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June 7, 2021

The importance of content governance (podcast)

In episode 96 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Elizabeth Patterson and Gretyl Kinsey talk about the importance of content governance.

“An important part of governance is knowing that changes can happen. Keep your documentation in a central place where everybody can get to it and understands how it’s updated. If you don’t, some groups may start creating their own and that can result in unofficial documentation that doesn’t necessarily capture what should be captured.”

–Gretyl Kinsey

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Elizabeth Patterson:                   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 this episode, we talk about content governance. Hi, I’m Elizabeth Patterson.

Gretyl Kinsey:                   And I’m Gretyl Kinsey.

EP:                   And I think we’re just going to go ahead and dive right in, Gretyl. So could you start out by giving us a definition of what exactly content governance is?

GK:                   Sure. So when we talk about content governance, we are talking about a former system of checks and balances where we are defining the responsibilities, the accountability, the roles, everything that’s involved, and measuring quality each step in your content development process. And unfortunately, it is not as much of a priority as it should be at a lot of organizations, but it is critical for success. So it needs to be a big part of your content strategy.

EP:                   And I think it’s really important to note here, if you are in a regulated industry, you must have a plan for content governance and accountability in place, or you get shut down. And if you’re not in a regulated industry, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You still need to document so that everyone knows what’s going on, what the plan is, and you can have that consistency in your organization.

GK:                   Absolutely.

EP:                   So when you are getting this plan in place, what types of things should you include?

GK:                   One is just standards for your content. So defining your content model and how that is going to be maintained and governed going forward. What are the workflows and systems that are going to be in place to do that? So that might be whatever your toolchains are for authoring, for publishing, for review, approval, editing, all of those kinds of steps all the way out through publishing and delivery, and all of the updates that are involved to your content. So just all of those kind of workflows for the actual development, and ensuring that that all goes smoothly as a big part of your governance.

GK:                   Another one is just defining the roles and responsibilities. So making sure we know who is in charge of doing what particular thing. I think one area where that’s really, really critical is that if there’s any sort of change to the content, that’s an overarching level. So if it’s something like branding terminology that changes, if a logo changes, that kind of thing we’ve seen with rebranding before. Who’s responsible for making sure that information gets disseminated out to everybody? Who is in charge of making sure that you’ve got processes in place to have all of that goes smoothly with your content and that it’s not this really awful manual process that takes forever?

GK:                   So that’s another part of it is those roles and responsibilities. And then finally a big piece is looking at the future. So what is your roadmap? What are your goals? What are your plans? And we like to look at short-term and long-term future when we’re helping our clients plan for this. So something like, what are your goals maybe in the next or two, and then five years out, 10 years out realizing that, of course, the longer you go in the future, the more that that can shift and change. But as long as you are looking toward the future and where you ultimately want to be, then that means you can future-proof your content and build that into your governance and always have that be something you keep in mind so you don’t lock yourself into one path with nowhere else to go.

EP:                   Right. Absolutely. And we talked about standards for content being a part of this content governance, and a part of that are the terms and vocabulary that you’re going to be using and your style guide, that type of thing. And so I want to get into touching a little bit about documenting things because you’re going to have so much information. You need to have it documented somewhere. So Gretyl, could you touch a little bit on what you should document when you are putting this plan together.

GK:                   Yeah, like you were saying, there are all kinds of things that’s important to document and you do need to document everything. Because what happens if you don’t is that inevitably change happens, people leave jobs, departments shift, all kinds of things can happen. And if something’s not documented and that knowledge is just in someone’s head and if that person then leaves, it’s lost. So it really, really is critical to get all that documented.

GK:                   And with the content itself, that’s things like your structure. So if you’ve got a content model, why is your content model built the way it is? What were the decisions that were involved in getting there? What does your structure handle? If you’re in DITA, is there specialization? All of those kinds of things, I think in particular around reuse as well if you have smart structured content and you’re doing reuse, documenting the mechanisms that you’re using and why, all of that reasoning behind it is really, really important to capture.

GK:                   It’s also really important to capture any kind of standards. And this is not so much about the content structure, but all of the little things that a structure itself can enforce. So things like your style guide, language usage, all of that stuff, it’s really, really important to document that as well. Alongside that, terminology is an important piece. And this gets into things like your branding. So the way that your company name is always written. I know we’ve talked to some people who actually had that as an issue where when they went through a rebranding, getting the company name updated, something as simple as that was really challenging because there wasn’t a documented process for dealing with it. And same for if you’ve got lots of different product names, really important to document that and say, “This is the official name we’re going with.” Because I’ve seen some cases where one department is using whatever the working title of a product was and the other one is using the official branded term. So getting all of that documented and standardized in one place is super important.

GK:                   Taxonomy is another big one. And this is a place where you can capture some of that. Taxonomy refers to how you categorize things so that people can sort and filter and find things. And so this really feeds into search. And it’s really critical for a lot of the metadata that you are going to have on your content. So that data about your data, capturing things like what the content is used for, who are the roles are the users who are involved with it? And some of the branded terminology often gets captured as part of a taxonomy as well because things like your products and the way that content is organized according to product names, product families, that sort of thing can make a difference in how customers search for it. So all of that, it’s really, really important to have that documentation.

