Training: The Missing Element of Content Governance

Francis Zablocki presenting at HighEdWeb 2011

Building a content governance culture means we all need to be teachers — and students.

When people think about content governance, they often think roles, responsibilities, workflow and documentation. But there’s an element to content governance that is equally important and often overlooked: training.

Content governance means understanding existing expertise and knowledge gaps and training content contributors on policies, guidelines, workflow and best practices. To make sure your staff has the necessary expertise and the ability to do great work, training needs to be part of your governance plan.

Fundamentally, content governance requires educating everyone involved in the publishing process. But even more so, successful content relies on a cultural support for governance with active sharing and learning.

Building a content governance culture means we all need to be teachers — and students.

Who’s In Charge of Training?


Content training can’t exist in a vacuum. It has to be part of the governance process. This means training happens at every level within your institution.

An inspiring moment early in my career was hearing a website owner say, "Our website sucks because content owners don’t take responsibility for their content." This person was referring to department heads who ignored their content by not regularly publishing new content or maintaining existing content. They also didn’t know it was their job to do so — and even if they had known, they weren’t trained on how to do the work well.

If you’ve ever blamed content contributors for bad content when you haven’t provided them with the tools and training to do their work effectively, I’ve got some tough love for you: It’s not their fault the content is bad — it’s yours.

Of course, training can’t happen haphazardly. We need to get organized.

While your editor-in-chief should set the stage for content training, it takes a team to make training work. Consider identifying a small set of content professionals — content publishing experts and other people in leading content roles — to become trained experts on your content strategy, including related documentation, tasks and workflows.

Like all elements of content governance, training needs ownership to ensure that it happens — that proper training guides and lesson plans are created and that necessary training tools are made available.

Planning for Content Training

In order to create an appropriate content training plan, you need to understand available staff expertise, knowledge gaps and your audience.

Identify knowledge gaps

Because digital publishing requires such varied proficiencies, there will always be knowledge gaps for content contributors, regardless of their role. That’s to be expected. What’s important is that you’re aware of the gaps so that you can organize training sessions or acquire outside expertise as needed.

Here is a list of some common web content publishing areas of expertise that you should account for:

  • Web writing
  • CMS and other publishing tools
  • Copyediting
  • HTML/CSS/JavaScript
  • Metadata and taxonomy
  • Information architecture
  • SEO and findability
  • Accessibility and usability
  • Photography / editing
  • Video / editing
  • Page design and layout
  • Community management

After assessing knowledge gaps and available expertise, identify opportunities for internal cross-training or outside professional development. Content groups, which I’ll get to later, provide a valuable forum for cross-training.

Let’s consider two types of audiences for training: content experts and contributors.

Train content experts

Yep, train the trainers!

In order to bring everyone up to speed and establish a training model for content experts to support your governance plan with, you need to train them to do that work. In other words, help them to train others. Everyone needs help with training. No one can do this work alone.

Train content contributors

Once content experts are trained, it’s time for them to spread the love. Content contributors can be subject matter experts, content creators, approvers or publishers. Often they are the people on the front line of the publishing process — people who are actively involved but not content publishing experts.

Every step in the publishing process is a chance to educate. Rather than griping with colleagues by the Keurig machine about a poorly written enewsletter, use the situation as a learning opportunity. Content contributors can’t do great work if they aren’t trained to do so.

What if people don’t want to learn?

I’ve never heard someone say, “I love creating crappy content.” However, I have heard content contributors express frustration about not knowing how to create quality content.

Teaching requires patience and persistence. If people don’t respond well to your instruction, reevaluate your teaching methods. Content is political, and no one likes being told they’re wrong. Make training a positive experience.

Rather than just pulling out your red copyedit pen, demonstrate examples of good work and encourage dialogue so people understand why change is necessary, not just what needs to change.

Teaching is tough, no doubt. We could all stand to be better teachers.

