Every piece of content, regardless of its purpose and format, has a life cycle. Whether it’s a digital document, a blog or a website, content moves from creation to retirement through a series of phases. Although those phases take on different names across businesses and follow different sequences to suit different needs, the core life cycle of content stays the same: planning, developing and editing, managing, deploying, and evaluating.
Are you using a different process to manage your learning content? Has deviating from this life cycle worked for you, or has it affected your return on investment (ROI)? How so? You can answer these questions only if you understand the content life cycle and its correlation with ROI. With that goal in mind, let’s dive into exploring each of the five phases — each of which should be aligned with your learning processes and goals.
1. Planning a Content Workflow
Just like any successful initiative, the content life cycle needs planning. This phase involves:
- Analyzing learning goals and content needs.
- Creating a content management strategy that’s aligned with the learning goals.
- Defining measurable indicators that will determine whether the content management strategy is successful.
- Developing an information architecture or workflow that defines how your content will move through its life cycle.
- Defining content tags and categories, developing content models, defining standards and establishing guidelines that govern the creation of content in each category
Efficient planning in this phase lays the foundation for seamless content life cycle management. Then, if the team members involved in content life cycle management leave the organization, their replacements should be able to easily pick up where they left off. Can you imagine the time and effort (and money) you could save if you didn’t have to worry about transitions and knowledge transfer for processes and tasks within the content life cycle?
2. Developing and Editing Content
This phase is where new content is born or existing content reenters the content life cycle for the team to refresh or modify for a specific purpose, such as for a new audience or to update information. Beyond creation, this phase also involves:
- Identifying who is responsible for developing and editing content.
- Defining the time frame for creating and editing.
- Defining standards, guidelines, best practices, tools and formats.
- Identifying resources, references or subject matter experts (SMEs).
- Defining a process for content collation.
- Adding metadata and tagging the content with the right labels and to the right categories to facilitate search, retrieval and tracking.
Once again, besides saving time and effort, this phase adds clarity and relevance to the content itself, making it more useful for its consumers and giving your team the most bang for your buck.
3. Managing Content
This phase involves reviewing the content for accuracy, comprehensiveness, usability and appropriateness. The next step is storing it, securing it with read/write permissions for defined user roles, and approving it for deployment or publishing. While it’s clear that your team and your learners will benefit from efficient content management, this phase is also important from a compliance perspective. For example, if your organization is part of a regulated industry, such as banking, insurance or pharmaceuticals, it’s even more critical to ensure that all of your content is up to date and always reflects correct information. Failure to comply can lead to heavy fines and penalty.
4. Deploying or Publishing Content
Content without an audience is like a banquet without guests! This phase takes your content and brings it to life by facilitating its consumption. Can you imagine going through the entire content life cycle only to end up with a piece of content that is not usable because, for example, it was not localized for the region where you deployed it or because you published it in an inaccessible format? Deploying or publishing content, therefore, also includes:
- Assembling content into ready-to-consume formats like documents or webpages.
- Localizing content, if required.
- Rendering the content into desired delivery formats.
5. Evaluating Content for Removal, Archiving or Updating
In the final phase, it’s time to audit your content and decide whether it’s obsolete and needs to be removed, it still has shelf life and needs to be stored for further use, or it’s out of date and needs to be updated. You can audit your content directly or use technology or a user satisfaction survey to quantify the value of your content against a predetermined metric. This phase is critical not only to prevent you from wasting resources on obsolete content but also to kickstart the life cycle for fresh content that will be relevant and valuable to your learners.
With more clarity on the content life cycle, let’s revisit the questions asked earlier: Are you using a different life cycle to manage content for your business? Has it worked for you? If yes, great — but does it need enhancement? If not, is it missing a key phase discussed in this article? After all, the need for content life cycle management is real, but the process for it is simple and efficient.