I've been creating and sharing digital content since early 2010, and though I have made periodic attempts to create and manage a content inventory over the years, I never really committed to it until this past summer. Rebranding, building a new website/blog, deciding what content to transfer from our old digital presences, and increasing our efforts at content syndication provided the catalysts I needed to take our content management more seriously. Yes, it took that many forces for change...
I can simultaneously admit that I regret not doing this sooner and that I hate having to do it now. It's a ginormous pain in the neck that requires near-daily attention, but the short term aggravation is necessary to reap the kinds of longer-term benefits we're striving for.
If custom digital content is critical to your marketing, branding, sales and service efforts, you need a centralized way to track and manage it - ALL of it. Website content management systems (CMSs) are great, but they only help you track the content you create there (i.e., pages and blog posts). They don't include all the places you have distributed content, and they don't necessarily track all cross-links, even within your own site(s).
Why You Need a Digital Content Inventory and Management System
Here are eight reasons you need to create an independent digital content inventory and management system* - and do it as soon as possible:
- You can't possibly remember where your content is, especially over time. I'm regularly surprised by where I find some of our content referenced - even when I'm the one who's referenced it! The more people you have involved in content creation and distribution, the more complicated the task of "remembering" is.
- The longer you wait to do it, the harder it will be. Trust me, I speak from experience. Every day you put this off and your content grows, it becomes that much harder to catch up.
- You want easy access to both short and long urls. These come in handy time and time again, for applications like (a) sharing with prospects, clients, partners, etc.; (b) cross-posting content on your own site(s), and (c) adding links to blog posts, white papers, slide decks, etc.
- You're better able to manage cross-posting, syndication, etc. We're up to seven linked tabs in an Excel spreadsheet to manage the content we've added to our blog, SlideShare, Pinterest, etc., and we're still developing it. It may seem like overkill but now we can actually connect the permanent content we've shared on various platforms and better manage our distribution efforts.
- It's easier to sort and search via an Excel spreadsheet than a CMS. And as noted above, CMSs are limited in terms of the content they track, so those search results still don't provide complete information.
- You can track notes and comments for future reference. I find this handy for reminders of things we need to go back to do (e.g., update a url, add a link), as well as future creation possibilities and repurposing opportunities (e.g., create a SlideShare deck from a blog post).
- You can create an annotation scheme for noting which shares got the greatest traction, etc. Which posts trended hot and where? Which have more long-tail staying power? All of this information is great feedback to help guide future creation and sharing efforts.
- You need to be able to delete/redirect stale content. In addition to generating fresh content that reflects current thinking and best practices, you want to be able to delete and/or redirect content that no longer adds the value it once did. Even a syndicated blog post from two years ago can be "old news." You need to find that content easily so you can point people to your latest and greatest ideas.
*Note: You only need to track "permanent" content like blog posts, pins, SlideShare and YouTube items, etc. You don't need to worry about how that content is shared via more temporal updates to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, etc. You may want to include the sharing you do via email missives and newsletters , however, especially if you archive them and make the archives publicly available, like we do. You may also want to track content that's been syndicated via scraping, but that requires (a lot) more effort that may not be worthwhile.
Digital Content Management Requires (lots of) Ongoing Effort
In addition to creating the inventory, you must build management of it into your ongoing digital engagement efforts, including assigning roles and responsibilities and creating related procedures. If you're going to invest in creating an inventory you need to properly manage it so you don't waste those initial efforts. Digital content management has to become a habit, fully integrated into ongoing operations.
Did I mention that we have a completely separate inventory just for our Pinterest content (you can learn more about it here)? Or that we're still managing content from our old blog post in another inventory that we'll have to maintain until we complete all the transfers? I said it was a pain in the neck, didn't I?
I know this all sounds crazy compulsive and anal retentive. Is it really necessary? And are there any shortcuts? I ask mysellf both those questions regularly. And based on my experience and research, the answers are Yes to the first question and No to the second. Sorry! If your organization is serious about content marketing, it needs to take digital content management seriously. And oddly enough, no one has created a sophisticated digital content inventory management tool yet (please correct me if I'm wrong). Even for website content management, Excel spreadsheets still appear to be the normative standard. I sense an opportunity for an enterprising entrepreneur...
If you've created and/or managed a digital content inventory and would like to offer additional reasons and/or recommendations, we'd love to hear from you. I'm especially keen to know if anyone has developed a tool to facilitate management efforts. And of course we're always happy to answer any questions you may have.