Raise your hand if you think content silos are ever going away.

Yah. I didn’t raise mine either. After decades (literally) of talking about silos, calmly and not so calmly explaining to people why they are problematic, and advocating for their demise, I have come to the (obvious) conclusion that we are not going to eliminate them any time soon. If you already figured this out, you are ahead of me. I was still holding out hope.

So, let’s accept silos as an ongoing given in our world of content. Marketing will always create marketing content in their tools and repository, technical documentation will use their tools and repository, training will use theirs, and support will also have their own. Engineering content will be locked away in an obscure location. And human resources content remains a world unto itself.

Unfortunately, it is usually obvious to customers when content silos exist. In fact, sometimes the content is so different from silo to silo, the customer wonders if all of the content they consume came from the same company. And this is a problem.

No matter how many silos we agree to live with, customers need and desire a unified content experience. I think that we’d mostly agree that regardless of which silo creates a piece of content, content needs to look and read like it is from the same company. And this is where content standards come into play.

To create a unified content experience in the face of multiple silos, you need to create and enforce standards around:

  • Terminology
  • Taxonomy
  • Tone of voice
  • Visual brand

Terminology

At minimum, every piece of content your company creates should use consistent terminology. Nothing confuses a customer faster than having multiple terms for the same thing.

For example, when you refer to a computer, do you call it a:

  • Computer
  • Workstation
  • Desktop
  • Laptop

When these terms of intermixed, it can be very confusing for the customer (not to mention pricey to translate).

As a company, to provide a unified content experience, you need to pick one term and use it everywhere.

The same is true for product naming. If your company standardizes on <Company Name> <Product Name>, then <Product Name> should never appear on its own.

You also need to be mindful of term variants. For example:

  • Content Rules
  • ContentRules
  • Content-Rules

Our legal name is Content Rules. None of our content should ever use a variant.

Consistent terminology is important for clarity, managing translation costs, and legal restrictions.

Taxonomy

When a customer searches for something on your website, they need to be able to use the same search term everywhere. A unified content experience requires an enterprise-wide taxonomy. Using the computer example above, a unified taxonomy should provide the correct result for a customer using any of the terms (computer, workstation, desktop, laptop), regardless of which portal or part of your site the customer is using.

Note that taxonomy needs to be inclusive and terminology needs to be exclusive. While we need customers to be able to search for content using a variety of terms, we need to stick to a single term in the content that we supply. This allows for the most cohesive unified experience across a siloed enterprise.

Tone of Voice

Tone of voice is an inherent part of any brand. For a unified content experience, all of your content should reflect your brand and your tone of voice.

There are a variety of ways to look at and categorize tone of voice. You might look at the formality of the text. Do you use second person (referring to your reader as “you”) or third person (referring to them as “they” or “the user”)? Do you require or prohibit contractions? What is your corporate stance on jargon and idioms? It is confusing to a customer when they encounter a relaxed tone of voice in some materials and a formal tone of voice in others. Even if all the sentences are readable and easily understood, a consistent tone of voice reflects your brand. If you want to use a different tone of voice for different content types, you must do it purposefully, consciously, and consistently. If all of your marketing materials will be casual, but your knowledgebase articles are formal, make this a consistent and standardized choice.

Tone of voice is often documented in a corporate style guide. To unify the content experience, you should have a shared style guide that all silos adhere to. If different organizations plan on using different voice, style, or grammar rules, those should be documented in the corporate style guide so that everyone understands and follows the rules.

Visual Brand

Having a common visual vocabulary is another factor in a unified content experience. The usage of corporate colors, icons, and designs are another way people identify your brand. Your company likely has a set of fonts that are approved. If so, all groups should be using the corporate fonts. (If not, you should select one or two to standardize on.)

The same is true for placement of content on a webpage and navigation. Have you ever clicked through a corporate website and, out of the blue, there are pages that use completely different navigation? When this happens, not only is it a poor reflection of your brand, it can be very confusing for your customer. Regardless of the group responsible for a particular part or portal of the website, fonts, iconography, colors, and navigation should serve to unify the content experience.

While you may know, internally, that your content lives in several silos, your customer does not need to have a disjointed experience because of it. If you standardize, document, and communicate the basics of quality content, your secret can be secure.

Val Swisher
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