Hotel Los Gatos, Los Gatos, California

Are you responsible for managing content at your enterprise? If so, you might have a sinking feeling that things are rapidly spinning out of control in the digital era. Worse, that you can only see a small fraction of what your business or government agency is producing or has already published, let alone control it. But never fear, the same technologies that helped create the problem are being redeployed to help you out.

Active content management means using computers to enforce content production and management rules in real time and automatically, rather than retrospectively and in an ad hoc fashion as humans get to it. I’m aware there’s a lot in that statement, so let me unpack the terms and explain who has been using them and why being more ‘active’ could help you.

The concept of active content governance was the cornerstone of the Content Connectionsconference in Los Gatos, at the end of Silicon Valley, which I attended last week. The event is run by Acrolinx, which makes a software platform powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that helps large organisations create and manage high-quality written material at scale. The picture shows me with the company’s CTO & COO, Ulrich Callmeier.

I was at Content Connections because our firm, Editor Group, uses Acrolinx to boost the quality of the material we create and edit for clients. We also help enterprises implement the software. The other attendees were primarily editors from technology leaders such as Cisco, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and SAP. Read my blog from last year’s event for more about how they and others in sectors such as health and financial services use the software.

When it comes to definitions, it’s important to start with ‘content’. In the Acrolinx universe, content means anything written in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese or Swedish. It includes content marketing material such as blogs and white papers; other sales and marketing copy like brochures and websites; and longer product, support and technical documentation. It also covers many formats – from Microsoft Word to XML – held in various repositories, from PCs to servers and structured content management systems. But it doesn’t typically cover audio and video material, except where it’s accompanied by text.

‘Governance’ refers to the work that goes into conceiving, producing and managing all that written content. This task is completed by everyone from marketing leaders and others who commission and manage content, to the writers and editors who create it, and the lawyers and compliance experts who approve it.

Governing content is a big job for a small business and a Herculean one for a global enterprise like Intel, for example. The conference heard that Intel maintains 195,000 pages on Intel.com, 182 microsites, 118 social media handles and 18 mobile apps – and that’s after a major program to rationalise its content over the past year or two. Before that effort, Intel had some 715 microsites and 324 social media handles.

Given the scale and complexity of the content management challenge, organisations have long turned to technology for help. They’ve implemented document management systems, content management systems, and translation and localisation management tools.

However, to date, these tools have all dealt with content as final objects and they have typically identified and managed those objects using categories, metadata and file names. The process of governing how content is created in the first place has largely relied on what Acrolinx’s CEO Dr Andrew Bredenkamp calls ‘passive’ tools such as writing style guides, and brand language or tone of voice guides. These are passive in that they are static documents that sit on a shelf or a server. They only come into play if a person creating content, or an editor or manager, consults them. This is better than nothing – and I’d note that at Editor Group we create style and brand language guides, use style guides and train people on how to use them – but there is plenty of room for improvement in this area.

For starters, every organisation should take the time to document how people should write, and they should ensure that advice is aligned to their brand, marketing and customer support and retention strategies. They should also consider how those guides are used and enforced.

What Acrolinx enables – and the reason we use the software and advocate that others consider it – is the ability to embed these core writing and brand language rules into software. This leads to two outcomes that can transform your capacity to govern content.

First, once the software is taught an organisation’s language style rules, authors can use it to guide them as they write in programs such as Word. To tell the author how they’re going, the software gives them a score and delivers instructions that have been tailored by the business. In other words, the software allows organisations to actively govern content as it’s created.

Secondly, those responsible for content can use the software to analyse existing material, assessing it for writing quality, adherence to guidelines and any areas of risk. For instance, Acrolinx can digest and grade a comprehensive website in minutes. The platform also provides analytics to allow managers to gain insights into the quality and characteristics of their content as material is written or after publication. This includes gaining a better understanding of how content varies between internal authors, teams and business units or external groups such as agencies.

This capability has only become possible with advances in AI and, specifically, in natural language processing – or the ability for computers to better ‘read’ content. As the idea of active content governance makes its way beyond Silicon Valley and Berlin (where Acrolinx is based), I expect to see many more enterprises trying to find ways to automate their content governance and to drive it down to the level of words. For many, this shift in mindset will be a necessary part of building their brands and managing risk as competitiveness comes to depend on the ability to generate more content more quickly for more audiences.

Whether you’re writing a signature white paper or defining how a chatbot should respond to a customer query, it’s likely that AI tools will play a bigger role in authoring and control. If you’d like to know more, please explore the links provided in this piece or contact me.

By Grant Butler

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