a person with the hand on the chin

The technology space is pretty obsessed with preventing code defects from getting to production. We take great pains to make sure that a mistake doesn't make it from the developer's fingertips all the way through to the product system.

There's an entire field called DevOps (short for "development operations"). This is something like a $5 billion industry. There are entire market segments filled with companies that tightly control the movement and testing of code.

Search for "DevOps diagram" sometime. You'll be amazed at what you find—detailed schematics showing exactly how code should be copied, packaged, tested, and deployed. Developers who don't have an artistic bone in their bodies suddenly turn into Da Vinci when describing in exacting detail how they want to orchestrate code deployments.

All of this is in search of one goal: prevent bad code from reaching production. A lofty goal, to be sure.

...but why don't we care so much about content?

Where we have majestic acrobatics on the code side, when it comes to content, the process is usually something like, "Well, Alice writes something in Word, then emails it to Bob, and he copies it into the rich text editor" then presses publish.

Congratulations, you have the tightest, most reliable codebase serving up terrible content. A+. Great job.

Content defects are a thing, and we don't do enough to prevent them. In particular, we don't look at content development as a process to be managed. We think it's some kind of magic, not a flow of work with checkpoints, trackable assignments, and review gateways. We're somehow convinced this would take the "soul" out of it or something.

So, while our developers get six figures worth of toys to make sure they can swap every line of code instantly without spilling their coffee, our content creators are copying and pasting things into Slack and yelling "I swear sent that to you last week!" over the cubicle wall.

We need to do better.

Content creation isn't magic—no more than code is magic. It's a process that can and should be managed just like code deployments, and it deserves the same level of regard.

Your content creators need:

  • Library services. Your developers have source code management. They know where code is, all the time. They probably have versions of it dating back to when they were teenagers. These things exist for content as well—they're called content marketing platforms (CMPs) and digital asset management systems (DAMs). They're designed to store, organize, and version content assets so creators know where everything is.
  • Change management, in the form of editorial calendaring. Your developers know when code will be released (note: don't do it on Fridays). They plan these things long in advance. But ask a content creator when Content Item X for the new campaign is launching, and they can only say something like, "I don't know. I showed it to Bob. It's in his court now..."
  • Workflow. Developers have detailed ticket management systems that can tie their actions down to the exact line of source code they changed to resolve a defect. These systems exist so that everyone knows, at all times, who is responsible for what. Meanwhile, the content editors can only shrug when someone asks who was supposed to edit the CEO's blog post that she just announced from the keynote stage.
  • Content preview. I promise you that your development team has a graduated system of environments where they test code. They probably spend hundreds of hours maintaining it, so they can run code in isolation and know exactly how it works before they deploy it. Think of that fondly next time when your image caption is published in 30pt bold-faced font because no one told you that it wouldn't be. (Incidentally, I've been thinking about preview a lot lately.)

Here's why this is important:

Content defects matter. They can be far more damaging than code defects, while being so much harder to detect. By the time you realize something is wrong, the problem may have been existing in public for a long time, doing a lot of damage.

Imagine that you have a software company, and you've been trying to get an analyst to include your software in one of their reports. Your Analyst Relations staff has been consistently courting, cajoling, and hinting to this analyst that your software fits their segment exactly, and would be a great addition to the report.

The analyst finally decides to check things out. They go to your website, looking for evidence of all the things you told them about. They expected to find reinforcement of that information, that energy, that...vibe.

But, they didn't. Their experience fell flat. They gave you a 20-minute chance, but then clicked away and didn't look back.

Oh sure, you had plans. You were going to revamp that part of the website, and you had mentioned it to Gary just before he went on vacation. You heard some rumors that people were working on it, and some content got changed, but you never saw and never had a chance to guide it. Content development seemingly happened in a far-off land somewhere. Normally, when something changed on the website, you were as surprised as anyone.

This is a content defect. The whole thing. One big defect.

Why don't we categorize like this? Why don't we call it what it is?

Maybe because it's not...binary? With code, things often either work, or explode spectacularly, so we can stand back and confidently say, "Yup, that's busted."

But with content, there's a spectrum—there's a range. People can look at it and say, "yeah, that's fine" even when it's not.

The only solution here is process. You need a way to make sure that content is seen by the right people, and at the right time, and has a way of reflecting the right input.

This happens with code all the time. We handle code exactingly, rigorously, and with due process and care.

We need to demand the same for content. And we need to start acknowledging that poor content is a failure of process, a failure of planning, and a failure of tooling.

The tools are available to avoid this. We need to implement them and use them.

Interested in learning how Optimizely Content Marketing Platform can better support your content creation process? See how it works in this quick video.

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