Sep 04, 2012

The Rise of Content Strategy—Trend #4: Silos Still Suck

Margot Merrill's picture
Margot Merrill
Director, Content & Brand Strategy

Organizational Silos
In agriculture, silos are big cylinders which store and separate grains. (You know, to keep your corn from gettin’ all up in your wheat.)



In organizations, silos can describe the hierarchy of, and separation between, departments. The previous trends in this series (more content, more devices, and more social media) highlighted factors outside of our organizations which led to the rise of Content Strategy. Trend #4 is about looking inside. Because while the digital landscape, and our customers’ expectations, have changed a lot in the last ten years, our organizational structures haven’t very much. We still have silos because they work for businesses in many other ways. Just not for content anymore.



Silos Don’t Work for Holistic Content
So silos aren’t new. What has changed is that more people within these silos are directly communicating with customers. And previous methods of controlling content (e.g., asking your organization’s Steve Jobs to approve every last word and image, or relying on the CMS to help make decisions about where that new video will “live” on your site) simply don’t work now. Customer communication is not from-the-top-down controllable the way it was before the socialization of the Internet. If you wait for every last Tweet to be approved using an old process for publishing content, you’re likely to drive everyone mad—and never get anything posted on time. Even worse, without a cross-disciplinary plan for managing content, your customer’s digital experience may really suffer.

Why Not?

  • Leadership may have a hard time changing the positioning and messages from the top down. They may wonder, “Why isn’t everyone getting it / doing it?”
  • Content producers may feel they don’t have the authority to quickly respond to audience needs
  • People may feel stymied by the CMS or brand groups, or seek ways to work around them (hello, microsite!)
  • People may fight for digital “real estate” rather than working together to meet audience needs (hello, cluttered home page!)
  • Redundancies and gaps in content creation occur across the organization
  • Managers have a hard time getting budget for additional content resources since they’re all working autonomously
  • Many different voices and messages are expressed to the outside world


The Good & Bad News
Here is the good news: most of these good people within organizations know how to do their jobs. And they want to keep them.

The bad news: in many cases no one is empowered to look holistically at the customer experience or to focus on cross-disciplinary ways to improve it.

The Customer Experience
A customer knows about your organization through what their friends say–or through what they find in an Internet search. Unfortunately, a Google search can turn up anything, and frequently does. Here’s a typical customer’s experience when searching for, say, help with troubleshooting a feature in the latest rev of your software. Let’s call this customer Bob.

  • Bob has a problem with the latest rev of your software. It seems to be crashing.
  • Bob does a Google Search for “Fix crashing in Company A Software v.1”.
  • He clicks on one of the first 3 links he sees.
  • Bob determines whether that page answers his question—in less than 8 seconds!
  • If the first page doesn’t answer his question, he goes back to Google.
  • He clicks on another link, which happens to be on your domain. But isn’t about the latest version of your software.
  • Back to Google. He reads something on a competitor’s website.
  • He gets sidetracked by the rest of the Internet...
  • He doesn’t feel like his question was answered.
  • Bob moves on to Facebook or Twitter to get back from his peers—or to complain.


How Can a Content Strategy Help Break Down Silos?

  • Co-create your strategy. Involve team members from across the organization and, based on business and audience goals, agree upon a plan for creating and delivering content that resonates with people.
  • Ask your audiences. Interview people. Test concepts early and often. Map your editorial calendar, and your keyword and SEO strategy, to target audiences’ needs.  
  • Tools not rules. Share guidelines and examples. Everywhere. With everyone in your organization.
  • Workflow. Reduce inefficiencies and fire drills; create a system for evaluating and prioritizing efforts; maximize what and who you’ve got.
  • Governance. Establish clear roles and a structure for collaborating and prioritizing efforts moving forward.
  • Measure and learn. Set measurable goals. Analyze and share the results across silos. Make things better, together.


In short, if your goal is to create an optimal digital customer experience using existing resources, silos still suck. But the practice of Content Strategy can help establish organization-wide goals, success metrics, and processes.

Whether you sit with the corn or the wheat in your organization, our goal is to help make publishing less painful. So you can deliver more of the good stuff your customers care about.

Next up, Trend #5: Content Strategy as a Business Tool.

See Trend #1: More Content! More!
See Trend #2: More Devices! More!
See Trend #3: More Social! More!

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