The Elephant In The Room


6 min read

Posted by Fintan O'Byrne on February 17, 2022

The Elephant In The Room

Spotting the content elephant in the wild

Here is a very content looking elephant in the wild. With his extended family, a dusty savannah and a friendly watering hole, what else could his elephant-shaped heart desire? (Interesting fact - elephants' hearts are more rounded than most mammals.)

However, we are not here to talk about this very content elephant. Instead, the elephant we are attempting to track down is the one that may be lurking behind you at this very moment and is standard across organisations, large and small. Where once these elephants were to be found roaming around shared office spaces, they are now like us, working remotely. We are, of course, talking about what is perhaps the largest unnoticed elephant in the room (and on the Zoom) on web projects today - content!

This post will equip you, the intrepid wildlife spotter, with tools to successfully track the content elephant in your organisation & projects and what to do about them.

Tell-tale signs of the content elephant

Are you planning a significant overhaul of your website? Are you struggling with an old creaky website that has grown 'arms and legs?' Do you have a recently launched shiny new website but are missing essential templates to deliver the latest awareness campaign or roll out a new section on case studies? Is the last news item in your 'Latest News' feed on your homepage more than two months old?

Each of these scenarios provides ideal habitats for the content elephant. Suppose you recognise your organisation in one or more of these scenarios; congratulations. In that case, you are a step closer to spotting the content elephant in the room, which may be going completely unnoticed.

The content elephant thrives in this blind spot

Organisations will often be acutely aware of content issues plaguing their online presence but sometimes will - with all the best intent in the world - look to the wrong solutions. This can be symptomatic of a content blind spot where the elephant can take up residence.

For example, we have heard what we might call the 'Argument from Technology' many times. This can be found in business cases to change out one Content Management System (CMS) for another, and it goes something like this (I paraphrase) - "Our CMS is clunky and non-intuitive to use. As a result, the content on our website has become unmanageable!"

If you have heard the 'Argument from Technology' in your organisation, look over your shoulder quickly and see if you can catch the content elephant unawares!

More recently, we have heard the 'Argument from Design', this involves - you guessed it - a website redesign, and it goes something like this - "Our design is stale and out of date. We need a new engaging design, and this will allow us to fix all our content issues."

If you have heard the 'Argument from Design' in your organisation, you may be starting to become aware of the hairs in the back of your neck standing up as the content elephant watches you just out of view.

Of course, often, the slam dunk home run argument will be some combination of the two ideas.

The appeal of the shiny and the new

Now there are always going to be cases to re-platform to a new Enterprise CMS, just as there will be very well-founded cases to redesign your website. However, when unpacking these business cases, it is worth paying attention to whether included in the trunk (pun intended) is a red carpet for the content elephant. After all, when confronted by the very messy and non-sexy slog of content and governance, there is understandable comfort to be derived from all things that are shiny and new - a shiny new CMS and a shiny new design.

It is also true that shiny new things can give some runway for organisations to experience relative content serenity. This is because to deliver a shiny new CMS or design, experienced agencies will challenge legacy content structures and collaborate closely on re-aligning through a content audit and extensive Information Architecture exercise.

However, if there is an unnoticed content elephant in residence after the website launch, watch as your website loses its veneer. In 5 years, a new business case based on the 'Argument from Technology' or 'Argument from Design' is drafted.

You cannot live off the tailwinds of a new website launch forever.

Content Ops

One of the most complex challenges about content is that (unlike technology or design) it is not a business function organisations can fully delegate to a third party. Since most companies cannot hire a dedicated content team, content tasks are often assigned internally to various resources. So perhaps you are a Business Analyst who has also been identified as a 'Subject Matter Expert' or a Delivery Lead who is also a 'Content Owner.' Great, you are now part of the content solution, but ask yourself - (cue: tirade of rhetorical questions) - do you feel saddled with this responsibility? Is it is something you can plan for, or do you need to 'fit it in? Is there an agreed workflow of content approval? Is there a shared location for content? Do you have a complete understanding of the design constraints and features you need to take into account? Does the company adopt best practice 'writing for the web' guidelines? Is there a policy around accessibility? Is there a senior editor who can help align all content to a singular corporate tone of voice?

These are some of the elements that can be grouped under the umbrella of 'Content Operations' (Content Ops). Think of Content Ops as the meeting place of people, processes and technology that provides a framework for the coordinated and efficient production of quality content.

The organisation’s work is to see, name, and respect the content elephant in the room. Companies with a mature Content Ops function know how to separate the conversation about content from technology and design. As a result, these companies make better investments with more significant ROI in both technology and design, precisely by not running afoul of the 'Argument from Technology' and 'Argument from Design' approaches to content challenges.

The content elephant wants you to be happy too!

By investing in a Content Ops function in your organisation, you pay due respect to the content elephant in the room, first by noticing it, then by naming it and finally by learning to live with it; after all, the content elephant wants you to be happy too!

So invite your friendly content elephant to all key Zoom and in-person meetings and talk about the content challenge as distinct from your technology platform and your website design. Whether that's a governance conversation, a compliance conversation, a house style conversation, an accessibility conversation, or a planning conversation, the content elephant should always be a required attendee.

By doing so, you will find that you will get more value out of your existing CMS and design by keeping your online presence true to your North Star. Your customers will be happier, your content more inclusive, your support desk will thank you, and then when you are ready for a new platform or new design, you will be able to take that bold step for the fantastic benefits that these can bring.

Let us know if you are looking for a partner to help you track, spot, and make friends with your content elephant. We are experts in helping organisations solve complex Content Operations needs and maximise the benefits of their technology and design stacks.

About the Author

Fintan O'Byrne
Fintan O'Byrne

Fintan joined Arekibo in 2004 and is currently Head of UX. Fintan has a keen interest in digital strategy.