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Putting the “Gov” in Web Content Governance

From a small local business to a government agency with international reach, to succeed online, every organization needs a solid plan to create, deliver, and govern its content. Government agencies are some of the largest and highest-profile organizations out there, and have a wealth of content—so having a strategy for getting the most out of that content is especially important.

A content strategy can help guide every step of the process, from planning to creation to maintenance to archiving. A key part of that strategy is governance, defined by the Federal Web Managers as “the structure of people, positions, authorities, roles, responsibilities, relationships, and rules involved in managing an agency’s website(s).”

Government Content Strategy: the Good News

When it comes to governance models and policies, the government has a head start on many other organizations. For government agencies, it’s second nature to plan ahead, establish protocols, and create workflows.

So it’s no surprise that a lot of the government agencies we work with already have many parts of a content strategy in place, whether they call it content strategy or not. They’ve established who is authorized to create, edit, and publish content, whether it’s on the agency’s website or social network presences. Content owners are identified and their roles are documented. And many agencies are putting out regular publications and have an editorial calendar or schedule for new content.

How committed is the government to governing its web content? Look no further than the recently updated HowTo.gov, the tagline of which is “Helping agencies deliver a great customer experience”:

And of course last week, government web content professionals gathered for the annual Government Web and New Media Conference, where session topics ranged from social media to mobile strategies to plain language.

The Challenges, and How Content Strategy Can Help

Timeliness: The flip side of so much process is, well, so much process. Sending web content through a long chain of reviews can take a while, so content updates related to search engine optimization (SEO) and social media, for example, get delayed. In social media, where stakeholders have come to expect real-time updates and responses, the delays can be damaging to an agency’s reputation. And when an agency is depending on search engines to bring people to its website, the delays in updating website content mean fewer stakeholders are getting the message.

So how can content strategy help address this challenge? If your agency’s content strategy doesn’t specifically deal with social media and search engine optimization, update both your strategy and policies to include detailed information on both. What works for governing one form of content does not always work for governing another form. Tailor authorities, roles, and rules to fit the media. Gauge the agency’s unique security considerations and risk tolerance, among other factors, and determine how lean you can go with governing these content types and channels. Having detailed, well-documented governance policies specific to different communications channels and methods will empower the agency to be both more accountable and more efficient.

Web Best Practices: Another challenge to useful, valuable web content, inherent in any large organization, is hierarchy. When a senior executive says, “Put this PDF brochure on the homepage of the website” or “Create a new page about ______,” the web manager may not feel comfortable asking “Why?” or offering an alternative approach.

Can content strategy help address this too? Yes. If the organization’s leadership has buy-in on the content strategy process, including the governance policies, the web manager is more empowered to work together with the rest of the team to achieve the senior executive’s goal according to best practices and user trends. If your governance model specifically states that all PDFs must be tested for Section 508 compliance, compared against the content inventory to ensure the document is not redundant with other content, and reviewed for opportunities to use the content in additional formats, the web manager has a clear process to follow when handed a PDF and asked to add it to the site. Ultimately, that PDF brochure may still end up on the site, but so will the accessible alternative, HTML content, or related user-friendly infographic.

Retirement: Although there are government policies regarding content archiving, when it comes to determining when a news item should move into the website’s “news archive” section or when a page should be retired from the site altogether, the answer isn’t as clear. That’s where the governance model comes in.

Your content governance model should have specific guidance on how often content is reviewed and how long it stays relevant to website visitors. A few examples: If you know that the statistics on your website are impacted by an annual study, take note of what pages reference that study, and plan on updating them once a year. If you publish monthly reports, and your website analytics show that users are most likely to search for reports published in the past two years, create a report archive where you can move reports published in previous years. In general, make a plan to audit your website content on a regular basis, whether that’s every six months, every year, or another set interval.

[This blog post was first published on the Rock Creek blog.]

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