Startup Mindset, Enterprise Thinking: Tools as Repositories

Why should we keep our content in repositories? More to the point, why should we own and host the repositories ourselves?

This article looks at why putting content at the centre of your strategy is ideal, and also challenging. For those who want to move in this direction, we include a bit of a framework for implementation.

There is a school of thought that says we need to be moving to have our content in repositories. By doing so, we would be able to define chunks of content, in different content types, and recombine them in a vast number of different ways. We would therefore not have to continue creating everything all the time, but instead only add to, and adjust, the central repository.

It means, however, that you still have to purchase, build, or have build, a repository. It also means that you need to have a good grasp on a relevant methodology — like DITA. It’s a great argument for the employment of information architects, XML specialists, and various related people, to keep it all under control.

It’s not sustainable. Not long-​term, anyway. And it’s not something that just anybody can pick up. You need the tools, the expertise, and the scale to make both worthwhile.

When we talk about content strategy for The Everyday Company — you know, the small to medium sized business that keeps the economy afloat — we need something different. That involves letting go of your need to control everything, and to “own” your central repository. It requires you to think outside of the box and look at what is already available.

The repositories already exist

All you have to do is plug into them, keep track of what goes where, and maintain a clear, documented process or workflow that gives it shape.

The content type repositories you are seeking already exist, and they . And they exist with curation as a significant piece of those content types. You can crowdsource your material in some, you can curate others’ material in the rest. All of them allow you to host your own content and media, and recombine them where and how you see fit.

Here is a set of repositories we’ve identified

[listly id=“Ppl” layout=“short” show_header=“false” show_author=“false” show_sharing=“false” show_tools=“false” per_page=“25”]

Have we missed a content type or significant tool that can be used as a repository? You can add it here.

Besides the (sometimes not insignificant) concerns you might have about hosting your materials in any of those repositories, especially in terms of intellectual property, what good reason would you have for not using them? It is not a stretch to say that tens of thousands of people run their sites using CMSs like WordPress. And given WordPress allows you to embed and display all of these content types very easily, with appropriate tagging and meta data already applied, it seems almost ridiculous to host your own system.

And if one of the methods of embedding doesn’t work the way you want it to, WordPress developers are everywhere you look. Finding someone savvy enough to build or adapt a plugin for you is not difficult.

The biggest challenge is the surrounding framework

While it would feel like you are ‘spreading out’ your content, it only feels like that is because you don’t yet have a framework to support it. You need to be able to catalogue what you have and where. When you’re in a business that is bigger than yourself, you also need to work out how to share that and control it.

Depending on how your business functions, you have a similar range of scope. You can use intranets and central CRMs and wikis like Confluence or Podio; you can use spreadsheets on your own server or in a cloud; you can have simple inventory databases; you could get creative and build a private Bitly database with your own described, tagged links. The challenge is finding a framework that functions, defining and writing the process, training your team, and reviewing the workflow regularly.

At the very least, your framework needs to let you search for a <relevant item, keyword, or tag>, find it fast, and embed it quickly. And then keep a record of where it was used. If you don’t keep those records, you won’t be able to identify in later audits which elements of your content are not being used, so you can eliminate or change them.

Keep your content at the centre, not your control

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when designing and implementing a good content strategy is that of ownership and control. When you think about it, nearly every blockage in a workflow is caused by some sort of control issue. Very often it’s because someone who is too busy, or has low level interest, insists on being an end-​point of a process. Striving to own everything, and have everything in-​house causes management problems, because the time taken to manage things outstrips the time available for core business.

This is why reorienting traditional companies is such a meaty challenge. You need to keep the content at the centre of your strategy, not the controlling framework. It frees you from the hassle of building your process in-​house (and having a team to look after and optimise it). The lack of appropriate governance is what causes problems, and an eventual backing away from these tools.

That control factor is also why moving from content creation to crowdsourced content (lookin’ at you, Listly) is a huge paradigm shift. The chief concern is, How can I control the quality/​content/​style if it’s crowdsourced? Again, governance is a factor.

Good governance gives you freedom

Governing your content is essential. You need to know what you are deciding, and how and why; and also what exists, where; when it was last updated, when it’s out of date, and who is responsible. It would be a fallacy to state that these tools come with that framework. They don’t. That’s what your content strategist is for. But when they are in place, you then have the freedom of your content existing on its own. You can use it, re-​use it, share it in many more ways, in many more channels, much more easily — without having to store it, optimise it, tag it, and maintain it as well.

How to move in this direction

Not everyone’s content challenges are the same, and not everyone needs to start in the same place! It would make life easy if we could. That’s why we built the Pixie Recommendation Engine. Take the quiz and find out where you should start »


Huge thanks to Nick Kellet, Co-​Founder of List​.ly for the inspiring conversation that lead to this post. The topic came up in a fabulous conversation about content strategy, over coffee. Thanks, Nick!

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