The Mythic Bestiary: Content Owners

Shhhhh! Look over there!

The Neverland of content strategy is full of wondrous creatures. We invoke their names in meetings. Their titles appear on project plans. We assign them tasks and responsibilities, and we expect them to deliver. Of these legendary beasts, none is more elusive than the Content Owner.

Though we never see them working, like little elves, content owners mysteriously fill our web pages with high-quality, completely relevant, irresistible content. Chanting their spell of “lorem ipsum sit amet dolor…” they spin strawcases to gold and keep every project on-time, etc., etc.

Some of their powers they claim for themselves, and some we confer upon them:

Content owners want responsibility for creating and posting content.

If only we gave them complete freedom and access to the content management system (CMS), content owners could—and would!—take full responsibility for creating and posting all their own content. There would be no more bottlenecks! They would follow the styleguide. They would keep content fresh and current. And of course, because of the CMS’s WYSIWYG editor, they wouldn’t need to learn HTML or tagging.

Content owners are content experts.

Content owners know exactly what they want and how it should appear on a web page. They know how the navigation should work and which labels will eliminate confusion. They require minimal technical support, and can be relied upon to make savvy decisions. This is because…

Content owners understand the deepest desires of their audiences.

Content owners are continually in touch with their audiences and understand their requirements intimately. They have no need of data or testing. They have no time for research: Their content is too important for research, anyway. When cornered and pressed to support their assertions, they turn nasty and threaten spells to bring down the wrath of the C-Suite.

But if you ask me…

I don’t think Content Owners really exist—certainly not in these mythical terms. It’s all superstition, fairytale, and wishful thinking about some of the hardest work in publishing: Content Strategy.

There is no easy path to successful content, and the hard work cannot be foisted off onto content owners, even if they’re real—and real good—people serving in that role. They can be invited to help in the production process, but it’s too much to expect of them that they can do it all.

Yet on the other hand, content owners need to understand that they can’t do it by themselves. Content ownership is not content dictatorship. They may indeed know the information and subject matter that eventually becomes content, but it is precisely because they own it that they are not in the best position to turn it into good content. It requires distance and collaboration with content strategists.

Content must be planned and created in the context of all the disciplines of user experience. We can’t rely on elves or fairies—or even content owners—to make it happen by magic.

About: rsgracey

@rsgracey has spent his life moving from one area of interest to another, collecting knowledge, skills, and experience (and TOOLS!) for a wide range of creative and professional fields. If you need someone to help you "think through" any problem of information, communication, and the community, don't hesitate to call him in.

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