An off-the-shelf CMS is not tailor-made for your content, and may quickly become a straitjacket

At this year’s Barcamp Lagos event, quite a number of issues were raised decrying the lack of engagement offered by Nigerian websites. Almost all of those problems traced their roots to a lack of focus on content by the websites in question. How is this?

A growing trend today, is the massive adoption of open source Content Management Systems (CMS) by Nigerian organisations as the key to solving their website problems hence the rise of solutions such as Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress, etc. As at last count there were 134 documented CMS / Portals and many more in the wild.

Don’t get me wrong content management systems are not a bad thing, but an off-the-shelf CMS is not tailor-made for your content, and may quickly become a straitjacket that puts your precious content in jeopardy. Most companies end up spending precious energies and revenue on their CMS rather than focusing on their content. In the long run, frustration sets in and the content gets subsumed beneath the CMS.

Trying to fix an organization’s content problems by installing a content management system (CMS) is like trying to save a marriage by booking a holiday. We know that a successful web project needs a content strategy… Strategic Content Management

The valid approach for a new website project or a re-design is firstly, to understand the business goals of the organization and what the user experience of the end-users should be. With these at the back of the mind, the in-house editor (or an external content strategy expert) identifies and analyses the organization’s content and defines how it should be organized and at the same time, trying to establish a relationship between seemingly disparate content in order to make it more relevant to the project’s goals. This relationship should lead to a sustainable content model for the project- the content strategy.

Content is substance. No matter the platform, publication, or format, content refers to everything that conveys meaning:
“Content includes the text, graphics, video, and audio that make up an interactive experience.”—Kristina Halvorson

Based on the content model, a content management system is then developed or customized to help deliver the user engagement sought and at the same time achieving the organisation’s goals.

A CMS, unlike some IT departments may lead you to think, is not a bunch of features. A good CMS should work for content by enabling the content model and thus provide the experience. This is why in many cases, it’s almost impossible to get a CMS that works off the shelf for your project. In most cases you’ll require customisation, sometimes dauntingly extensive customisation.

For a CMS to help achieve the organization’s objective it needs to have a light foot-print in other words-it needs to work for content, that’s why WebCrafter is built and deployed according to the content model of the organization. Another good example is Perch by Edge of my seat.

Content is King

But the problem of content strategy is not only restricted to the web, Nigerian politics and music is also taking a hit from this.

Take as example the recently conducted Nigerian Presidential Debates for the 2011 elections. Almost all the live discussions online surrounding the debate focused on every other thing except what the candidates actually proposed in their rhetoric. Why bother have debates at all, if it’s not to stoke the conversations that analyse the content to help the SELECT and VOTE process for #RSVP as#NigeriaDecides. Or were the debates another attempt at content management without focusing on the content? Bankole Oluwafemi gives more perspective on this with A Tale of Leaking Umbrellas And Knee-Jerk PDP Hatred.

JayZ aired his view on the abuse of Auto-Tune (akin to off-the-shelf CMS) in the music industry: DOA (Death of Auto-Tune) from the Blueprint 3 LP album.

Jay-Z himself stated that the point of the song was to “draw a line in the sand”, saying that while he appreciated the use of the Auto-Tune by artists with an ear for melody like T-Pain and Kanye West, far too many people had jumped onto the technology and were using it as a crutch.

The web with its interactive and pervasive nature is a good starting point to influence a content focused attitude in the other industries. What do you think?