Why Intelligent Content Requires a New Kind of Togetherness

IC_Togetherness-01by Marcia Riefer Johnston

Most intelligent content projects fail. In recent years, I’ve heard several conference speakers make this claim. Assuming that it’s true, what does this high failure rate tell us? Should we give up before we start?

Not necessarily – there’s too much to be gained. But the high failure rate indicates that lots of things can go wrong. The more you know about those things, the more likely you are to smile when your boss’ boss asks about ROI.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to success takes the metaphorical form of smooth, cylindrical, unscalable walls that define the boundaries between departments. You know what I’m talking about. Silos. Marketing silos, tech comm silos, customer service silos, and so on. Of all the things that can doom an intelligent content project, impenetrable silos top the list.

So, for the moment, let’s set aside all the other causes of failure and look at departmental silos and the opportunities awaiting companies that figure out how to connect them in new ways.

You might think there’s nothing new to say. “Teamwork” and “collaboration” were chiseled into the mission statement of the first cave people to set up a lemonade stand. What’s new is the imperative for a kind of togetherness that results in content that differentiates one company from another in the marketplace.

What does that new kind of togetherness look like? Here’s what some of the speakers coming to this year’s Intelligent Content Conference (ICC) have to say on this question …

If intelligent content efforts are to succeed, how do departments have to change the way they work together?

Cruce Saunders

Cruce Saunders photo_revEveryone needs to understand the importance of the discipline of content engineering and deputize someone as a content engineer who will work with people in the roles of content strategist, designer, and content author. And the organization needs to invest in training that content engineer.

Cruce Saunders, Founder, Simple [A] | @mrcruce

Cruce’s ICC presentation is Orchestrating Intelligent Content: The Role of the Content Engineer March 25.

Don Day

Don Day photo_rev“There is no I in team.” As cheesy as this saying sounds, it represents the necessary change of culture across departmental silos in order for an intelligent content vision to succeed.

Strategy is not just a marketing initiative. If a company determines to have an effective cross-company content strategy, then all departments must ascribe to that common strategy. Components of it will include taxonomies and terminology (for consistency in semantic usage and end-user experience, both internal and external), common schemas (for defining databases and markup structures and field labels), and tools and training that can use those common conventions for each department’s preferred authoring or publishing experience.

Granted, getting buy-in from all departments and members is likely to be harder than any of the preceding work in defining that strategy, hence some attention should be given to the matter of change management – getting the organization on board by alleviating concerns and resistance and by showing the value of the strategy.

This is the general picture from my enterprise experience. Is there a CIO in the house? This should be in his or her job description!

Don Day, Consultant, Learning by Wrote | @donrday

Don’s ICC presentation is Building Your Adaptive Model March 24. He’ll be joined by co-presenter Jenny Magic, Content and Branding Strategist, Raise Your Hand Texas.

James Turcotte

Jim Turcotte photo_revDepartments need to use the Uber approach. What I mean is, content needs to be crowdsourced across the enterprise the way Uber crowdsources rides. Content should be created not just by technical writers but also by experts across the enterprise.

Crowdsourcing requires a significant change in tools and processes. More importantly, it requires us to change the way we think.  

It’s not uncommon today for companies to have technical writers delivering technical manuals at the time of product general availability.  The writers move on to the next release, while support teams then author hundreds of standalone knowledge articles. This silo approach forces the customer to hunt for answers, creates redundant content, and dampens the customer feedback loop across the enterprise.

At CA Technologies, we are using what we call DocOps to foster an Uber-like approach to developing content. For example, support personnel reopen and mature the original topic working in a collaborative manner with tech writers and developers instead of publishing a standalone article in a silo fashion. Developers and tech writers can quickly see where documentation bugs exist and where customers are struggling to use the product, and they work together to address the issues quickly in the next Agile sprint.

As a result, our customers find crisp, relevant, easy-to-find answers to their questions.

If you are to survive in today’s application economy, content must be authored and curated using a collaborative platform. Are you creating content in an Uber fashion? Or are you still hailing a taxi from the curb?  

James Turcotte, Senior Vice President, CA Technologies | @jim_turcotte

At ICC, James is participating in a panel discussion, How to Increase Content Velocity Through Agile Practices, March 25. He’ll be joined by fellow panelists Andrew Bredenkamp, Ben Cornelius, Laurel Counts, Susie Dickson, and Margo Stern.

Laurel Counts

Laurel Counts photo_revDepartments have to work together more closely on the content creation and update processes. Intelligent content automates some aspects of sharing information, but humans hold the understanding of how the available information and tools can be used to satisfy business needs.

