Interview with Scott Abel, “The Content Wrangler” – Part 2

This is the second part of IntelligentHQ interview with Scott Abel, AKA “The Content Wrangler”. In this excellent conversation, Abel, one of the foremost thought leaders in the field of content strategy, explains how social media and technology are changing content and highlighting its footprint and reach. Also Abel discusses among various important subjects related with content and its 360 degrees management how to leverage its reach and power in these disruptive times, the social media impact and changes it is going through, the related SEO areas, localisation and education.

what is the ROI of content in Social Media? Scott Abel, AKA Content Wrangler via IntelligentHQ

8. How are mobile, apps, and social media changing the way content is created, managed, and delivered today?

That’s a great question. Mobile is easy. It makes it possible for anyone, virtually anywhere, to request content they need and—hypothetically—have it delivered to them on-demand. Apps for mobile devices are designed to help consumers obtain specific bits of information for increasingly specific reasons. There are apps to help you plan your daily commute. Find a sushi restaurant. Keep track of changes to travel itineraries. Teach you how to perform a task or determine whether you are meeting physical fitness goals.There are apps designed to do just about anything you can imagine. But, they rely on components of information to be served up in a way a computer software program (an app) can handle. That means it’s no longer enough to give your customers a giant PDF or website containing all the answers they might need and then force them to search through it. That takes took long and isn’t conducive to the mobile experience. That’s why organizations are taking a serious look at XML, component content management and the delivery of semantically-aware content that can adapt to the needs of the information consumer. Content needs to be modular, granular, and adaptable.

Scott Abel AKA “The Content Wrangler”

Social has changed all the rules. I’m not going to wax poetic on all of the many changes, it’s been the focus of both technology and mainstream media. But, aside from helping to equalize the relationship between consumers and brands, educational institutions and students, and governments and citizens, social media has also made us think differently about the value of our content. What’s the ROI of a piece of content that was published on your website, but has been shared subsequently by site visitors to their Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter followers? If there’s a value and it’s deemed to be significant (and it can be and often is) shouldn’t all content have a share button? And, if there is a value, what is the lost opportunity cost of not making our content social-ready and sharable to the widest degree possible?

9. These are disruptive times. What does the big picture look like in a world where digital content is playing an increasingly important role and technology is moving faster than most organizations are able to change?

Change only happens once someone or something acts as an instigator. A disruptor. A reason for change. Unfortunately for many—if not most—organizations, the speed of change is far exceeding the ability of the organization to respond. The solution isn’t agile or lean development, although many organizations see this as critical to reducing the negative impact of process bottlenecks. Eliminating unnecessary steps and keeping folks on task (working toward a common goal with frequent touch point meetings) is a great place to start, but the real challenge is in stopping long enough to develop a strategy that is both scalable and sustainable. Far too many organizations skip this step in search of short term gains. But, as technology continues to push us forward, shortening the time line without using the time saved to innovate is a huge mistake. The big picture is about applying manufacturing techniques (lean, agile, just-in-time delivery) to all other associated parts of an organization. It’s not enough to be hyper-efficient on the manufacturing floor. Content needs to be manufactured and follow a process that seeks to rid an organization of unnecessary and expensive manual tasks; tasks better performed by computers. As more and more organizations realize that putting 80% of the effort into upfront planning can pay off in ways that not only provide savings, but make them better prepared for challenges, threats and other disruptions, this will be less of a problem. But, today, we’re still wasting far to much time doing things the way we always have, just with a few new tools in the mix.

10. What advice do you have for business leaders looking to leverage the power of content? 

That’s easy. Take an honest look at how you do things today. Seek outside scrutiny. Find out exactly what the current state is in your organization. Then ask yourself—and your team—why your organizations does things the way you do? Find out what the intent of the content being produced is; what it costs to create, manage, deliver and archive. Learn how they measure success. And, then determine if there’s a positive return on investment for your effort. If you can’t show it, chances are there’s loads of room for improvement.

