Redefining the Content Publishing Model

Image from Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons.

Large organisations, such as Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), are publishing more and more content across more and more channels. The scale of the content produced daily, even hourly, combined with the diversity of skills of the devolved content creators, and the fact that, this content is often only checked after publication, can leave these organisations wide open to brand damage, potential breaches of external legislation, and poor and inaccessible customer journeys.

So how can organisations ensure that their content is accessible, usable, up to date, error-free, and relevant before it is published?

The solution lies with a redefining of the Content Publishing Model, to place content governance right at the heart of any institutional digital governance framework.

Content Governance isn’t a new thing

Speak to any web or digital manager within Higher Education, and they will tell you that Governance is a hot topic. The ability to proactively plan, manage and measure digital activities and personnel based around sound policies, procedures, regulations, and standards is now becoming the main priority for the forward-thinking, strategic manager. And at the heart of this emerging Governance Framework is the issue of ‘content’ and how that is planned, allocated, created, reviewed, and published to be error-free, usable, accessible, and relevant to its audiences.

But this isn’t a new thing. People have been writing about content governance for years. For example, Meet Content said, back in 2012:

A big content governance challenge is ensuring that multiple content contributors maintain messaging, communication, editorial and content standards. This is particularly true for staff who have other responsibilities and for whom content is not always the highest priority.

And, indeed, back in 2009, a joint document by Wipro, CMS Watch and Hartman aimed to go one further by detailing what Enterprise Content Management was and why it was important to large organisations. The document cited an article from AIIM, which said:

Enterprise Content Management is the systematic collection and organization of information that is to be used by a designated audience – business executives, customers, etc. Neither a single technology nor a methodology nor a process, it is a dynamic combination of strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver information supporting key organizational processes through its entire lifecycle.”

The document from Wipro et al suggested that organisations would need to develop a roadmap to organise their efforts and hold the attention of stakeholders, whilst working through different levels of maturity, starting with rudimentary information collection and basic control, and finally resulting in a mature state of continuous experimentation and improvement.

But what seems to have happened is that organisations researched, tendered for, and implemented a Content Management System (CMS) without further considering the strategies and associated methods and tools to surround and support it. The ‘Enterprise’ bit seems to have been forgotten, as Jonathan Khan said in his A List Apart article, way back in 2010:

Trying to fix an organization’s content problems by installing a content management system (CMS) is like trying to save a marriage by booking a holiday.

Any technical CMS is just one part of the overall content management eco-system (for want of a better phrase) and that is often forgotten by large organisations with devolved, and diversely skilled, teams of web content contributors and editors. A content management system needs designing rather than simply installing.

Content Publishing isn’t a new thing either

People have always published news and information in one format or another and circulated it by whichever means possible at the time. Handwritten newsletters were circulated privately amongst merchants in Renaissance Europe, whilst news pamphlets in Germany and England became the earliest predecessors of, what we now recognise, as the newspaper, first thought to be published, in England, in the 1660s.

Lush Digital have shared how traditional publishing can still teach more contemporary methods a thing or two today in their article 7 Editorial Workflow Tips from Traditional Publishing.

The newspaper industry began in earnest in the 1650s and ever since, publishers have been developing and refining editorial workflow processes. While technology has come and gone over the centuries, changing the way things are done, the goal has remained the same — to get the news out as quickly, efficiently, and accurately as possible.

If you can get it down to Assign, Write, Review, Publish, you’re winning.”

I couldn’t agree more. However, in my experience, content publishing today can look a bit more like this:

Assign, write, review a bit as somewhat pushed for time, publish, review again and realise that there were errors, amend, publish, review, gah – missed something again, publish, OK that’s fine till the next scheduled review and then we’ll see if anything else comes up and if it does we’ll assign it to someone and start again.

Not ideal, especially across large organisations whose digital content is there to enable users to make, potentially, life-changing, decisions.

Content needs to be managed in a different way

I’ve worked in, and with HE, for 20 years and have seen a lot of Content Management Systems in action, or had first hand use of them. There are workflow capabilities within most, if not all, but I would wager that many organisations aren’t using workflow properly. They either don’t use it at all, or have the piece of content work its way through the pre-determined workflow process, passing from person to person, and they simply tick the ‘yes, I’ve seen it, read it and checked it, and it’s all fine/needs editing’ button, without having read it at all, setting the organisation open wide to errors, inconsistency of information, accessibility issues, broken links and a terrible customer experience.

