Category Archives: Content management

Use the right language

How many times have you heard the expression: “You need to talk/write in the language of your audience”? If you want to be able to communicate with people , you need to know “the language” they are using. I am not talking about different languages – English/German/Spanish for example. I am talking about the need to communicate with the right words and expressions of your audience, of your target group, or of your clients.

Gerry McGovern speaks of the need to speak the right language in his recent blog post: Organization language versus customer language. He gives a good example of how governments (in this case the European Union) substitute organisational language for customer language. You have to ask yourself why this would be the case. Is it to obfuscate and confuse? Or is it simply that the people writing this material are trying to impress their superiors? Or is it a lack of awareness?

If it is the latter, then communicators need to better understand the people they wish to communicate with.  Using the right language will enable true understanding of the message and facilitate meaningful two-way communication.

Website and intranet content managers are one group of people that must use the appropriate language to meet the needs of their target audience. This often proves difficult when content management is decentralised within an organisation to individuals who have no knowledge of good content management practices.

In knowledge management, we need to ensure we use the right language too. Sometimes knowledge management terms are used without an appreciation that the people we are communicating with do not understand these words. One reason for this is that we sometimes assume that our KM language is the norm when in fact it is only the norm within our KM profession. Another reason is that some people who are not knowledge managers appropriate the terms to give themselves professional validity. And another reason, common to all types of content creators, is the idea that we are communicating (usually in written form) for our own egos and not focusing on the needs of the people we wish to actually communicate with. In other words, we need to be careful in how we communicate.

We can learn from the field of marketing communications how to improve our ability to better understand our audience, target group, or clients. The message here is to actually spend some time with our audience or target group, or at least do some research about them. We can also learn from each other in knowledge management – what have been some effective and not-so-effective ways we have tried to communicate knowledge management? If we can improve our own communication, then we can advance the broader understanding of knowledge management and advocate more effectively within our own organisations.

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Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference 2012

It’s a beautiful time in Austin, Texas. The weather is warm to hot and the music is loud and proud. But I am in Austin for the  Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I attended this conference last year and I am pleased to be back again.

I’ll start my conference report with the morning session today (the first day) of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I will have to post another instalment for the after lunch sessions. By the way, I had lunch at the wonderful Blanton Museum down the road from the conference venue. The morning was both interesting and satisfying.

I will focus on the keynote since this was the presentation that had the most relevance and interest to me and my workplace. The keynote was delivered by Andrea Resmini currently working in Sweden. The title of his presentation was “Between physical and digital: understanding cross channel experiences”.

Andrea opened up with a story based on the Umberto Eco novel (and subsequent movie) The name of the rose. He focused on the labyrinthine library and the differences between the description and map of the library in the book and in the movie. The purpose of the story was to illustrate how important meaning is in understanding complex environments; and secondly, that we need to be able to understand how different media affect people’s experiences. Thus, is there really a meaningful difference between the physical reality of the library or information centre and that of the virtual library?

Taking some inspiration from William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, Andrea explains that cyberspace is not a place to go to, it is a layer tightly integrated into the world around us. And as such, there are cross channels that enable information to be delivered, exchanged, and received to suit the needs of individuals and the contexts in which they find themselves. Cross channels may be expressed this way: “Cross-channel is not about technology, or marketing, nor it is limited to media-related experiences: it’s a systemic change in the way we experience reality. The more the physical and the digital become intertwined, the more designing successful cross-channel user experiences becomes crucial”. A full explanation, from which this quote was taken, can be found here.

The point of course is that libraries can no longer think of themselves as a set of discrete multiple actions, or silos,  (e.g. circulation desk, catalogue, web site etc.) but as facilitator for the provision of information in different ways to meet the needs of clients/users/students and the way in which they want to access and consume information. This of course involves the virtual library.

More generally, all of us are not staying within one channel all of the time. We move between them, depending on what it is we need them to do. And we would like all the digital pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to fit and work together.

I will return in my next post to continue what Andrea went on to say, outlining his seven point “manifesto” about information architecture, the user experience, and cross channel experiences.

But to finish this post, I want to give some further reading. Andrea mentioned the book “Pervasive Information Architecture” and I will be chasing that up when I return home later in the week.

 

Libraries and the customer experience

I find the day after a conference has finished is a good time to let the knowledge gleaned from the previous days flow through the brain without reference to notes. I like this type of unstructured post-conference flow because it allows key themes to emerge by themselves in my thinking.

A key theme for me (and I mean a theme that I have been thinking about in response to the combination of information and experiences from the conference) is that libraries and organisations need to go where to the clients are in a way that is meaningful to them.

Amy Sample Ward started this thought in me when she emphasised working with the community, not for the community. Working with a community or a client group means working with them in consideration of what they want and how they want it. How they want their information may be different to how the organisation believes it should deliver the information.

