three forks with shadows
PHOTO: Ursula Spaulding

Content curation is an important part of maintaining intranets and enterprise social networks, and potentially other systems or tools within your broader digital workplace. The concept also has implications and deep interconnections with content governance and in providing high quality search results.

Curation is defined as the act or process of selecting, organizing and looking after items in a collection or exhibition. This makes sense when we think of museum collections having curators. An updated definition for electronic information is: the selection, organization and presentation of online content, merchandise, information, etc., typically using professional or expert knowledge.

Taking the major elements of the definition as our headings, we create a Venn diagram of the overlapping elements of content curation that looks like this:

elements of content curation for intranets and ESN

Let’s examine these different overlapping major elements of content curation in detail.

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Content Selection

If selection is an important part of content curation, what exactly can this mean? I would suggest the selection of the following are elements to be taken into consideration:

  • Selecting the right content for the right context: Select the appropriate information for the place, or the appropriate place to put the information in context
  • Select the right medium: What works better to convey the information, text or graphics? Audio or video? Web page or PDF?
  • Targeting: Select the right content for a specific target audience. This may also mean selecting to present the information in a place where you know that target audience will be looking — the right site or page on the intranet, the right community within the ESN.
  • Select the appropriate corporate tone for the information: Delivering a regulatory notice can be done in a different tone than seeding a discussion in a community on the ESN.
  • Select the contextually fitting style of presentation for the information, which may in turn require the selection of a standard template.
  • Perhaps most importantly, select the right people to create the content! These could be a full time intranet team, corporate communications people, or business people with the right subject matter expertise, or more likely a mixture of all of the above (and others too).

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Content Organization

The overlap with the second set of considerations is selecting how to organize your content, or, in the bigger picture, how to organize your entire intranet, your enterprise social network, or your consolidated digital workplace. There are many ways to organize information and its presentation, and each business will need to find the way that works best for its needs, but we can consider the overall information architecture, including:

  • Site hierarchy for the intranet if appropriate.
  • Number, type and organization of communities.
  • Developing (or selecting existing) taxonomies or ontologies for organizing content.
  • Developing (or selecting existing) metadata schema’s for tagging content, some of which might be solely for the purpose of organizing it (metadata-driven navigation for example).
  • Organizing the editorial process, including an editorial calendar for what content gets presented when.

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Content Stewardship

The final heading of the three overlapping major elements of content curation is "looking after." Looking after your content will probably include a lot of what be considered content management and certainly may leverage the features and functionality of a content management system to undertake what is often called content gardening — the systematic care and feeding of content, including pruning it.

  • Looking after content includes many aspects of content governance: Who can publish what and when, and via what workflow, and who are the reviewers and approvers.
  • Frequency of content review: Content should never be published without a review process in place. This may be linked to records retention schemas, in turn derived from the regulatory environment.
  • Frequency of updates: Don’t let content go stale. An important part of looking after content is keeping it fresh and relevant to its audience.
  • Archiving or deletion of content: As important as the creation of and updating of content is knowing when to remove it! This might mean archiving it, based on your retention schedules or any regulatory drivers for your industry, but eventually it will mean deletion. Pruning is important to an intranet. Cutting away dead content provides breathing space for new information to bloom.
  • Looking after communities within an ESN or on a consolidated social intranet platform is a major task in and of itself, requiring considerable time and effort. Whether you have full time community managers, or people tasked with management part-time as part of another job, curation of each community takes all the above into consideration.

All of the above factors, and many others which I am sure I have missed, are involved with curating the content. And although my focus has been on internal content curation on the intranet and ESN, the same elements apply to curating customer-facing websites on the public internet.

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The Connection Between Search and Content Curation

In closing I'd like to return to the idea I brought up in last month's column, about the notion that search engines are not magical devices, but ones that may apply a ton of useful features and functionality but can still suffer from “garbage in, garbage out” syndrome. Keeping this in mind, it shouldn't take a massive leap of imagination to see how well curated content should have a positive impact on search results. 

Within my own organization, my colleagues have been making a concerted effort to discover and  remove dead content. Their efforts have resulted in the removal of thousands of pages from the enterprise intranet. By reducing the corpus of content that has to be indexed, it in turn should increase the relevancy of search results, because nothing annoys search users more than finding an 8-year-old page that just happens to have a great title, a ton of pertinent key words, and a bunch of other properties that the search algorithm likes, but no relevant information. Search and information discovery will clearly benefit from good content curation, but at the end of the day it's your audience and your readers who will benefit in multiple ways, from content that is well looked after.