Britain’s Next Top Content Model
A clear trend is emerging from our recent conversations with universities across Britain and beyond. More and more institutions are moving towards a Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE) model in order to deliver personalised content to their audiences. Or, at least, hoping to.
However, many people seem to be focussing on the procurement of an expensive new all-singing, all-dancing, content management system (CMS) to help make their dreams a reality.
A new CMS may ultimately be necessary to provide the functionality required for the delivery of adaptive content. But there’s another stage that needs to come first and that is, in our opinion, far more important. That’s gaining a clear understanding of how your content connects, so that you can plan for how your new (or existing) CMS might store and display that content.
Your aim is to create once, publish everywhere. But what should you create, and where exactly should you publish it? The crucial first task is to develop your own content model, which will help you to see how various aspects of your organisation relate to each other, and how this should be represented across your platforms, both at the back and front ends.
By following the three easy steps below, you’ll be well on your way to developing Britain’s next top content model.
1. Name your nouns
Get your team together with a bunch of post-it notes and spend some time listing all the nouns you can think of when it comes to your institution. These might be big or small, and fall into any of the following categories:
- People – student, researcher, alumnus
- Places – campus, building, hall of residence
- Things – course, module, event
The only rule at this stage is to try to keep them generic (‘campus’ rather than ‘China campus’, ‘course’ rather than ‘Chemistry’).
2. Visualise your verbs
Now it’s time to start showing how these different nouns relate to each other using verbs. You can do this by sticking your post-its on a giant piece of paper and drawing the connections with a Sharpie. Or you might prefer to do this in a spreadsheet so that you can use the insights more easily in the future.
Either way, the aim is to describe how any two verbs are connected.
- A student studies a course
- A student lives in a hall of residence
- A course is made up of modules
Don’t forget that if a connection runs one way, there’s a good chance it runs the other way too. You might just need to switch from the active to the passive voice to find it: a student studies a course; a course is studied by a student.
You might also wish to indicate whether these relationships are one-to-one or one-to-many: a student studies a single course; a course is studied by many students.
Some things may be connected in multiple different ways. That’s okay – life is messy! Just make sure that you get them all down on paper.
3. Pick your priorities
Congratulations – you’ve just created something beautiful. Some people call it a content ecosystem map, some a concept model, and others a content concept chart. You may even come up with your own name for this glorious organised mess.
Now you can start thinking about the channels you’re using to share your content. Which of these connections might it be useful to reflect on your website, or social media, in emails, in print, etc? Some will be crucial, others desirable, and others may exist but won’t need acknowledging in terms of your web content.
You may find some nouns that are not connected to anything else and you therefore feel you can get rid of. You may find two of your nouns are so closely related that you can combine them into one. You may find some nouns are so big that they need breaking down. You may spot things you’ve missed. This is all part of the process of understanding your content ecosystem.
By the end of the process, you’ll have a diagram, chart or spreadsheet that forms a roadmap for you when you start to develop adaptive content.
So that’s it. 1, 2, 3, and you’re there. Sounds simple, right?
Yes and no. The steps themselves are relatively straightforward once you’ve grasped them, but when you scale them up to look at all of the content across an entire institution, it can be a daunting and complex task. This is also just the first stage. There’s then the tricky business of knowing how to translate this into a meaningful set of content types and elements to give to your web team when they build or develop your CMS. That’s difficult, detailed work that’s not to be taken lightly.
If you’d like the help of a team who have done it before, get in touch. We’d love to help.
If you just want to learn more about connected content, we recommend reading Connected Content by Mike Atherton and Carrie Hane. Mike was a keynote speaker at our conference, ContentEd, in 2018.