A CMS is a very passive system – it is only as good as the content you put in it, and the capabilities, such as workflow, that you choose to use and how you choose to use them. They don’t have much, if any, intelligence within them to let you know when things are going slightly awry (there’s probably a spell checker and some form of link checker for internal links within the systems itself).

And the more people that have access to your CMS, in the absence of a sound governance framework, the greater the risk of falling fowl of legislation such as the CMA Guidance for Higher Educationaccessibility legislation and GDPR. Whilst the content authors may not feel responsible for the content that they are creating and publishing across the institution’s digital channels, it is the organisation that will take the hit should they not meet the standards required by these external bodies.

As mentioned earlier, the concept of governance isn’t a new one, and it is one that I have written, more broadly about, previously.

So, what can Digital Managers actually do to tackle this growing issue around content governance?

Well, systems, both human and technical, need putting in place to make existing digital footprints work well for the user, and be streamlined and effective for the internal teams that are using them.

Nip the errors in the bud

There are already systems out there that will provide a snapshot report of your published content, detailing what might be wrong on your pages, as external users can see them. However, these reports could actually create more work than they prevent.

If, as a Digital Manager, you only get an error/governance report every five days or so, it could take you longer to go through it and work out what are the most effective errors to fix from a user perspective, as well as who across the devolved digital team should fix them and when – if you get around to looking at the report at all. Therefore, high-value errors could sit there damaging the reputation of your organisation, as well as being detrimental to the user journey, for quite some time. Rather than creating efficiencies this model potentially creates more work and takes a significant amount of time. Managers receiving the report spend time working out which errors to fix and who should fix them, and then passing this work task on, which the designated content editor may sit on for some time – all the while that error is part and parcel of your digital presence.

These one-off, snapshot, reports on published content don’t present the most efficient management system for digital managers and their teams. Governance checking, reporting, and amending all need to be built into the content management cycle, before publication, to cut down on errors, duplication, missing content, accessibility issues, and missing links, to preserve brand reputation and enhance the customer journey.

This issue is far more prevalent in Higher Education due to the scale of content created on a daily, or even hourly, basis, the devolved publishing model, with content creators with a diverse skillset scattered across each large organisation, as well as the many and varied sections for each web and digital presence to meet the needs of the many and varied audiences they aim to serve – this sheer scale amplifies the problem.

Content Management and Content Governance – a match made in heaven

The whole content management eco-system needs readdressing with the answer being to marry content management and governance systems together – but in a way that is seamless to the content editor; they already have enough to worry about!

Content editors don’t deliberately get things wrong, they just don’t always know how to get it right, and this is where the Content Management + Content Governance System collaboration can be incredibly valuable.

Most universities that I know have well-defined, established training programmes for different levels of content creators, moderators, editors – whatever they may be called, and this is often defined by the roles that are established within the organisational CMS, rather than a traditional publishing process.

But things change – new legislation takes effect, staff come and go, Faculties change their names, ‘linked to’ content is moved or deleted, logos change – and it’s difficult for such a large, devolved, and diverse group of content creators and editors to keep on top of these changes and be able to implement them at short notice into their working practices. If these changes, and therefore new rules, were written into the organisation’s governance system, it wouldn’t matter who knew what, and to what detail, as the system would pick up any errors, and inform the content owner how to amend them, before they were published.

Stop relying on your CMS, or your team, to do everything

For quite some time, organisations have relied heavily on their CMS, along with associated policies and procedures where they exist, to (as you would expect) manage their content. But this simply isn’t solving issues that are still arising in published content across organisational digital channels.

The integration of the two systems (Content Management and Content Governance) will ensure that the governance checking is constant, proactive, in the background, undisruptive, and seamless to the content editor. All’s editors will see are the issues being highlighted on their page in the CMS, then and there, so that they can fix them before passing the content to be published, negating the need to pop over into a different system to do the checking. Content will be published in a controlled environment, against pre-defined rules, improving team productivity, content accuracy, accessibility, user experience and satisfaction, whilst also cutting down on the need for constant retraining of the wider content team.

This powerful combination can be seen, for example, in the Sitemorse in CMS functionality, where the Content Governance System is integrated with a CMS such as Sitecore. Pages are checked before they are published, ensuring that any errors or issues are fixed ahead of the page being released.

