The Marie Kondo Netflix series about tidying up your home and adopting a minimalist lifestyle certainly touched a nerve on social media. Her question about whether an item “sparks joy” — and what to do about it if not — spawned a number of memes, ranging from the gently mocking to the aggressively defensive.
As one wag put it, when Kondo suggested that we donate books we’re not going to re-read and “keep no more than 30 books” at home, the internet heard “burn all the books and slay all the writers! the streets shall run red with their blood while smoke from our literary pyre blocks out the sun!” People reacted as if Kondo herself had shown up unannounced and thrown away all their stuff, including most of their books.
As content professionals, sometimes we wish she would.
“Stuff” makes customers unhappy
The more “stuff” that a customer has to wade through to get the information they need, the less joy they’re going to feel about your products or your company.
- Searching through an 800-page PDF for a list of three valid values does not spark joy for a customer trying to solve a data transfer problem with the API.
- Navigating multiple developer sites, support knowledge bases, documentation libraries, and training portals does not spark joy for a customer who just wants to learn how to accept online payments or reboot their in-car navigation system.
- Finding five different procedures that say approximately the same thing but with different terminology and slight variations in the steps does not spark joy for a customer who is encountering unexpected issues with the operating system for their device.
The less content you have, the more help you can provide — if it’s the right content, in the right place, shown at the right time.
Content management for the long term
We often work with teams in the very first stages of their transformation to structured content.
When we ask them about how they manage the volume of content today, they are likely to say that don’t have a process for retiring content. Some teams tell us that they don’t — or can’t — retire content, because the company doesn’t retire products. Almost everyone has a vague notion of “figuring it out at some point.”
And yet. One of the most important goals of your structured content ecosystem is your ability to reduce the amount of content someone has to slog through.
Component content management systems make it much easier to keep content current than traditional linear authoring tools or document control systems.
You can easily see which components have not been updated in years, which components address products or features that are no longer supported, and which legacy components could be replaced by a more authoritative component from the reuse library. Translated content is stored side-by-side with its source content.
If you really want to spark joy for your customers, you’ll also have a terminology management and content optimization app in place. These apps help you keep your content current with your enterprise terminology, style guide, and brand standards — even when the technical meaning has not changed.
Reuse, recycle, or retire
The basic process for keeping your structured content tidy is as follows:
- Reuse. Replace redundant content with reused content.
- Recycle. Publish common supplemental content such as appendices and glossaries as stand-alone references on the web. For example, instead of reusing an appendix of error message definitions across 37 reference guides, direct customers to the master reference on the website instead.
- Retire. When content has completed its job, thank it. Then unpublish the delivered content and archive it internally for as long as your document retention policy requires. In the CCMS, mark the source content as retired and hide it from search results unless specifically included in search criteria.
We all know that the best time to figure out a retirement plan is to have started years ago. The second-best time is to start right now.
How to start
My mom’s method of facing overwhelming mess is to start moving things closer to where they go. Clothes in the living room? Move them to the bedroom. Coffee cup on the nightstand? Move it to the kitchen. Important papers on the counter? Move them to the office.
Eventually, the stuff ends up where it belongs. Or you realize that the problem is that there’s nowhere for it to belong. At that point, you designate a place or you get rid of it. (Yes, that’s right. My mom inadvertently re-invented Feng Shui.)
It works with enterprise content as well.
First, you tidy the content that your own team is responsible for. That includes structuring and tagging the content, implementing the reuse strategy, and developing workflows to support the entire content lifecycle (including reuse, translation, and retirement).
It also means taking a good hard look at your content and answering the following questions honestly.
- Is this content relevant to customers today? (Does the data support your answer?)
- Is every word or image necessary? What can you trim without losing the essential information?
- Is this content redundant? Can you consolidate into a reusable component?
- Are you holding on to this content because it was a lot of work, because you’re particularly proud of it, or because a product team told you they “need” it? Or do your customers really, truly need it?
- Why does this content exist? Would a customer pay money to use this content?
Make it a game (“Welcome to tonight’s episode of Reuse, Recycle, or Retire!”). See how much content you can get rid of. Maybe visualize strips of film falling to the floor all around you in your creative frenzy to tell the story in the most focused way possible.
How to continue
Invite another team to join you. As much as possible, they should use the same structures, tags, and workflows that you developed, extending the strategy where necessary. And they should go through the same process of playing “Reuse, Recycle, or Retire?” to tidy up their content.
Now you’re set up to reuse content across the teams and begin truly unlocking the power of component content management.
Repeat until all content-producing teams are using a common set of structures, tags, workflows, reuse strategy, and governance principles. Preferably, you’ll all work in the same repository, even if you use different authoring tools or content delivery platforms.
I think we all hate to admit just how much stuff we hold on to. At home, our stuff represents our memories, our identities, and our visions of the future (as in, “I’m going to need that widget someday” or “Those photos are going in the scrapbook this weekend, this time for sure!”).
For many of us, our stuff is our stories. And we think that if we lose our stuff, we’ll lose our stories.
But really, letting go of unnecessary stuff is what allows the necessary stuff to shine through. You can find it, and if you can find it, you can use it. That’s all your customers want — content they can find and use, without having to search through a bunch of irrelevant stuff first.
Keeping the content clean and organized is an important part of enterprise content management. Tidying up is — alas — an ongoing practice. Although when it’s at work, at least you’re getting paid to do it! Even better, you’re making your customers happy.
Now doesn’t that spark joy?
P.S. The Marie Kondo series is called “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” and was still available on Netflix as of this writing.
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