00:01 Sarah O’Keefe: Welcome to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize, and distribute content in an efficient way. In Episode 20, we discuss our New Year’s resolutions for content. Hi, everyone. I’m Sarah O’Keefe. I am CEO at Scriptorium and hosting this episode. I am here with Alan Pringle.
00:23 Alan Pringle: Hi there, everyone. I’m COO at Scriptorium.
00:26 SO: And remotely with Bill Swallow.
00:29 Bill Swallow: Hey, everybody. I’m the Director of Operations.
00:32 SO: So we are sitting here just before the end of the year and getting ready to head out for the holiday break. By the time you hear this, we will be back from the break, and it will be time to discuss our wonderful New Year’s resolutions. So I thought what we would do today is we would take a look at resolutions, not personally, but for content. What do New Year’s resolutions for content look like? And so Alan, I believe that you have a New Year’s resolution related to losing weight.
01:02 AP: And you ask me that after I, earlier this morning, just polished off some shortbread cookies at about 7:30 AM.
01:10 BS: Breakfast of champions.
01:11 AP: Exactly.
01:13 SO: But we weren’t talking about your personal issues. [chuckle]
01:14 AP: We’re not talking about my scarfing of cookies. We’re talking in a less literal sense. When it comes to your content, it can carry extra weight in several ways. One of those is your processes just take way too long to get that content out. And despite all the time you spent, your results are not good or nonexistent for that content getting out. So, take a look at your processes. How efficient are they, or inefficient, as the case may be? And they may be dragging you down. So, think about ways to speed up your delivery process. Maybe look into instituting some reuse, for example, so you’re not writing the same thing four and five times. Another aspect of weight in content is, does it have a bunch of information that is not useful? Is it redundant? It kind of gets back to the reusing as I just mentioned. Is it concisely written? There are ways to trim information down, especially when you’re looking at, for example, technical information. There is more of a move toward minimalism and toward content reuse. Those trends definitely play into this and can help you really cut out that dead weight if you want to call it that.
02:39 SO: And I realize as I’m looking at this, that we said that the goal was to lose weight, but I suppose it’s actually possible to have a content that is effectively anorexic. It doesn’t have enough weight. So if you have content that requires regulation or that is health and safety content where you’re very concerned about accuracy, then you do need a certain amount of process. Right?
03:05 AP: Yes.
03:06 SO: So maybe this should really be instead of being lose weight, it’s something like healthy weight.
03:11 AP: True. And the healthy weight for one person, when you’re talking more about people, is not always the same for the next person. So that applies here very much like you just said. Some companies are in an area where there’s a lot of regulation, and that content is very much driven by that. Where in a less regulated industry, you’re not going to have that kind of required overhead. One size does not fit all with healthy weight.
03:42 SO: Right. Okay. Bill, I think we stuck you with exercising.
03:47 BS: Oh, yeah. And that actually fits quite well since I’m eyeing my 2nd dan test for taekwondo in April, so I definitely need to exercise more and improve my flexibility. But on the content side, this is true as well. There are many different formats that you need to be able to hit with your content, and these aren’t necessarily going to be going away in the future. And one of the big ones is mobile. And the easiest way to hit mobile is, of course, to go with some kind of a responsive design, so you’re not designing for multiple different screens with multiple different outputs. You use the same one in HTML for all of them. But looking at improving flexibility for content, Alan was speaking a lot about doing things in the content for losing weight. So he talked about reuse, and that is definitely something that you can employ to improve your flexibility of content, and also looking at using conditional content as well, and multiple different publishing scenarios. So this way, you’re not kind of recreating the wheel every single time you need to produce a new output. You’re using as much as you can and really improving the flexibility of that content by building in what you need to push out to multiple different outputs.
05:13 SO: So flexibility means you don’t really want to get too locked in to a specific thing?
05:20 BS: Right. As your content becomes more flexible, there are… You see, again, is in losing weight. You see a lot less formatting specific stuff in your content. And you’re able to start delivering content into many different forms.