GK:                   And then I think also when you are in a content management system, whatever tool you’re working in, document those processes as well. A lot of times the tool will have its own workflows to handle that. But it’s important for when you’ve got a new person, a new writer, or a new editor who comes on board and suddenly has to start using this, some kind of a quick start guide for that person that helps them navigate that system is another good piece of documentation to have.

EP:                   Right. And I think going back to when you mentioned planning for the future, and then also the rebranding situation, it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of these documents are going to be working documents. They’re going to change. You might have updates to your terminology and to your style guide. And so not to get completely set on it, but understand that while it’s really good to have that basis, that it might be changing as your company grows.

GK:                   Yeah, and I think that’s part of governance too, is knowing that those changes can happen, keeping your documentation in some sort of a central place where everybody can get to it, everybody understands how it’s updated, when it’s updated because we’ve seen something happen a lot of times where if there wasn’t really this good, solid central documentation that was updated and distributed periodically, that some groups would just start creating their own. And of course, you don’t want that because then you’ve got this unofficial offshoot documentation that doesn’t necessarily capture what should be captured. So really a big part of that governance is always keeping those documents updated and making sure that people get those updates as they’re made, that they’re not waiting and they’re not using old information.

EP:                   Right. So we talked about content governance being something that’s needs to be a priority, but can often be overlooked. And something that is also often overlooked is archiving content. So should you include a plan for that as a part of your governance strategy?

GK:                   Yeah, absolutely. And like you said, this is overlooked all the time. A lot of people just… When content gets old, it gets out of date, it becomes legacy content. They don’t know what to do with it, but it’s still around and it’s still there. And I think it’s really important to go through that, have part of those roles and responsibilities we talked about in that person or team, part of that responsibility should be go through the content. And when something is five, 10, even 15 years old, ask yourself, is it still relevant? Can this be deleted? Does it just need to be archived and kept somewhere, but not deleted in case it ever needs to be brought back?

GK:                   What are the guidelines around going through your content every so often and making sure that you are dealing with this archival and legacy content in a rational way? Because what often happens that we see is, if you’re doing something like a conversion, if you’re doing any kind of a content overhaul, any kind of a major update or improvement, and you haven’t sort of been pruning and dealing with your legacy stuff all along, then all of that suddenly becomes a big question of, what do we do with it? And you have to make a whole lot more decisions at that one time. Whereas if you deal with it all along, it’s a lot easier to manage if you ever have any sweeping changes to your content.

EP:                   So as you’re getting this plan in place, do you have any tips for getting the team on board with all the changes?

GK:                   Yeah, and I think that’s an important thing because change management is one of the hardest parts of any project. People naturally are resistant to it and they want to see what the benefits going to be. And I think that’s important. So make sure that when you are putting a plan in place for content governance, that you get input from everybody who’s going to be affected. And this is something we do at Scriptorium as part of our content strategies. We talk to all of the different content stakeholders because that really helps you know that there isn’t a need somewhere that’s being left out or the some group somewhere isn’t being ignored and that the content governance plan actually does encompass everything.

GK:                   So get that input from everybody, get that constant feedback, keep that input going because as you saidElizabeth, your content changes over time, your internal documentation about your content changes over time, your future goals change and evolve. And so I think not just getting initial input, but getting ongoing input from everybody is really important. And then also just be really transparent about the changes that you’re making. Don’t try to trick anybody or say, “Oh, this is going to be really easy if it’s not.”

GK:                   Be honest about what people are going to have to expect and support them. Make sure that you understand, yes, there is going to be some resistance. You’re going to have to help them through these changes if you are making a major change to the way that you are creating and governing your content and that you need to build that support in place so that people don’t get left behind and don’t get overwhelmed by those changes. And then I think going forward, once they get over that hurdle, if your content governance plan is good, it should continue to mitigate that change and make it easier for everybody going forward.

EP:                   Right. Definitely. So I think communicating, being transparent, this is going to tie into the next question, and this is how I’m going to wrap things up. But what else can you do when you’re executing your governance strategy to make sure that it’s successful in addition to that transparency and that communication?

GK:                   Yeah, and I think a lot of this is just wrapping up and reiterating some of the things that we’ve said, but my three big tips are one, like I mentioned, have that small team or that even just one person in charge of your governance. Like I mentioned, don’t just rely on the tools. Have that human intervention, have that person or that team who’s responsible. So that’s one way to make sure that you succeed.

GK:                   Another one is to communicate your plans and your updates regularly. Have some a schedule in place maybe where you say every so often and we see this sometimes in agile. It might be a sprint schedule. It might just be some other internal schedule you come up with. But every so often, here’s when the updates are going to come out about making sure when content has been changed, when documentation about our content has been changed, when we’re rebranding, when we can expect a new product to be added, any of those kinds of things, have that regular update schedule so people know when to expect that it’spcoming.

GK:                   And then finally, like I mentioned, keep getting that input from your content creators, keep those lines of communication open. And that way, if somebody has a problem, if something about your governance strategy is maybe not working so well, then they can tell you before it gets bad. And that way you can make sure that it does succeed.

EP:                   Right. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Gretyl, for being on the podcast today.

GK:                   Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.

EP:                   And thank you all for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit or check the show notes for relevant links.