Example: Technical Communications (my team) was asked to help produce customer-facing functional specifications under tight time frames. The Word format required by the customer was a problem. We desperately needed a format that would allow multiple workers to share and re-use material. Tech Comm developed a Confluence-wiki template that would export wiki pages to a Word file, then we trained the team to create the specs in Confluence. Confluence adoption got underway, slowly, and then halted when business analysts realized they couldn’t work offline.

Unacceptable for them!

Tech Comm’s misunderstanding of this key requirement meant that time was lost. Tech Comm then proposed an alternate solution: a SharePoint folder (technology already familiar to the team) with the SharePoint check in/check out feature disabled. Scary as it sounds, this method, while hardly qualifying as intelligent content, was a success for this situation.

The takeaway here is that enabling intelligent content requires departments to communicate extensively on their needs and constraints. They must also be prepared to compromise.

Laurel Counts, Director of Technical Communications, Moody’s Analytics | @techcommcounts

At ICC, Laurel is participating in a panel discussion,How to Increase Content Velocity Through Agile Practices, March 25. She’ll be joined by fellow panelists Andrew Bredenkamp, Ben Cornelius, Susie Dickson, Margo Stern, and James Turcotte.

Lisa Welchman

Lisa Welchman photo_revConvert stakeholders to advocates

If you understand structured content authoring and the value it brings, it can be hard to remember that not everyone gets things like metadata or multichannel content delivery. Take the time to explain to your stakeholders across the organization what intelligent content is all about. Help them own it. Repeat your jargon-free lessons early and often until your stakeholders can speak to intelligent content effectively with their own teams and colleagues – not just parroting information from the experts.

A good way to do this is to encourage your team of content stakeholders to articulate how a more structured approach to content authoring could positively impact their part of the organization. Let them present their vision to you and to other internal stakeholders. Pretty soon, you’ll find that you’ve got an organization full of advocates for intelligent content!

Design your team

At its core, intelligent content rests on a foundation of consistency – whether it’s the consistent application of metadata, a consistent voice and tone, or consistently followed content models. Often, the biggest challenge isn’t designing these standards and protocols, it’s aligning the people.

People have a hard time being consistent unless they are motivated.

So, unless you work in a dictatorship where consistency and standardization is the mandate, you have to make an effort to get your team in line.  As you analyze the content and its structure, also analyze your content team and its structure. Make sure that your model can actually be created by your team.

Lisa Welchman, President, Digital Governance Frameworks, ActiveStandards | @lwelchman

Lisa’s ICC presentation is Enabling Intelligent Content With Digital Governance March 25.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley photo_revFrom my years at IBM, I know that in order for change to be effective it must be coordinated and implemented at the cultural and process level, not just with technology. Departments must change not only the way they work and the content standards they follow but also the things they value.


The authoring communities across IBM need to commit to common goals and collaboration. Intelligent content must be sharable not only with the customer but across authoring communities, like marketing, training, tech docs, and support. We need to remove incentives to reinvent content that already exists – incentives like measuring success by word count or by the number of articles written.

Instead, we need to measure customer success. Could customers easily find the content they needed to achieve their goals (whether it’s with your content or with someone else’s)? That’s a better question.

It’s just like when programming evolved from procedural to object-oriented. Whether it’s increasing word count or lines of code, more doesn’t mean better, and it often means worse.


IBM’s processes need to support continuous delivery and collaboration across multiple source repositories and delivery channels. Customers shouldn’t need to know where our content came from in order to find it.

Content standards

Authoring communities across IBM need shared standards for the content itself. Just because three teams all have intelligent content doesn’t mean they can share content; they might be using different siloed interpretations of intelligence.

And we can’t solve the silo problem by building a bigger silo – especially when you get to cross-company reuse scenarios. We need cross-silo, even cross-company, industry-level standards that define modular, classified, structurally rich content. One example of such a standard is DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture). Authors don’t need to know or care about XML tagging; they just need to know the structural rules for the content types they author. The mapping to a common standard can happen under the covers.

Remember the Turing test for artificial intelligence? If a computer program has a conversation with a human, and the human can’t tell that it’s a computer, then the program can be considered intelligent. If we apply a similar test for intelligent content, then multiple intelligent content sources must be able to “talk” to intelligent content processes without the processes being able to tell the difference between the sources. If your content can’t talk with other sources or targets for intelligent content, then it fails the test before it even begins. Content standards allow intelligent content sources to communicate. Without content standards, collaboration across communities and their silos is impossible.

Michael Priestley, Enterprise Content Technology Strategist and Lead DITA Architect, IBM | @ditaguy

Michael’s ICC presentation is IBM Case Study: Making Marketing Content Intelligent March 25. He’ll be joined by co-presenter James Mathewson, Global Program Director for Search and Structured Content Strategy at IBM.