05:42 AP: And a lot of times, you need to look very hard at your tool and process architecture, because if you’re… The tools you’re using to create and distribute content are a few years old and say, focus more on print PDF, and you’re trying to get out to a mobile world you’re going to have a conflict there. So it goes into really, what is your tool architecture? What is your infrastructure behind your content? Because it may be limiting what you need to do in this need for flexibility.
06:16 BS: Oh, that’s very true, especially if you’re sharing content between different target outputs, even if it’s just between marketing and technical communications. If you’re using different tools, that makes your content a lot less flexible.
06:30 AP: And the same can be said if you need to translate that content into multiple languages, there is another barrier, possible barrier, to that flexibility as well, if your tools and processes cannot sustain an efficient localization workflow.
06:45 SO: And then, I guess, again, being the troublesome contrarian, there is such a thing as having content that is too flexible, that doesn’t have any guidelines or any style or any sort of rules that you’re following in terms of what you’re doing with that content. And it really makes me think of those gutter guards that you put up for kids or terrible bowlers when you’re bowling. [chuckle] Where it keeps the ball at least going down the right path. It doesn’t give you a whole lot but it keeps it keeps it from actually ending up in the gutter. And interestingly, we were looking at this this weekend because I was up north, actually way north of you, Bill, and the roads have been plowed and as a result there was a thing that literally looked like those gutter guards. If you slid off the road, you weren’t going very far because there were these bumpers on either side that were just hard, frozen snow about two feet high. So you wouldn’t get very far if you actually slid, although I have to say the roads were in pretty good shape because people up north know how to plow unlike some people we could mention…
07:55 BS: Here.
07:56 SO: Here.[chuckle]
07:58 SO: Okay. So one of our other resolutions, having dumped the embarrassing personal ones on the two of you, I went with “learn a new skill”. Resolve to learn something new, and this one is probably for us personally, and not for the content. Content doesn’t really learn new skills. Although interestingly, Alexa does use that term, Alexa has skills. But this is for you. Stay on top of the industry developments, look at the new stuff that’s coming out, find something that you’re interested in that presents an opportunity for you, for your content and your career, and pursue that and become competent in whatever that thing might be. I’m not suggesting that you need to necessarily move your content into the new thing, I’m just saying learn it. Spend some time with it, learn what’s out there and have some options available to you so that you keep going and you keep figuring out new stuff. Bill, we picked on you and said you should stop smoking.[laughter]
09:08 BS: Yeah, I’ll focus on other bad habits.[laughter]
09:13 SO: As far as I know, Bill is not actually a smoker.
09:16 BS: No, I’m not. But bad habits definitely, that’s one of the number one New Year’s resolutions that are out there. But bad habits definitely are killing your content over time, and they could be really anything. It could be… As we discussed, using multiple different tools or using the wrong tool to get something done, essentially trying to cram your content into a shoe that doesn’t fit with a shoe horn. No. But working in a vacuum, focusing only on what you need to get done and not worrying about anyone else on your team or anyone else in the company who might need to rely on that content, focusing on the wrong content. A lot of times, I’ve seen people focus on the content that they just particularly love to write and they pay no mind to the content that they don’t write or they write in a specific way regardless of the mandated style and that just creates a lot of busy work for everybody else. So focusing in on what are the things that are preventing you from really doing more with your content? These are all content-related bad habits that need to stop. And even looking at process and workflow, waiting till the last minute to get some kind of review or a different set of eyes on your content before pushing it out the door. All these things contribute to these bad habits, contribute to problems with your content, that could definitely use some fixing in 2018.
10:55 AP: Another bad habit I can think of is ownership. It is one thing to be very proud of the work that you do and be competent in your job. It is another thing however, to say, “I own this. This is my piece of content.” Well, newsflash, it’s not your content if you’re getting paid by a corporation or your company to write it. It is the organization’s content, you were helping to create it. So you have to very careful with your mindset in regard to ownership. Yes, you may be responsible for writing certain pieces but don’t think that you… Like you mentioned, Bill, that you’re working in a vacuum and that’s all you need to focus on especially in this day and age of reuse.
