20 year content strategy veteran, Sharon Burton. Sharon Burton consults about content strategy, content business issues, social media and managing post-sales customer experience issues.

When good content development goes wrong

When good content development goes wrong
When good content development goes wrong
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Some thoughts about how good content development strategies can go wrong.

But first, science.

Carrying capacity

In environmental science, there is the concept of carrying capacity. From Wikipedia:

The carrying capacity of a biological species in an environment is the maximum population size of the species that the environment can sustain indefinitely, given the food, habitat, water and other necessities available in the environment.

The interesting thing about carrying capacity is that it’s elastic, at least where humans are concerned. If our technology for producing rice, for example, changes, resulting in more rice being produced, the population can increase because there is simply more food available to support the population, assuming that increase in rice production doesn’t significantly reduce the other environmental requirements, like available water. (Yes, that is a very long sentence!)

The trick is to not overdrive the ecosystem, throwing the entire thing out of balance. Overdriving the ecosystem typically results in the ecosystem collapsing, and usually takes many participants in the ecosystem with it. Then the whole thing starts over, with a different carrying capacity.

Carrying capacity of content development tools

As I was talking to a friend the other day, we realized this is the situation with the tool you’re using. It has a carrying capacity because it’s an eco-system. It allows you and your team to create and maintain a certain amount of content. At some point, there is a limit to how much content you can create and maintain, given the other resources involved in the ecosystem, such as time.

I think there is also an overdrive limit, in that there is too much content to create and maintain – I think the maintain part is critical here – and the whole thing collapses. I suspect we all know of content that no one has touched in years and no one knows if it’s even accurate or used any more. No one has time to look.

Reproduction rate is important here

There are 2 kinds of reproduction strategies, R and K.

  • R is the strategy of, for example, cats and dogs. Large litters of babies, short childhood, fast reproductive cycle. A dog can start reproducing in about 6 months and then could litter every 3 to 4 months for the rest of its life. Insects are far better, laying many many eggs and reproducing even faster. Low parental investment to get the kids to reproduction. The strategy is lots and lots of kids, turned out as fast as possible. It’s very easy for this reproductive strategy to overdrive the ecosystem.
  • K is the strategy of humans and other large animals, like elephants and whales. Low count birth events, long childhoods, few babies in a lifetime. Humans take almost a year to get a baby and it takes about 14 years for the babies to be able to reproduce. High parental investment to get the kids to reproduction. The strategy is fewer kids with lots to learn to be adults. It’s harder for this reproductive strategy to overdrive the ecosystem (possible, but harder).

Content and reproduction

So, let’s think about content types. I suspect content development has R and K strategies, too.

  • R content is produced quickly with an intended short life span. R content is turned out quickly. Some of it will survive and some will die, measured by value to customers. I’m thinking release notes, social media, and some marketing materials.
  • K content is slower with a longer intended life cycle. It takes more time to create and more of it will survive. I’m thinking user instructions, knowledgebase articles, and policy and procedures. I think this content is more focal to running the business and/or impacting the customer experience.

Bringing it all together

So, which content strategy are you using? And what is the carrying capacity of your ecosystem?

  • If you are using an R reproductive strategy with K content, you have a problem and you have probably exceeded the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. You are intentionally creating content you have little parental investment in and yet you expect the content to survive for a long time.
  • Similarly, if you are using a K strategy with R content, you also have a problem. Certainly, you’re not as responsive and everything takes far too long for what the content is going to do. In effect, people (probably customers) are surrounded with resources, none of which are quite ready so they’re really hungry.

Does this give you some insight into why you have huge amounts of content and feel overwhelmed? Perhaps you’ve exceeded the carrying capacity. Perhaps you’re reproductive strategy is the wrong one. Perhaps both.

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By Sharon Burton

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