It’s time to start looking beyond the web site when conducting a content inventory.
Big organizations are plagued/blessed with massive web sites with sprawling content. But small and midsized organizations are often faced with the opposite problem: not enough web content. Many of them, for whatever reasons, don’t have a CMS, have a crappy CMS or don’t control their CMS. As a result, their websites are threadbare and suffer from acute ROT (not to mention horrible design and UX).
But these organizations still need to communicate. So what happens? Employees find workarounds. They create what I call content eddies: swirling, uncontrolled flows of content that flow into the void created by a bad website.
Some of this non-web content is official and legacy (think print). A lot of it is not. But it is a natural human reaction to the fact that communications, like nature, abhor a vacuum.
These organizations have content, they just don’t have web content.
Where to look
You can’t come up with a feasible content strategy if you don’t have a handle on all the content flotsam and jetsam floating around an organization. Here are some of the places I look (in order of priority)
- Printed collateral
- Sales materials, printed and electronic (namely turgid PowerPoint presentations)
- CD-ROMs (yes, they still exist) and video clips
- Press releases
- Customer support sites
- Customer extranets
- Blog posts
- Social media
- Google (I always trawl by company name and file types .doc, .ppt and .pdf. Amazing what you can find)
What to ask
Once I find and catalog this content I ask myself these questions:
- Who is the originator/owner and are they a stakeholder in the content strategy project?
- Does it pass the ROT test? Can the organization live without it?
- Why are they using it and does the content strategy address this need?
- Can it be transformed into HTML web content? Does it need to be downloadable/printable?
- How much money is being spent on producing it and can I have some of the funds?
- Is distribution of these items subject to any governance? Is management aware of all the crap in circulation and the risk that non-control presents?
As content strategists we ignore these kinds of content at our peril. It is content, after all. but it is an ad hoc ecosystem that obeys its own rules and org charts. Ignoring it (or worse, disdaining it) can stymie your progress and starve your project of funds, support and human resources. Do it right and this non-web content can serve as source material for the content creation phase.
Don’t underestimate it – embrace it.