There’s always a great trope in adventure or thriller movies where the main character finally understands what’s going on. They pull their perspective back and take in everything, and they realize they were just looking at some tiny corner of reality. 

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, our intrepid hero is in a library looking for clues when he goes up to the balcony and can see a massive X drawn on the floor. In the end of The Usual Suspects, Verbal leaves and Agent Kujan can suddenly see all the clues he used to fabricate the story. 

Often, we don’t realize when our perspective is limited. We never step back to take in all the details. 

It’s like this with content management. We tend to get myopic around things like content modeling, editorial UIs, content aggregations, templating and such. These are the mechanical details that enable the management of content. 

But all this assumes the content exists. Where does it start? 

Think about the Seine River. You’re probably thinking about where it flows past the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, right? But…that’s just the part of the river that runs through Paris. The Seine is 432 miles long. The waters start at a wellspring several hundred miles away in Dijon. 

Likewise, when content floats through your CMS, it’s probably well into its lifecycle. It was “born” some logistical and organizational difference away, and how well are you managing process? 

Step back. Enlarge your perspective. You’ll find that the entire lifecycle of content is far larger than just what ends up in your CMS. 

Content isn’t born when someone logs into the CMS and selects “New Article.” Content is born when someone comes up with an idea for content – when they toss the idea over to a coworker, and say, “What do you think about this?” 

Back in 2006, I dubbed this process “The First 85%,” meaning that what happens in a CMS is just the last 15% of the process of creating content. 

A few months ago, I threw together a list of all the things that had to happen for a piece of content to get published on a website. 

There’s some unexpressed need for content – no one can articulate it, but the website has gotten a bit stale, and there’s a forum or platform, much less a schedule, to articulate this. 

Finally, someone articulates that we need some more or different content. 

  • Since there’s been no standing review of existing content, we first have to figure out what’s out there
  • Then we need to review what our competitors are doing
  • Dust off the analytics and figure out what has worked in the past
  • Schedule and re-schedule a meeting to discuss what content we should create
  • Come up with some ideas in a mishmash of Word documents and email them around
  • Finally have someone write the content, offline
  • Email all that around for review
  • …and finally, log into the CMS and start creating the content

For some reason, the part of the process prior to logging into the CMS is an amorphous mass of dreams and wishful thinking. 

Most organizations just don’t put process around this. They think that the creative process defies any attempt to manage it, and it’s something that happens by magic. 

Additionally, in their heads, “ideation,” “authoring” and “production” are all the same things. 

They are absolutely not. 

Ideation is the process of coming up with ideas for content that will appeal to your audience. 

Authoring is putting those ideas into some narrative framework – writing words, either an article, or a script, or blocking out an infographic. 

Production is turning that framework into an artifact that can be consumed. 

When dealing with content, we think about production first – how we are going to make some artifact, like a web page? 

Really, we should back up to authoring – how can our editors collaborate on content easily? 

Wait, no, let’s back all the way to ideation. Do we have some process to manage the process of where content is born? 

This is where the content lifecycle starts. If you don’t take care of this end, the river will run dry at the other end.