My cousin arrived from California the other day. As we sat enjoying a bottle of his excellent homemade Cabernet, he told me about his decades long wine-making hobby.
Turns out there are many ways to screw up wine in the production process (technical term). But if you don’t begin with the right, quality grapes, there’s little you can do to improve it.
It occurred to me this applies to content creation, doesn’t it? If you don’t have the right inputs, there’s little even a great writer can do to produce great content.
Content Source is the secret sauce to quality content because it’s the way you acquire and prepare inputs to your content process.
Our practice of using Content Source began over 12 years ago, but became a disciplined, robust practice about 5 years ago. When we consider our world without Content Source, we realize we would lose our:
- Leverage, efficiency and lower effort creating content — especially at scale
- Ability to create content versions for greater relevance based on different:
- Buying stages
- Industry verticals
- Forms (micro, short and long)
- Access to essential content assets and especially plain and linked text content
We find it an essential resource that enables us to optimize the ten criteria for quality and effective customer-facing content. (See 7 reasons you’re not getting the most out of your customer facing content)
What Is Content Source
Content source is a repository of all text elements that are used in, or to create content.
Think of all the content types you manage: documents, web site pages, images, graphics, video, etc. Most content is managed in proprietary management systems designed for each asset type.
How do you “manage text”? We seldom find organizations that do. But isn’t this an important content type? Doesn’t almost all content begin as text? What if you had instant access to source content that improves quality and reduces the time and effort to create new content? That’s the potential here.
How do you manage linked assets such as your blog posts, landing pages, web pages, as well as third party web assets so your users can easily search for and find the linked assets they need. This was another use case that got us started with Content Source.
For text management, if you answered Google Docs, Evernote or OneNote you’re on the right track. Years ago we started with a master Google Doc file. We found it became a big honkin’ file that was too cumbersome. Today we use Microsoft OneNote.
We call this Content Source because this repository contains all of the source elements from our finished content products. We also regularly curate third party content as source inputs to our new content. This post will highlight important text assets and applications beyond traditional documents, that are needed by content users.
My challenge to you is, how well do you manage, share and re-use your text assets? Do you even think of them as assets? When it comes to professional content operations, everything is a potential asset.
Why Manage Text
The most important reasons include:
- Improve support to all content creators and users across the organization’s content ecosystem
- Improve the ability to find and use content
- Reduce the time effort and cost of creating new content
- Improve new content quality due to better and timely inputs
- Optimize reuse of important subsets of finished content
- Maintain existing content assets faster and easier (future-proof content)
- Design and create modular, configurable content elements to optimize relevance, forms and formats. This will prepare your organization for the next and rapidly emerging phase of “structured content” creation methods.
We think this is the “source” of higher quality, audience and situationally relevant content. It makes a continuous stream of rapidly developed content possible. It’s an important part of solving content scaling challenges. It will significantly lower content costs, especially as content scales.
How We Use Content Source
Content Source is useful for primary content creators and operations people, as well as front line creators/users. Select versions can even be deployed to customers, resellers, partners or other content constituents in your ecosystem.
We use Content Source as a front end management system to all content:
- It provides a single point of access with links to all finished content assets, regardless of storage location
- Each asset is front-ended with an explanatory abstract, enhanced tagging, and other meta data that’s more robust than capabilities in typical native management systems
- Often assets are stored in different versions, formats and locations, links to which are easily documented in one place with this approach. And this includes references to related assets.
- Documents on Sharepoint, Box, and other file systems
- Web pages and blog posts including syndicated locations such as LinkedIn
- Third party web articles and PDFs
- Links to image and graphic repositories
- Videos on video hosting sites — YouTube, Wistia, etc.
We curate internal and third party content.
This means we have a single repository for at least the text and link elements of every content asset. When content is being created, or when work products are finished, the source elements are deposited into the Content Source repository. A Content Header template guides adding the metadata.
When anyone in the organization finds valuable third party articles, research reports, facts, stories, quotations, images and graphics — anything that is important to share or possibly use — it is emailed into the system.
So text content that is often stored in document files (Word or PDF), or read but left on the web, are more accessible for search and re-use by storing the plain text.
We extract and prepare source elements for fast discovery and reuse.
The main idea is to prepare content for easier access and re-use. So the facts, stories, quotations, graphics, etc are extracted from their source content into separate text assets that are appropriately tagged. We apply this to common phrases, explanations, and other frequently used text. This improves our ability to find them.
We distribute text assets for immediate use.
We believe creating content as re-usable elements is an imminent major shift in thinking and process for creating customer facing content. To do this, content must be modular (or atomized) and configurable. This process has been used in technical document creation for a long time.
Content Source is how and where we manage these elements.
- Copy for regularly used, ideally professionally developed and A/B tested, emails for marketing and sales professionals
- Copy for social media posts that link to appropriate content
- Copy for landing pages
- Answers to customer questions
- This list goes forever and as you apply this practice you will discover applications you’ve never considered!
Often the people who are creating the source elements and finished content are best to also produce these elements. This improves quality, efficiency and ease of use.
How To Start
Like any new habit or practice, the use of Content Source will evolve. But there are some recommendations that will help you get started, make the process easier, and accelerate your time to beneficial experiences.
Make a place for this. I highly recommend Microsoft OneNote. We’re constantly evaluating options, and there are applications that are maturing that may provide an even more robust solution, but for now this is the best we’ve found. It is free, works well with Macs, and through OneDrive nicely supports sharing by multiple users. Even permissioning is well done. Take some time to learn the basics of this application. It’s very rich. Be patient. Front end learning time will save you later, make the work easier, and produce better results.
Apply your information architecture. If you don’t have a good information architecture schema for your content, spend some time at least on a high level structure for your content. Do the same for content organizing schemas, right down to robust taxonomy.
These are an essential tool for professional content work. Think of your primary “topics,” sub-topics, key business concepts, and categories of types of content (facts, research results, quotations, stories, questions, answers, etc). Topics and concepts will guide what content to acquire and how to curate it. It will provide tagging guidance. Apply this to folders, sub-folders and pages in OneNote. Work this out universally for your organization. Get input from all stakeholders, but don’t make everyone have to figure this out.
Develop a Content Header (download example provided here) that everyone can use to curate content. This can be added to the “Page Templates” section in the OneNote menu.
Start to curate both proprietary content and third party articles. First copy the entire documented into a page (and apply the Content Header information/metadata). Then extract relevant sections into a separate “page” or onto a page with a common theme such as “topic” quotations, or “topic” phrases, etc.
Stay tuned for more ideas and recommended practices to improve your Content Source. This will help you get the most out of your customer facing content, content resources and investments.
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