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Web management question... centralize or decentralize content creation?

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Web content creation... centralize or decentralize?

Last month I was working with a university to review their web management policies and practices and recommend changes consistent with their resources, both human and fiscal. A key question was whether or not to move back to a more centralized content system for content creation and publishing. 

Searching for background information at the start of the project, I visited several university sites to see what was available online. The answer: not much. A strong exception turned up at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where there is a very clear website presentation of their "Web Content Management" policies and practices.

Last year we did a Customer Carewords survey for Sacred Heart to find out how well people (current and future students, alumni, and faculty and staff) using the website liked the experience. The response was unusually positive for the accuracy and completeness of the content and the clarity of the language used to present it.

Learning from Nancy Boudreau at Sacred Heart University

I asked Nancy Boudreau, director of web content management at Sacred Heart, to share her thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of centralized vs. decentralized content management in the four questions below. 

A very big "thank you" to Nancy for taking the time to do this.

Q. When universities first started to adopt Content Management Systems (CMS), one goal was to move to decentralized content publishing. Today, there is more talk about the value of centralized content creation. Have you been following that discussion? What's your own experience been?

Yes, I've been following the centralized vs. decentralized discussions with much interest. 

We went from centralized to decentralized about 7 years ago with some success. We had just redesigned the website and implemented a new content management system. With limited web staffing and resources, it seemed like a good time to give it a try. It definitely has its pros - no bottleneck to get things posted, ability to make minor edits on your own quickly. It also had its cons - pages published with typos, grammatical errors, duplicate information, content just copied and pasted from print materials without being "webified'.

Q. What lessons have you learned from your first effort to decentralize content creation?

With our last CMS rollout, we assigned a web liaison for each department allowing them to publish edits/additions to their web pages. We provided group training on the CMS, gave everyone a user guide, provided refresher courses and one-on-one training as necessary. We also provide telephone and email support. In addition, we hosted some "writing right for the web" webinars.

With our upcoming redesign and new CMS implementation, we're seeking a more balanced approached. While we will continue to train departments on the CMS to make their own basic edits and offer web writing instruction, we need to have some sort of review process and systems in place to remind web editors to review and edit their content at regular intervals. How are we going to do this? Well, we're still working out the details but our CMS will be able to help automate some of that process.

Q. What's the major obstacle to an effective decentralized publishing system?

The pendulum is swinging back in the direction of centralized content editing but not because universities don't have a CMS or that the CMS isn't being used to its fullest potential. 

The biggest obstacle to decentralized publishing is ensuring the quality of content. Web content isn't just about updating some event dates, adding course descriptions or editing program pages. It's about marketing your university's academics and culture and creating a unified brand and message. It requires writing engaging, search engine optimized content, and that takes time and practice. And thanks to people like you, the message is getting out that a website isn't just about pretty pictures and typography - it's about THE CONTENT.

Q. I loved the idea of 2-hour website boot camps described on your website. How have those worked?

As far as our website boot camps, yes they have been very successful. We get departments to focus on their processes, procedures and top user tasks. Then we look at their web pages to see if those process and tasks are represented in the most user friendly way. There are a lot of "ah ha" moments as we look through sites and rearrange or edit content to make it more user friendly. 

The downside to these boot camps is they do take lot of time so they're not always practical. We do a lot of pre-work before we meet with the department, such as reviewing the current site as well as similar sites for best practices so that we arrive at the meeting with some actionable items. During the 2 hour boot camp, we make edits on the spot and create an action plan for content that is more involved and needs to be developed. By the end of the meeting, everyone leaves feeling like they've accomplished something. 

That's all for now. 

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New "Writing Right for the Web" Conference in May

My second 2-day "Writing Right for the Web" conference is happening May 24-25 in Atlanta. We'll explore in depth not only "writing right" on traditional websites, but for social media and mobile sites as well. 

People are coming from as far away as Hawaii and Egypt.

Check the conference details and register to join us in May.

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