A letter to the editor: why content is as important as capability in the digital realm

Here’s a dose of irony for you. As head of experience at a digital agency, lately I’ve been using the analogy of a magazine or newspaper to convey the ongoing requirements for delivering successful modern web platforms, such as apps or sites, especially when it comes to content and quality.

The purpose of this analogy is to raise the issue of content and content ownership through a medium that’s well understood by our clients and introduce the idea of the Big, Bad Editor. You know the stereotype: a pen-wielding, profanity-uttering, whiskey-swilling, ruthlessly intimidating but brilliant individual who would have raised an eyebrow over the number of commas in this sentence. Or maybe that’s just me watching too many ‘80s newsroom flicks.

The point here is understanding the importance of the editor, the role they play and how this can be shifted into the digital realm. Traditionally, the editor is a hugely respected figure within an organisation. A great editor is all about content and quality and, critically, they’re focused on delivering what their audience wants, as much as what their organisation needs.

The parallels here with digital are important. When working in digital it’s easy to focus on capability, what a platform can do from a functional perspective, ahead of content. But the best digital projects allow content and capability to shape and influence each other throughout the creative process. Both aspects define the actual experience, and you can’t reflect the needs and goals of your users without thinking about both the content they want and how they will interact with it.

It’s in this layer of interaction where digital elevates and transcends traditional mediums (imagine if you could ‘search’ a printed magazine) to deliver utility beyond information and entertainment. But great content is still the main reason an audience will engage with a platform. In an always-on digital world, expectations have changed around the volume of content we produce and the pace of delivery across a range of platforms. We now expect a constant feed. Balancing frequency with quality is a real challenge.

The ground has shifted. The days of delivering a site or app and then revisiting in a year are gone. We need new models to deliver constantly for digital and there are varied approaches that organisations are employing and evolving daily. Much as digital has transcended and enhanced traditional mediums, the role of the editor has evolved to encapsulate capability and content together through the lens of the user.

Paul Boag writes an excellent manifesto titled ‘Digital Adaptation’ that focuses on organisational change and empowered digital teams to help businesses truly embrace digital. One of his key tenets is appointing a strong digital lead.

To paraphrase Boag: “If the digital team is to take such a pivotal role in transforming a business to better utilise digital tools … it requires strong, experienced leadership. Somebody with the knowledge of digital and business experience to shape how the organisation uses digital.”

One of the best ways to do this is by focusing on content and leveraging the easily understood role of the traditional editor into being a central figure for digital, the ‘uber’ editor or digital lead if you will.

A great example of an effective digital lead is embodied by Mike Bracken, previously the director of digital development at The Guardian News & Media, and now responsible for driving digital transformation on the gov.uk platform. Bracken and his team have reimagined how government functions in the digital space through a focus on content and user needs. The design principles and content strategy his team have put in place make for inspirational reading.

Speaking of inspiration, see how a focus on user needs driven by content and capability works for you with your next digital project. Ask yourself, who owns quality and who will push your platform forward, tomorrow and a year from now. You might be the terrifying and inspiring uber editor your organisation needs to build digital destinations your audience will love and deliver digital results that your business will love even more.

  • Mark Glenn is head of experience at Touchcast
  • This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of NZ Marketing. 

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