Content Training Checklist

So, where do you start with training? What topics should you cover? The following checklist provides a starting point for evaluating training needs:

  • Are staff trained on content policies, processes and guidelines?
  • Do you have adequate documentation, including guides for editorial style, SEO, accessibility, usability, delivery methods, content types and formats?
  • Have you made messaging and communication goals useful and usable for content contributors?
  • Do you make content contributors aware of changes in web policies, processes and guidelines?

Foster a Content Culture

As I mentioned, a successful content strategy relies on cultural support for governance. To help foster a supportive content culture, provide forums for sharing and learning about content strategy. While formal training sessions can be helpful — particularly when you’re discussing big changes in policies, processes or tools — I find less formal discussions to be most effective. Make learning fun.

One of the greatest challenges of working on the web is that there’s always something new to learn. None of us can know it all. Publishing on the web requires dozens of skill sets and varied expertise. Let’s learn from each other.

Content groups

To encourage support for your content strategy and to enable collaboration and training, create content groups as a forum for sharing and learning. You can keep content group meetings small to allow for more dialogue or large to allow for broad training.

Content groups can be used for:

  • Discovering content and publishing problems
  • Encouraging feedback from content contributors in all roles
  • Enabling cross-training and information sharing
  • Informing staff on content governance policy and workflow changes

Keep meetings focused and useful, but encourage open discourse to uncover problems, solutions, concerns and opportunities.

To foster cross-training and information sharing, assign a training topic to someone for each meeting. Use regular meetings to share expertise.

Maybe one day Steve from your editorial team presents on word usage and grammar, and another day Sally from the design team presents on wireframes and responsive web design. Encourage assigned trainers to demonstrate expertise in a particular area or to research and present on a topic of interest.

Think interdisciplinary. Content doesn’t belong just to content editors; it belongs to everyone in the publishing process. And if we’re going to learn what we need to know in order to do stellar work on the web, we must consider the full scope of expertise.

Publish content guides

Okay, getting back to basics, consider your content guides for training and learning. To be useful, content guides and tools need to be easily accessible. Hard-to-find or hard-to-access documentation becomes a deterrent for content contributors and hinders buy-in for your content strategy and the content culture you’re trying to foster.

Publish documentation in a shared workspace. When deciding where to publish documentation, consider what will make it as easy to access as possible.

Encourage and document feedback

Real FAQs rarely happen in planned meetings — they happen when someone is trying to format a pull quote, optimize a photo for the web, copyedit a news story and so on. Make it easy for people to ask questions and find answers when it really counts.

An internal wiki or “knowledge database” can be a great training tool. Encourage people to post questions and answer others’ questions. Curate these real FAQs into searchable learning guides. These topics also become great fodder for more formal training or content group discussions.

How do you support content training at your institution? What methods work well for you?

Photo by HighEdWeb / Flickr Creative Commons.

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About Rick Allen

Rick Allen has worked in higher education for over twelve years, helping to shape web communications and content strategy. As principal of ePublish Media, Inc, a web publishing and content strategy consultancy in Boston, Mass., Rick works with knowledge-centric organizations to create and sustain effective web content. Keep going »


  1. Jennifer Chance says:

    Yes yes yes! It’s so nice to see this focus. Our group was just talking about this yesterday and I’d like to share a few things that really made a difference for us.

    We’ve made an effort to really work on our user education and training and it has definitely paid off for us. We’ve done it in such a way that not only is it improving the level of content passing through but also gives us more time to focus on our work and less time running around doing one-off training and support.

    Tools that have helped us include:

    Online CMS Training using videos –

    Content approval paths where we approve or deny content. With each approval or denial we set up our CMS to send our comments to the users who submitted the work. We give helpful notes on why and how to improve their content.

    Open lab time. We come out of the basement and into a lab for Web Team Helping Happy Hour (2:30-4) two days a week. Not only do we consolidate the time we would spend running around helping folks, but it also gets our content editors talking to and helping each other.

    Our users also love our twice a week helpful tips we email to our email list and checking out our blog:

    We reference Meet Content quite a bit. :)

    Thanks for the quality content!

  2. Rick, your Knowledge Gap bullet points are a wonderful list of potential training topics. (bookmarked) Thank you!

What do you think?