Content Production Scott Abel Interview with IntelligentHQ

Content production is not the exclusive turf of creative types any longer. It’s now a hybrid space where art and science must come together in ways that are repeatable, automatable, and defensible. If you start to think of your content as a business asset—just like parts in an inventory, people on a team, or dollars in savings account—you’ll soon see that leaving it to employees to decide is a huge mistake. Content decisions are strategic decisions that impact business in ways those making decisions are often unaware. One change made upstream in the creative department can have negative consequences downstream where others reuse content, leverage it for support activities, or translate and localize it for customers in other countries. If you look closely, with the help of someone who understands the bigger picture, you will not only find places where great waste exists, but you’ll also find opportunities to fine-tune your organisations so it is lean and much better able to pivot to address the fast-changing business landscape.

11. What are the main challenges in a digital world providing translated, localized content?

The biggest obstacle is recognising that we are in a hyper-connected world. Social communities and networks have broken down geographic barriers that prevented us, in the past, from connecting to one another. Now we just need to overcome the last remaining hurdles: language, culture, and locale. Businesses have to rethink the way they create content in a global world, and they have to re-engineer their processes, retool, and sometimes, restaff. Or, at a minimum, retrain existing staff to think differently. The opportunities to expand outside traditional markets are no longer limited to the big, multinational firms. Today, the digital revolution has leveled the playing field, making it possible for small- and medium-sized organizations to reach new markets, develop new revenue streams, and expand their brand. But, in order to do it right, we’ll need to address issues of culture, language, and locale. It’s not easy, but for those who succeed, the opportunities are many.

12. How is SEO changing in the global, mobile on-demand content world?

Search engine optimization (SEO) has traditionally been thought of as something that is done after content is created. That view is outdated and no longer relevant. What’s needed is to move optimization activities upstream and stop thinking about optimizing for search engines and start thinking about optimizing for human beings. Humans rely on search to find content. But, they also use the words they choose to use—their own vocabulary words—to search for content, not the ones we (or Google) thinks they might use. And, when multiple languages enter the equation, things get even more complex.

Savvy organizations are starting to adopt terminology management methods and tools to their arsenal. Tools like Acrolinx ( help organizations control the words their content creators use at the source—in the authoring tool at the time the content is created.

While this level of control alone is important, it’s also imperative to listen to the words used by customers. When you pay attention to the words your customers—and industry influencers—use in blog posts, in presentations, in online communities, and in the comments field of social media sites and groups, you can incorporate them into your content. Once indexed by search engines, your content becomes more findable…without the magic of black hat SEO firms.

Of course, that only solves the challenge in one language. If you’re going global, you’ll need to adopt a more robust, multilingual SEO strategy. Mastering multilingual search means optimizing web content so search results for the site appear in search engines regardless of language or region.  This allows, as SEO expert Richard Brooks says, your “content to be found and consumed by more people than the nearest competitor by increasing findability in search engines result pages regardless of the language of search.”

13. What are some of the most important content events you participate in?

In 2014 there are a mix of events on my roster—events I recommend highly for others looking to optimize their content and make it work for them. Here’s a short list of the key events I’m participating in:

  • Intelligent Content Conference 2014 Theme: Deliver the right content, to the right people, anywhere, any time, on any device February 26-28, San Jose, CA
  • Digital Strategy Conference Essentials of Digital Strategy: April 29-May 1, Vancouver, BC
  • Society for Technical Communication Summit: May 18-21, Phoenix, AZ
  • Localization World 2014 Dublin Disruptive Innovation: June 4-6, Dublin, Ireland
  • Content Marketing World: September 8-11, Cleveland, OH
  • Information Development World 2014 The Conference for Technical, Marketing, and Product Information Developers: October 22-24, San Jose, CA
  • tcworld Conference and tekom Trade Fair: November 11-13, Stuttgart, Germany

14. Are there differences in the way companies manage content around the world?

Yes, indeed. In the US there is a big move toward the adoption of structured information standards. It’s not a uniform move, but some sectors of the content community are clearly more advanced in this area. Technical communicators, for example, have been using the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) to help them create, manage, and deliver content to multiple channels, often automatically. These sectors see content as an asset and work to optimize their production processes so their organizations are highly efficient. They used the time saved to innovate.