Michelle Killebrew

Michelle Killebrew photo_revDepartments that support content strategy, creation, and distribution need to collaborate extremely well together. Ideally, there’s a content calendar and agreed workflow, while processes also allow for new ideas to arise from anyone on the team.

Additionally, companies need to establish a measurement system and review key success metrics as a way of defining new content strategies. Collaboration can be difficult since the variety of disciplines that are converging in this space come from different perspectives: journalism, public relations, graphics design, digital marketing, technical communication, social media, web and mobile specialties, etc. People in these fields have differing ideas, which can make for great content, although not without creative friction.

A regular cadence of reviewing strategy is important to minimize this friction. Annual, quarterly, monthly, even weekly meetings should be in place to map out long-term themes and respond to current events.  I’ve seen a growing number of companies looking for executive-level content leaders who can coordinate with participants across the organization – evidence of the increasing importance of this strategic function.

Michelle Killebrew, Program Director, Strategy & Solutions – Social Business, IBM | @shellkillebrew

Michelle’s ICC presentation is The Long and Short of Content: Strategies for Intelligent Content Planning March 24. She’ll be joined by co-presenter Buddy Scalera, SVP of Interactive Content and Market Research, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide.

Noz Urbina

Noz Urbina photo_revI could talk for a week about this. Departments don’t have to work together differently. But if they don’t change, they leave enormous opportunity on the table. You could run an intelligent content strategy in a silo, but that wouldn’t be, if you’ll forgive, an intelligent thing to do.

I have two key tips, one tactical (about the metadata), one more philosophical (about the customer).

Tip 1: Create a metadata dictionary.

To realise the potential of an intelligent content project, start by creating and sharing a common metadata dictionary. When you share your definitions of things, people and computer systems can exchange information more easily. This simply means, make sure every content creator labels content the same way. For example, if people in one part of the business use the term datasheet, make sure that everyone else uses this term, too, and defines it in the same way.

Not everyone needs to create all datasheets (or whatever the content type is) in exactly the same way. But where there is potential for consolidation, consolidate. Manage differences formally. Don’t let departments grow and change things without consulting with each other. Once you’ve agreed on a standard, govern that agreement like a contract. A contract can be changed, but once you’ve signed it, you would go to the trouble of making a change only if you had a good reason to.

Tip 2: Commit to being humbly customer-centric.

Instead of pitting one department’s preference against another’s, invest in finding out which approach has the bigger benefit for customers. Do that.

Noz Urbina, Content Strategist and Founder, Urbina Consulting | @nozurbina

Noz’s ICC presentation is The Non-Terrifying Intro to Semantic Content March 24. He also gives a full-day preconference workshop, Writing Adaptive, Reusable Content, March 23.

Paula Land

Paula Land photo_revBust those silos! For an intelligent content effort (or any content effort, for that matter) to succeed, it can’t be the province of a single person or team within the organization. Everyone who has a stake in the content and the role it plays in the organization’s success needs to be on board.

This kind of effort begins with a shared understanding of the business goals and requirements. What content do we already have? How is it created, structured, and managed? What does the future state look like? How will we define, measure, and track success?

People across the organization need to share a commitment to do the work to meet the goals, and they need to put in place the ongoing governance necessary to ensure quality and consistency over the long term.

Paula Land, Founder and Principal Consultant, Strategic Content | @content_insight

Paula’s ICC presentation is Auditing for Content Management March 24.

Philip Wisniewski

Philip Wisniewski photoPicture a conference room during your first week of planning a marketing or e-business initiative.  Your team includes the following people:

  • A business or marketing lead
  • A project manager
  • A content strategy lead
  • A content author or editor
  • A marketing technologist
  • A content engineer
  • An enterprise architect
  • A data analyst
  • A performance marketing (SEO, SEM, display) lead
  • A brand lead

Though many of these roles could be rolled up to a smaller team, the important takeaway is that these skills are represented around the table.

Note that there is no representation from the store/retail group, the digital/web group, or the customer support group. Although these groups are important, the nature of intelligent content will take care of the way this initiative will be presented across varying aspects of the customer experience.

Back to the conference room: Picture a discussion of common objectives, requirements, and metrics.  Each person (each role or skill) contributes to the considerations, risks, and opportunities. There are equal parts pragmatism and exploration of ideal, blue-sky scenarios. Team members push boundaries, work within guiderails, define business rules, and discuss innovative content experiences.

Unrealistic? Certainly for some organizations. But if you keep working within this collaborative, cross-functional model and take the time to build the right foundations of technology, process, and content, you’ll find yourself needing fewer resources and moving faster than ever to get those big ideas to market.

We’ve seen this approach work for our clients, so I know it can work for you too.

