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December 1, 2014

Content strategy and relocation: the trauma is the same

We moved into a new office at the end of October. The new space is bigger and nicer than the old space, but nonetheless, the moving process was painful. As a child, I moved several times and changed schools every two or three years. I then landed in North Carolina for college and stayed put. It occurs to me that a new content strategy introduces much of the same pain as relocation.

Motive matters

Pickford's moving van

Content strategy and relocation: Not very much fun // flickr: markhillary

When you relocate or change your approach to content, the reason matters. Did you choose to move for an amazing job opportunity or spiffy new features? Were you forced to abandon your old content creation system by factors beyond your control? Did you seize the opportunity to change things? Were you involved in the decision, or was it imposed by others? Did you carefully select your new residence, or did you have to move to an undesirable location because of factors beyond your control? Did you plan your move carefully, or did you have to move on short notice? Do you consider yourself a starry-eyed immigrant to a new system or a refugee who would like someday to return to your true home?

Your opinion will be affected by your motive.

Learning a new culture

Moving, especially across national boundaries, causes culture shock. You expect big changes, such as different languages, customs, and food. But culture shock is usually caused by small things–the complete unavailability of a specific favorite food, the slight differences in how traffic lights work, the presence of near-ubiquitous connectivity (points to US), or the presence of useful public transit (all the points to Europe).

On the content side, we find similar culture shock. Typically, it falls in these categories:

  • Easy things that are hard or impossible in the new world.
  • New features that go unused because they were hard or impossible in the old world (so avoiding them is ingrained behavior).
  • Difficulty understanding the basic premise of how things work. For example, spending lots of time tracking content status in a spreadsheet instead of letting the shiny new content management system do the reporting for you.
  • Content development problems; for example, a shift from writing exclusively for print to writing for print and online media. This is a tough transition.
Learning a new culture is hard work, and it takes time. Training and education help, but exploring something in a controlled setting is quite different from living it. People need time to live into their new content systems.

Learning what’s really important

To make a successful transition, you need to understand what’s really important. Delivering great content is more important than getting to use Your Favorite Familiar Tool. Great writing skills will transcend the environment.

Before the office move, we had certain expectations for how the space would be used. In particular, we have both a conference room and an open meeting area. We expected to conduct most meetings in the conference room. But instead, the open meeting area is getting all the usage. As a result, we are rethinking our furniture in that space. Is it bad that we have a huge conference room that’s barely getting used?

When you change content processes, people will surprise you with creative solutions that are not part of the plan. It’s quite likely that some of their ideas will be better than what you had in mind, so figure out what matters (productive meetings) and what doesn’t matter (the location).


When we moved, we allowed ourselves at least six months to feel comfortable in the new location. For content strategy changes, expect a similar transition period.