Content management practices and goals vary by mission and by organizational governance structure. News organizations, e-commerce websites, and educational institutions all use content management, but in different ways. This leads to differences in terminology and in the names and number of steps in the process.
For example, an instance of digital content is created by one or more authors. Over time that content may be edited. One or more individuals may provide some editorial oversight thereby approving the content for publication. Publishing may take many forms. Publishing may be the act of pushing content out to others, or simply granting digital access rights to certain content to a particular person or group of persons. Later that content may be superseded by another form of content and thus retired or removed from use.
Content management is an inherently collaborative process. It often consists of the following basic roles and responsibilities:
- Creator responsible for creating and editing content.
- Editor responsible for tuning the content message and the style of delivery, including translation and localization.
- Publisher responsible for releasing the content for use.
- Administrator responsible for managing access permissions to folders and files, usually accomplished by assigning access rights to user groups or roles. Admins may also assist and support users in various ways.
- Consumer, viewer or guest- the person who reads or otherwise takes in content after it is published or shared.
A critical aspect of content management is the ability to manage versions of content as it evolves (see also version control). Authors and editors often need to restore older versions of edited products due to a process failure or an undesirable series of edits.
Another equally important aspect of content management involves the creation, maintenance, and application of review standards. Each member of the content creation and review process has a unique role and set of responsibilities in the development and/or publication of the content. Each review team member requires clear and concise review standards which must be maintained on an ongoing basis to ensure the long-term consistency and health of the knowledge base.
A content management system is a set of automated processes that may support the following features:
- Import and creation of documents and multimedia material.
- Identification of all key users and their roles.
- The ability to assign roles and responsibilities to different instances of content categories or types.
- Definition of workflow tasks often coupled with messaging so that content managers are alerted to changes in content.
- The ability to track and manage multiple versions of a single instance of content.
- The ability to publish the content to a repository to support access to the content. Increasingly, the repository is an inherent part of the system, and incorporates enterprise search and retrieval.
Content management systems take the following forms:
- a web content management system is software for web site management which is often what is implicitly meant by this term
- the work of a newspaper editorial staff organization
- a workflow for article publication
- a document management system
- a single source content management system where content is stored in chunks within a relational database
Content management expert Marc Feldman defines three primary content management governance structures: localized, centralized, and federated—each having its unique strengths and weaknesses.
By putting control in the hands of those closest to the content, the context experts, localized governance models empower and unleash creativity. These benefits come, however, at the cost of a partial-to-total loss of managerial control and oversight.
When the levers of control are strongly centralized, content management systems are capable of delivering an exceptionally clear and unified brand message. Moreover, centralized content management governance structures allow for a large number of cost-savings opportunities in large enterprises, realized, for example, the avoidance of duplicated efforts in creating, editing, formatting, repurposing and archiving content, through process management and the streamlining of all content related labor, and through an orderly deployment or updating of the content management system.
Federated governance models potentially realize the benefits of both localized and centralized control while avoiding the weaknesses of both. While content management software systems are inherently structured to enable federated governance models, realizing these benefits can be difficult because it requires, for example, negotiating the boundaries of control boundaries with local managers and content creators. In the case of larger enterprises, in particular, the failure to fully implement or realize a federated governance structure equates to a failure to realize the full return-on-investment and cost-savings that content management systems enable.