Philip Wisniewski, EVP, Client & Market Development, Kanban Solutions | @Kanbansolutions

Philip’s ICC presentation is A Case for Content Engineering in the Era of Experience Marketing March 25.

Rahel Anne Bailie

rahelbailieFor intelligent content to work, departments have to work together to focus on the big picture. For example, I had a client with three departments whose goals worked at cross purposes. At first glance, the departments all seemed to focus on the same big goal: increase sales. But upon closer examination, these departments’ goals of getting content on the website faster undercut their ability to reach that big shared goal.

Why? The individual departments set overly aggressive content delivery schedules that left them no time to ensure that the content used by search engines was checked and, where missing, added.

How useful is it to create fast-to-site content that won’t be found by customers (because of low search-engine ranking) – even if that content satisfies the departmental goal? Might it be worthwhile to slow the process down enough to add the search-engine fodder that will help the content rank – even if that goal belongs to another department?

The answer, of course, is, “It depends.” Organisations that can afford to ignore search-engine ranking answer this question differently than organizations for whom search-engine marketing is significant to sales.

Rather than remain entrenched in separate goals, departments should take a balanced approach to ensure that the strategy for getting content to the site focuses on the business-critical goals. Various departments may need to tweak their priorities to align with the bigger picture.

Rahel Anne Bailie, Founder, International Design | @rahelab

Rahel’s ICC presentation is Stories That Sell: What Content Marketing Can Learn From Content Engineering March 25. She also gives a full-day preconference workshop, The Nuts and Bolts of Intelligent Content, March 23.

Sarah O’Keefe

Sarah OKeefe photo_revOrganizational silos are a huge problem for everyone, not just in the area of intelligent content. If two departments want to share information, they have to learn to work together.

Sarah O’Keefe, President and Founder, Scriptorium Publishing | @sarahokeefe

Sarah’s ICC presentation is Crown Equipment Case Study: Getting Started With Intelligent Content March 25. She’ll be joined by co-presenter Jodi Shimp, Global Content Manager at Crown Equipment.

Shana Pearlman

Shana Pearlman photoCollaboration is important to the success of any content marketing strategy, in terms of both input to the content you’re creating and end users of the output. Internal users are important customers of your content just as external users are. Therefore, you have to sell what you do and the ways you can help to your internal clients – and follow up on what you’re offering to do. It’s about creating partnerships that result in productive outcomes.

Shana Pearlman, Content Marketing Manager, Mulesoft | @shanabp

Shana’s ICC presentation is The Story of Star Wars: How an Epic Story Leads to an Extraordinary Multichannel Marketing Project

Val Swisher

Val Swisher photoTo have a successful, well-choreographed, enterprise-wide content strategy using intelligent content, you must break the silos. You have to step back from your little (or big) world and look at content from a corporate level. You may have to give up certain things that you thought were imperative.

You have to be flexible.

You also need consensus on basic things, for example, terminology. Content cannot be reused across organizations if the content creators use different words. You need a company-wide lexicon that is maintained and enforced. Be prepared to spend time on this. Maintaining and enforcing consistent terminology is a never-ending job.

Be prepared to change the way you approach content, the way you create content, the way you evaluate content, and the way you govern content.

None of this is simple. None of it is easy. But if done properly, enterprise-wide intelligent content can save a ton of money and time, enhance brand perception, and produce happier customers.

Val Swisher, Founder and CEO, Content Rules, Inc. | @contentrulesinc

Val’s ICC presentation is What’s in a Word: How to Manage Terminology March 24.


If you’ve read every response above, you’re tired of the word silo already. You got the point from the start. Togetherness, togetherness. Kumbaya.

Yet the point bears repeating. If departments don’t work together in new ways when it comes to creating and managing content – if they fail to do the hard work of agreeing on the words they use, the metadata they apply, the content models they adopt, the content standards they follow, and so on – those organizations leave themselves open to losing out.

Can you hear them out there? Your competitors? They’re building walkways between their silos. They’re setting up camp in the in-between spaces. Can you hear that song they’re singing?

How about your organization? What new kinds of togetherness are you creating? What songs are you singing? Hum a few bars in a comment below.

Intelligent Content Conference 2015

Want to hear more from these speakers? Want to learn more about getting started with intelligent content? Here are three things you can do right now:

About the author

marcia riefer johnston Marcia Riefer Johnston (@marciarjohnston), managing editor of Intelligent Content for the Content Marketing Institute, has attended several Intelligent Content Conferences and looks forward to the next one. She is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build From Them). See Writing.Rocks.

The answers provided by the ICC speakers above were submitted via email and edited according to Content Marketing Institute style guidelines.

Title image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski, Content Marketing Institute

  • Kumar Arnesh

    Great Article and great points given by each Speaker!

  • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

    Kumar, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad that you found value here.