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Sitecore with Sitemorse inCMS integration

Some teams rely on manual checking before content is published, but the increasing number of checks required leads to a significant amount of time, as well as knowledge, being required. Spelling, grammar, accessibility, links, code – all need checking prior to publication and content amending and re-checking before publication. Most teams don’t have these skills in one person, meaning that content must pass through several people to be checked, adding to the time it takes to publish content, in a time where constant publishing is required to remain relevant and useful to the audiences it intends to serve.

A Dashboard Approach to Capabilities and Task Management

Increasingly, organisational digital teams are coming under pressure to report on activities, but are they always able to report on the right things?

Whilst senior management will want to know how the organisation’s digital footprint is enabling it to reach its organisational goals, the digital manager needs to be able to understand how effective the many contributors to the organisation’s digital footprint are, and be able to clearly focus on where internal changes can have the most value and effect.

Going back to the ‘people don’t get things wrong deliberately’ idea, if a digital manager can see at a glance a dashboard containing all the content contributors, their Faculty/department, and their individual and collective error and fix-time rates, this serves, not as a stick to beat the individuals and teams with, but an insight into current capabilities across the whole organisation. In can help digital managers plan out where extra training may need to be given, enable managers to share best practice from one

Faculty/department with others, or aid conversations that need to be had with Faculty/departmental managers around a particular person potentially not being given content creation responsibilities in and amongst their more substantial role.

The Sitemorse Team Performance Dashboard does just that, providing Digital Managers with insight into everyone contributing to the organisation’s digital footprint, their priority issues to fix, and the time taken to fix them.

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Sitemorse Team Performance Dashboard

The manager can then drill down into new content published through the Daily Editors Report, see who last updated each piece of content, and, if necessary allocate any updates or amends to another member of the team.

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Sitemorse Daily Editors Report

Any digital or content manager, with a team of devolved content creators and editors, has the never-ending task of receiving and understanding snapshot reports from the live website and then prioritising and allocating tasks to solve issues that exist, often by email or other such means, e.g. a Trello Board. This is all very manual and time consuming, and often comes with the likelihood that the task may be lost in the hundreds of other emails that person receives, or the fact that solving that issue won’t be as effective as solving some of the other issues that are lower down the report.

Effective governance management systems enable the manager to login and immediately see a prioritised task list, based on value to the end user, by theme (e.g. accessibility, spelling and grammar, links, HTML/CSS) and allocate this to the relevant content editor (or developer), through the system. When, the content editor logs in to the CMS they see their prioritised task list in their own dashboard, again, seamlessly delivered from the Governance Management System, speeding up the time it takes both to prioritise and allocate amends. Content has been live-checked in an intelligent way through the Governance Management System leading to only tasks for that content editor appearing in their dashboard, whilst giving the digital manager a managed way of understanding where the organisation’s digital footprint is (benchmark) and how it is continuously improving.

Closing the loop – Archiving and Retrieval

Being able to see what has been amended and published is key in a time where customers take what they see online as read and use it as the basis for, potentially, life changing decisions, such as going to University. Archiving, retrieval, and disposition policies were also seen as being key to an Enterprise Content Management System by Wipro and co, in the document mentioned earlier.

An effective Governance System will record and archive every page and piece of content that has been published, enabling digital managers to ‘go back’ should they need to be able to see what was online at a particular point in time, as well as who created and/or published that piece of content. Again, going back to legislation such as the CMA Guidance for HE, accountability and responsibility for online content has never been more paramount.


Having a sound digital governance framework within a large Higher Education organisation is more important now, than ever before, and the governance of content within that framework is fundamental to its success.

Teams have been using technical Content Management Systems to manage their content workflow for over a decade and yet issue-checking is still, largely, seen as a post-publication activity rather than an integral part of the content publication process.

The integration of an institutional Content Management System with an effective Governance Management System, will enable an organisation to improve its publication control (cutting down on errors and improving the user experience), enable digital managers to report, and act on, the capabilities of its team for maximum effectiveness, as well as manage and allocate high-value tasks effectively, whilst recording and archiving all content created to aid institutional robustness against external legislation and content retrieval later on.

If you have any experience of using a Governance Management System within your overall Digital Governance Framework, it would be great to hear from you.
Claire Gibbons
Digital, Marketing, HE and Content Consultant

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