Michael Clarke (no, not the Australian cricketer) from Silverchair (no, not the Australian band) presented on “the great unboxing”. Libraries had to start thinking more about content than just the format (the container the information was in). The focus on content is something I have emphasised in my workplace as well. Other presentations, particularly around library catalogue search and the library catalogue GUI, also emphasised the need to provide the traditional library service in a way that was effective, but also both familiar to users and appealing to users. In some cases being like Google was important because Google is a familiar and well-used information search option. If we want users to use the catalogue, then we must make the catalogue as appealing to use as Google.

My thinking around this is that whilst as librarians we have a range of library tools and information technologies at our disposal, they don’t really mean much unless we meet the needs of our clients in the way the clients want their needs met. And information needs are becoming more focused on content from a multitude of sources and networks than ever before – and libraries and organisations need to be there in all those places. In marketing speak, you go to where your customers are and meet with them in a way the customers have determined. So, if your customers are on Facebook, then that’s one place you need to go. Interestingly, at the Web 3.0 conference I attended last year in Sydney, the same sentiment was expressed: using social media is fine but it only really means something if it means something to your audience. The Web 3.0 conference is on again in June.

The upshot (take-home?) of this is that if libraries or organisations want to push a system that their clients won’t use, but go ahead with it anyway because the library or organisation sees some other “benefit”, then we are wasting time and resources because the clients aren’t going there. We need to consider the customer experience!

And if your clients aren’t going there, then it doesn’t matter what the system can do compared to something else, it just isn’t going to work!

Halfway through Electronic Resources Conference

I am at the halfway point of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference in Austin, Texas. The conference has been pretty good so far, with a nice mix of thinking pieces and practical case studies. And Austin is a great place to visit for live music!

Some key highlights so far:

Amy Sample Ward yesterday emphasised the library should be thinking of working with the community (or your user group), not for your community (or user group).

A couple of presentations yesterday looked at presenting your library’s story ( your story to management or other stakeholders) in a more effective light by using good data and effective data presentation for your data to tell your “data story”. My only criticism was the lack of focus on the stories (narrative) from the library user group or your clients. Naturally, I made a comment and let the audience know about what SenseMaker might offer.

Library promotion was another topic of interest from Day 1. Nothing revolutionary to me in that presentation, although it did focus my attention on executing marketing strategies back at work when I can find the time to escape the daily minutiae of my administrative library work.

Yesterday afternoon we heard a passionate “rally to the library cause” from Michael Porter of Library Renewal who advocated public and academic libraries needed to organise more effectively to combat a growing threat to library budgets and library work. I do wonder how much impact “the intrinsic value of the library” has on governments looking at slashing budgets; and that’s exactly what US states are trying to do across the country at the moment. A more focused argument needs to be made on how libraries service the needs of community and what the impact that has on people and their ability to get things done both socially and economically. And enlisting the support of people (voters) is something libraries also need – so, libraries need a more politically focused approach.

Today we had some presentations of a more practical nature. We had a great presentation on analysing ejournal collections from database vendors. Nice MS Access database used as an effective tool to compare database collections.

Well, gotta get back to it. The afternoon session is about to start shortly.

On good writing

I was reading the Sunday Canberra Times a couple of days ago over a morning cup of tea.  A short syndicated article in the Sunday Focus section alerted me to the fact that this year is the 60th anniversary of the death of British writer, Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell).  George Orwell is one of my favourite authors; up there with Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Milan Kundera, Wallace Stegner, and Patrick White.  Funnily enough, all those writers might be termed under the heading, “classic” fiction, establishing my literary preferences very clearly.  I do enjoy the odd contemporary novel but for the most part, I enjoy the story and the writing of my classic literary heroes.

I first read George Orwell at school when our English class studied the novel, Nineteen Eighty Four.  I later re-read the book and saw the film starring actors John Hurt and Richard Burton. I also went on to read Animal Farm and Keep the Aspidistra flying.  I enjoyed all three novels immensely.  I will have to find these three books at home for a re-read.  One thing I can say, is that all three novels were brilliantly written and totally absorbing. 

Each story had a significant message.  I always found the message in Nineteen Eighty Four as being equally applicable to the communists (the focus for Orwell) as for the “democracies” when it came to influencing and manipulating public opinion through various methods of propaganda, political “spin”, and news bias.  And Animal Farm was, and still is, quite a metaphor for management science as well as for politics!

A feature of the writing was its quality.  The Canberra Times article (“Orwell still packs a punch”) lists six qualities that Orwell recognised as being indicators of good writing:

1. “never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print
2. never use a long word when a short word will do
3. if it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out
4. use the active rather than the passive
5. never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent
6. break any of these (above) rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous”

These are sound writing principles, albeit I see some scope for compromise depending on the appropriate context in which one writes.  Nevertheless, Orwell’s six writing principles essentially say to write for your reader – your audience – so that they have no difficulty in understanding what you have to say.

I think the principle of making what we have to say understandable to our audience is very good advice indeed.  The challenge for all of us is to keep good writing principles in mind in all our communications.

And so off to the bookshelves at home to search for my Orwell novels to be read again….sometime in the near future!

