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Once a CMS is up and running, either you, your team members, or your clients will be responsible for not only creating and editing content, but controlling the entire lifecycle of the content as well. Obviously, this will mean drastically different things depending upon the size of your CMS and the goals of your organization. But it is helpful to understand what content lifecycle is and the things you can do to control it. Content lifecycle is exactly what it sounds like. It is the path your content takes, from creation all the way to archiving. This lifecycle will largely depend upon your goals, your system's capabilities, and on how you intend to use your content.
As we go through the content lifecycle, you're likely to ask what the difference is between the content lifecycle and the CMS workflow. Well, that's a good question. Both are intertwined and planning for one will likely impact or drive the planning for the other. A content lifecycle is a little different in that it focuses solely on the content portion of the workflow and that not all aspects of the content lifecycle are tied directly into the CMS workflow. As with most of the subjects I have discussed in this chapter, if you don't have a plan in place to control your content lifecycle, it could end up controlling you.
How you control your content's lifecycle will largely depend upon your CMS. Some have very sophisticated tools that will track your content, remove it, archive it, and delete it based on your systems preferences. In other cases, almost all of this will have to be done manually. Now whatever the method, you need to have policies in place to control your content's lifecycle that are logical and are ingrained into the CMS workflow. Now these policies are often referred to as your content's governance, and in larger organizations having one is particularly important.
Governance policies should define clearly who has ownership of what content, set policies for when content should be transferred, define workflow processes, set periodic policy reviews, and set terms for content end-of-life. That's a lot to cover, so let's take it step by step. Your content's lifecycle actually starts out before the content is ever created. When you're analyzing your site's content needs, you should be able to categorize content before it is created to help guide its lifecycle.
Is it content that should be archived? Will you need to track various versions of it? Will you need an audit trail to track contributors along the way. Thinking further down the line will allow you to define when and if it should be archived, whether it is a permanent part of the site, and if the content is suitable for reuse. Now, thinking ahead means that you can place the content in the proper channel and already have rules in place to guide it. Next, during content creation is when you have the greatest opportunity to influence how the content is handled.
Meta-tagging, categorizing, and applying rules to the content can help continue to guide its path all the way through its lifespan. Must content will either be uploaded, if it's a specific file type, so it is just images, video or documents, or entered in to the CMS through the WYSIWYG editor. If your CMS has the tools to apply rules, permissions, or meta-tags during this process, make sure you do so. Adding these in later is difficult, and most authors won't take the time to do so after the content is already in the system.
If your content will go through an editing process, the rules that guide your content life cycle will determine much of the editing workflow. If your CMS has the ability, you may want to take advantage of using audit trails. Audit trails allow you to track content each time it has interacted with. It tracks who interacts with the content and why. It's a great way to assess both content and workflow, and you can set up internal logic to retire content after so many edits, or to tag content for review after a certain number of processes.
You might also want to look into some type of version control for this part of the lifecycle. Versioning allows you to keep every version of content, from the first one to the last, and will often allow you to compare edits and the history side by side. I feel like I should mention here that version control isn't a common feature on most content management systems, and I've rarely seen it work effectively. However, in the right workflow versioning can help you manage the overall content lifecycle effectively. The publishing stage of your content lifecycle should be governed carefully as well.
Are the distribution channels clearly defined? Have you thought out how creating content can be appropriated and reused by other departments or for marketing campaigns and what that process might look like? Do you have mechanisms in place for repurposing content for mobile devices? More importantly, if content is reused and repurposed, what systems do you have in place to track and analyze whether or not the content is effective? When writing these policies, you should first think about all eventualities, how they are going to affect content lifecycle, and then which mechanisms you can use to enforce or enable these policies.
We also need to thoroughly test your delivery methods to make sure the content is presented as expected in each channel. Finally, your lifecycle governance should contain archiving and removal policies. How long should content stay within your system? What triggers a piece of content to be removed? If it's removed, is it deleted or archived? If it is archived, what type of archiving and categorization of archived content do you need? In some instances, archived content can be used to create knowledge bases, frequently asked questions, or used to trace the history of the organization.
Archive content itself presents an opportunity. Should archived content be stored in a separate repository and should it be accessible to all users of your site or only for internal users? Perhaps most important, can content be removed from archives and reused, and how is that process detailed? Now, that's a lot to think about. How much of this process you need to manage will depend upon the size of your organization and the complexity of your content model. However, from the small site to the largest, if you're managing content, you need to put some thought into the content's lifecycle, define it, and make sure policies are in place that can control the content lifecycle.
Without this, your workflow can become a jumbled, reactionary mess, and you won't get as much value out of your content long-term as you should.
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