However, the majority of the US business market (marketing, sales, web, HR) have yet to adopt the best practices developed by technical communication pros. As such, they waste a lot of time unnecessarily.

DITA adoption outside of the US is slower, but happening. Companies in the EU, Japan, and China have started moving away from creating unstructured content and toward creating structured XML content, sometimes using DITA. In countries like Germany, especially in the manufacturing sectors, and in other nations in the defense, aerospace, and pharmaceutical sectors, companies are also creating structured content, but usually to an industry or corporate specification (DTD or schema), not necessarily in the same way that they are in the US. But, this is changing as companies realize the need for content to be interoperable between departments, divisions and other silos.

And, there is also a strong incentive for companies that might be purchased by a bigger firm to put their content into an open standard like DITA, because doing so makes the company more attractive to companies that might like to acquire or merge with them. Structured content is often significantly easier (read, less expensive) to integrate into an existing content production workflow, saving the acquiring company from spending time and money unnecessarily attempting to make content from the new company fit into their existing systems.

The Content Wrangler – IntelligentHQ

15. You are on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley. Tell us a little about your work there.

I’m a lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Information. Currently, I co-teach a class on eBook production with Dr. Robert Glushko—an amazingly brilliant information management expert in his own right. We’re exploring the best practices and lessons learned in the digital publishing projects, hoping to produce a Best Practices Handbook to help organizations move successfully into the eBook publishing arena. We’re also exploring the creation of an institute or center for eBook publishing innovation. But, we’re still in the early stages.

Berkeley, like many universities, is undergoing a series of changes, including the incorporation of many more professionals as instructors and lecturers. When combined with the deep knowledge of the academically-inclined (historically, the role filled by professors), classroom offering better reflect the needs of the industries in search of experienced knowledge workers. It’s our job to prepare students for the real-world job market, which, moves as fast as technology does.

Universities, although attempting to become more agile and responsive to changing business needs, are still much slower than the market at large. As such, change at the university level happens at a snail’s pace compared to changes that happen in most industries. I’m hoping to help my university meet those needs through small. but necessary changes. After all, change is good.

University of California Berkeley

16. How must education change in order to prepare students to write for the mobile, social world?

First, we have to start teaching students practical skills. Whether they are writers or not, they need to understand code. They don’t need to be programmers, but they need to understand how content and computers work together (and more importantly, when and why they don’t work together and what to do about it). I also think we’ll need to teach writers that their special skill isn’t writing good prose. Sure, they should be able to do this. It’s imperative. But, it’s not a special skill worthy of high salaries. But, if you add niche industry knowledge or some practical skills (like writing for reuse, XML, and multi-channel publishing) then writers can avoid becoming a commodity and be hired to deliver value that writing alone cannot.

We also need to teach writers to be information foragers. Finding and organizing information created by others is an easy way to add value to the original content we create. Schools need to teach students to be curators of content exhibits. They need to learn how to marry their content with the content assets available on the web. And, they need to start thinking less about the old rules that prevent us from disrupting the status quo. The easiest way to think about what needs to change in education is to imagine Apple, Google, Oracle, Coca-Cola, NASA, Cisco, Roche, or Eli Lilly as universities. What classes would they offer? What skills would they try to develop in their students? And, how would what they might teach differ from what universities actually offer today? There’s a big lesson in there for universities up to the challenge.

Part 1 of this interview: Interview with Scott Abel, “The Content Wrangler” – Part1