On web content publishing

The World Wide Web is an amazing place.  There are literally billions of pages of web sites and documents out there to be found.  And of those billions, if not trillions, of web pages and documents out there, only a miniscule proportion of that content will be of any use to you.  That’s because the content is unbounded – anyone can put up a web page or a document onto the World Wide Web.

But intranets are different.  An intranet is a bounded web environment, usually within an organisational context.  The intranet is a major information and communication platform for an organisation.  As such, an intranet needs to be considered as a significant organisational resource and treated with a great deal of respect.

Respected web content expert, Gerry McGovern, writes about information content and information quality on the intranet: ” [look at] the web ‘management’ approach called distributed publishing. The theory was: buy the tool, train people to use it and watch them go. What happened? Each division or department that the publishing tool was distributed to sought to publish to the website with the absolute minimum resource input. If ever there was a disastrous non-strategy it is distributed publishing. It led to website junkyards full of vanity publishing and out of date garbage … We need to seriously raise the standard. Anybody can put up a document. It requires precious little skill to write boring, vain, unreadable, organization-centric content”.

Writing and publishing for an organisation’s intranet requires a number of important skills – skills that cannot be obtained by a quick one hour lesson in uploading documents into a content management system!  The decentralised approach has generally failed because these skills have not been developed in the administrators responsible for the content decisions and content uploads of their intranet.  Moreover, little training or advice has been provided to these people about the difference between web content and print content publishing – there is a big difference!

A centralised and specialised intranet/internet publishing team is probably the best way to go to ensure quality and effective control over content.  However, there is a problem here.  A centralised web team is often removed from the important happenings within the organisation that warrant good content publishing.  And given the small size of many intranet teams, they don’t have the time to search and edit and publish the content themselves.  They do rely on content generation from outside the intranet team.  There is thus a potential schism between content and control. 

And of course, there is also some cost cutting thinking from senior management in having a small intranet team and relying on decentralised intranet content administrators.  This is usually the result of senior management having no idea about intranet content and intrant publishing, and certainly a lack of respect to what an intranet can do for the organisation.

One practical option is to provide decentralised administrators with proper training (or even at the recruitment stage) about web content management and web publishing.  The administrators need to be part of the intranet “team” and they need to know that web content publishing is about solving problems for people within the organisation; not boosting egos.  The decentralised system can work if there is sufficient effort put into recruitment, training and ongoing support for these people about web content management.  This is actually no different to what should happen throughout the organisation to ensure quality and effective workforce participation.

On knowing the customer and what they want

It always amazes me that some internet sites are not really set up to serve the needs of the customer.  You see examples of it time and time again.  As many readers will know, I am a big fan of Gerry McGovern and Mark Hurst, both of whom extol the common sense line that the customer experience is all important and should be uppermost in the mind of any selling organisation.

One of the first maxims of internet or intranet design is to know your customer and what your customer comes to your website to do.  People are busy, and in the majority of cases, go on the internet to do something; find some specific information; complete a task.  Sure, there is serendipitous search but website design is not about focusing on the per chance customer; internet design should be about identifying your customers and servicing their needs. 

Let’s take an example – I am going to another city for work or for a holiday and I need a hotel.  What is the information that is most important to me – the customer? 

– the address and service offerings of the hotel
– price (including any discounts or specials)
– availability
– reservations
– maybe booking and cancellation policy for the more detail-oriented patrons among us.

Now, do you think people search for hotels based on price or do you decide upon the place first?  Price is nice, but people want a hotel in a specific place.  Choose the place and then check out the prices. 

So when I went to check out the IBIS hotel (I am an A-club member) in Christchurch, New Zealand, I found this IBIS hotel site.  You will see that the site gives the address and contact details, provides information on the service offerings of the hotel, and allows online bookings and reservations.  This is all good standard stuff.

But what about that header at the top of the page, especially the one titled IBIS special offers.  Naturally, before I check out the price and availability of the hotel I am looking at booking in Christchurch I want to see what special offers might be available.  Well, what you actually get is the global IBIS special offers page with great deals for IBIS hotels in ….. Bregenz, Austria; Marrakech, Morocco; Basle, Switzerland, and Toulouse, France, etc.  There are also major cities to explore …. but not Christchurch.

Please tell me, why would I want to know what special offers are available in Toulouse and Bregenz when I am going to Christchurch?  Why is there a link to these European special offers from the Christchurch IBIS Hotel page?

Well, the answer is that the Christchurch page is a page (a local page) on the global IBIS Hotel internet platform.  The header information at the top of the page is the global banner across all the IBIS Hotel pages, from Christchurch to Marrakech. The banner bears no relation to the local hotel page other than for IBIS Hotels to tell you stuff that you don’t need to know; stuff IBIS Hotels obviously thinks is grand news!

The obvious point is that if you are offering special offers on the Christchurch IBIS hotel page then give me the special offers for the Christchurch IBIS Hotel – that is where I want to go and that’s why I am looking at the IBIS Hotel Christchurch internet page!

The message is: design the web page for the particular customer that you need to service.  Do not design a web page for the ease and ego of the organisation.