11:44 SO: And I’ll say years and years ago, it had to be at least 15 years ago, I interviewed somebody and I asked… It was a technical writing position and I said, “What do you do when you have a technical editor?” Because this was so long ago that there were still technical editors. “And the editor looks at your stuff and makes a change, that you don’t necessarily agree with. What do you do with that?” And I didn’t specify what the change was, whether it was persnickety or important or anything, I just said, what happens if your technical editor makes a change that you disagree with? Now, there are so many answers that you can give to that, all the way from go talk to the editor to try and figure out why they made the change, review the style guide, whatever. This particular person gave the only absolutely incorrect answer, which was, “Well, it’s my content. So if I don’t agree with it, then I ignore it.” [chuckle] I said, “Well, thanks for coming in and have a lovely day working somewhere else.” Because…
12:49 BS: Yeah, I had… No, Because…
12:52 SO: Because, no, that’s not how it works. [chuckle]
12:56 BS: I had a very similar situation, although it was on the flip side of the hiring process. This person was already in place and kept butting heads with our editor at the time. And it came to such a head that she stomped down to his cubicle and screamed at him, saying, “What is this? A freaking dictatorship?” And he just smiled back politely and said, “Yes.” [laughter] You need to stop the bad habits of going against the style.
13:27 SO: All right. So one of the other very common resolutions is to improve your finances. So Alan, what does that look like from a content point of view?
13:37 AP: From a content point of view and finance, it would be helpful for you to have an understanding of how much it costs to distribute content or how much it costs to create your entire process. What does it actually cost? And it’s very common to say, “Oh, let’s go use this new tool,” or “Let’s go do this new process,” without any thought of the business requirements, what the actual cost of changing are going to be. All that sort of thing. So before you start talking about, “Oh, we need new tools, we need new processes, we need… ” whatever it may be that’s going to cost the company money.
14:19 AP: It is a really good idea to figure out what your current costs are, what there may be cost-wise in regard to moving to a new tool, and I’m not talking about just the mere licensing of those tools. There’re other aspects you have to look at. The changing, the change management, is there any expense in, for example, training, to get people up and running and understanding a new process. So you have to look at every single aspect of potential costs, how that feeds into the bottom line of the company, and if this cost in the long run will be paid for by improvements and will improve the overall finance of the company. Say for example, because you deliver content two months early because your process is better. How is that going to affect income? Those are the kinds of things that you have to look at and understand before you go out, start asking for money.
15:27 BS: Right. And it comes down to also understanding your current finances as well. And a lot of those costs aren’t necessarily hard costs. It’s the cost of the work being performed and the hours that are going into producing things. So if you’re using… Alan mentioned being able to quantify the costs and the return on investment for a new tool, for example, but you have to look at your existing cost to produce stuff using your existing tools as well. You had paid for a license for these things, but there is a time and materials aspect to that. And taking into account if this tool costs 50% more than what we have now, or let’s say this tool costs an extra $50,000 but we can save at least $100,000 a year in productivity improvement and people’s time. You need to be able to understand that aspect as well.
16:25 AP: Yeah that, and basically, is this going to pay for itself and then some? Is what you’re saying.
16:30 BS: Mm-hmm.
16:30 AP: Yeah, exactly.
16:32 SO: All right. And we had some discussion about this. We did a podcast with Erin Vang, who talked about some of the realities of corporate finance of budgeting, how budgets work and how you get all that stuff in place. I’ll leave those links in the show notes, so there’s some additional resources there that are focused more on the life in a corporation that has a finance department. So we would be quite interested in hearing from our listeners about what your content resolutions might be for this year. You could leave those in the comments on our website if you want to. Before we go, we wanted to let you know about a new free online conference that’ll be happening early next year in late February. It’s called Learning DITA Live. We’re going to have four days of sessions for beginner through advanced DITA users. You can find all the details at learningDITA.com, and we hope to see you there. Thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, please visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.