separate authors from workflow. Therefore, we need to create content authoring teams who can create content directly in the CMS.

This has several advantages:

1. Governance: The CMS can provide content governance rules to the authors so that they follow guidelines like naming conventions and security standards.

2. Ready to float: Content can be structured and packaged correctly so that it’s ready to float on the web.

3. Workflow: The creation and publishing of content is streamlined and efficient.

There are also some challenges to a content authoring team:

1. Hard to find talent: You need a group of people with a very complex skill set—excellent writers who understand the technical backend and who also have marketing and branding experience—these people are hard to find.

2. Broken content: Without proper training and support, content authors will make errors, so there is increased chance of mistakes showing up on your site.

3. Killing creativity: If we take away autonomy from our content authors by enforcing all of the rules of a CMS upon them, are we killing storytelling?

You’re Authors, Not Designers

Content authoring means writing content directly into your CMS. There are myriad reasons for doing this: It saves time, it gives authors the ability to separate attributes, and it creates workflow efficiency. However, problems arise when authors want to also influence the design of the content, or the way it looks.

For example, they may want to apply bold markup to certain sentences, just as they would if they were working in a word processor like Microsoft Word. However, CMS are not word processors and markup isn’t just bolding. As Michael Hogenmiller, the visual designer and CMS developer for HipHopDX, says, “It’s not your job to design this content; it’s your job to author it.”

The new world of multi-channel content authoring within a CMS makes it necessary for authors to divorce whatever influence they want to have over the visual display and design of their content. That is hard for authors and content creators. They know that design can help highlight and support certain concepts.

But, if we are going to move toward successful multi-channel publishing, content authors need to learn to use markup to designate their content, NOT how it's supposed to look. Then designers can assign design styles to that markup so that content appears in the proper style within each template.

Of course, as Kevin Potts (Leibtag, 2013), a developer, points out, “The most successful web projects are not only ones where responsibilities between parties are respected, but where writers, designers and programmers are operating TOGETHER from the beginning. Upfront communication between these skills provides exponentially higher benefits to the user experience downstream.” We’ll learn more about working together in Rule #4.

Content Authoring and Creativity

We all must adapt. Right now, most online authors use some sort of CMS to publish to the web. And, as Bagshaw points out, when they can’t find a way to get the CMS to do what they want it to do, they circumvent the process, leaving us with a whole other world of pain. So, first, we need to accept that content authorship inside of a CMS is where we’re headed.

However, as Bagshaw also points out, “Content is still allowed to have a soul. We don’t have to let the machines do all the work.” That is the critical piece here. Assembly line content will always exist and needs to exist—in many cases, it too pushes the sales cycle forward. Creative content is what keeps our audiences hooked and consistently returning, reading, consuming, sharing, and saving our content. How do we keep creativity flowing in the face of rigid publishing structures like CMS?

Usable CMS

What would you do if your star reporter came to you and said, “I need a new computer because the b, c and ? keys on my keyboard don’t work anymore.” You’d buy that man a new computer, correct?

Well CMS are not so easy to buy as a new laptop preloaded with software, but at the end of the day, when your company does buy one, or update the one you have, you need to ensure that it makes the experience of content authorship as easy as possible for your publishing teams. Potts says, “In my opinion, writers are indispensable in the evaluation of a CMS, and should be actively involved in requirements gathering and the decision-making process” (Leibtag, 2013).

There is a strong business case for having the best CMS tools. If your content teams have easy-to-use publishing tools that make assigning markup easy and structured, your content publishes effortlessly wherever it needs to go. You’ve saved yourself and your business a lot of resources, talent, and time. That translates to bottom line profits.

A New Type of Content Consumption

There is another massive change in content consumption, known by a few terms: content transportation, time-shifted content, portable content, and orbital content. This means saving your content for later, in apps like Pocket or Evernote or on the Reading List in your mobile browser.

As Wachter-Boettcher says, “While your users may want your content, they don’t necessarily want to get it on your website … In all likelihood, your users are feeling overwhelmed, and they’re looking for a way to keep up with the flow and sense of the things that are important to them. These services can help them easily save the interesting bits that would otherwise flit by, avoiding the painful experience of trying to recollect who shared which link and then searching through pages of updates to find it again” (Wachter-Boettcher, 2012).

Apps like Evernote or Pocket are what I like to call a Digital Video Recorder for content. Just as DVRs changed content consumption for broadcast, apps like Pocket are changing online content consumption.

Of course, there are pros and cons to this new reality in content consumption. On the good side, in the same way that DVRs let you speed through commercials, apps like Pocket and Evernote strip out the annoying ads on some websites and deliver just the text and pictures associated with a particular article. But, if your content isn’t structured and encoded for this to happen, your audience won’t be able to save it and read it later. They suffer. And so will you, because they will not engage with your content.

Now for the bad news: In the same way that technologies like DVRs created challenges for network TV and broadcast rating measurements, so too do these apps create challenges for you, the publishers of content. How do you know people are saving or shifting your content? Can they experience it the way you intended when it is shifted so far away from its original format—like the page of your website?

Well in truth, if your content is great, then yes, they will. Because it is about the conversation you would like to have. If you structure your content in a way that is easy for them to read and enjoy wherever they are, then they’re more likely to continue that conversation.

Are You Planning for Content Properly?

Look at your content with your digital team and determine whether you’re publishing content that is future-ready. While this year we’re worried about multi-screened and multi-threaded conversations, in the coming decade your content may be used in everything from voice-activated technology to user manuals that are easily searchable.

You need to free your content from its “containers,” whether those are pages, PDF documents, or press releases. Content will only be able to travel across the web and other places (but not galaxies far, far away) if we divorce it from display.

After Yoda pulls Luke’s ship from the muck, Luke turns to him and says, “I didn’t believe it was possible.” Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.” The only way to learn how to multi-channel publish is to accept that we need to think differently.


No matter where your audience is when they consume your content—on a street corner, in bed, at an airport—and no matter how they consume it—on their laptop, tablet, or smartphone—there are critical things you must do for your content so it can live anywhere online and resonate with your target audiences.

Now that we understand how to plan for content, how to create content, and how to publish it so it can float, breathe, move, and engage, we need to understand how to distribute it. Understanding multi-channel publishing is a critical part of understanding distribution strategies. If you’re going to use all of your channels properly, you need to understand how to structure your content to appear the way you want, where you want, and when you want.

So now, the chapter we’ve all been waiting for Chapter 5, or the chapter in which we finally cover social media.


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