Next week, I’m off to San Jose, CA to present at Intelligent Content Conference (spearheaded by the dynamic content duo of Ann Rockley and Scott Abel). The theme? Breaking down content silos. I’m enthused because the theme is a longstanding concept with new implications today. What hasn’t changed, of course, is the terrible consequence of leaving silos intact. Your content efforts will inevitably stall.

It’s tough to break down a content silo if you don’t realize it exists. So, to help you spot a silo before it wrecks havoc on implementing your content strategy, I’m sharing five types of silos I often encounter.

1. Department Silo

An oldie but not-so-goodie, this type of silo happens when different departments do not align their content efforts. Three signs of this silo include

  • Different departments give conflicting or uncohesive messages.
  • One department’s content catches another department by surprise.
  • One department’s strategy interferes with the strategy of another department.

For example, when I worked for Cingular Wireless, the marketing department launched a promotion that thoroughly confused customers. Instead of boosting sales, the promotion inundated customer service with calls and emails that customer service wasn’t sure how to handle. Had the content for that promotion been clearer and better coordinated, Cingular Wireless could have sidestepped that logistical mess and ding to their customers’ satisfaction.

More recently, I encountered an organization whose public relations department controlled their social media. A different department oversaw their editorial content. Because the departments did not coordinate, public relations was not sharing any of their editorial content on their social channels. The company was missing a big opportunity to increase the reach of their editorial content.

2. Channel Silo

Another classic, this type of silo happens when different channels (or customer touchpoints) such as phone, web, and store do not harmonize their content efforts and even compete against each other. Symptoms of this silo include

  • Each channel has incentive to keep customers using their channel.
  • Messages or other content across channels are inconsistent.

As a rather extreme example, I once worked with a company that communicated their customers’ account status inconsistently on the phone (through their interactive voice response system) and on the web. Talk about inviting confusion!

3. Discipline Silo

This type is both old and new. The classic version is subject matter expertise vs. content strategy expertise. For an example, check out our case study or interview with CDC Travelers’ Health.

The discipline silo also rears its head in new ways, such as

  • Content strategy expertise vs. design expertise. 
  • Content strategy expertise vs. content marketing expertise.
  • Content strategy expertise vs. content engineering expertise.

I discuss the silo between content marketing and content strategy in this article.

4. Customer / User Phase Silo

A recent silo, it has emerged because most businesses and organizations now have to support every phase of their relationships with customers, members, or users through digital content. Indicators of this silo include

  • Providing content that isn’t appropriate for the user or customer, such as promoting a product or feature they already have.
  • Missing opportunities to repurpose content in different relationship phases.

For instance, I once worked with a retailer that had useful content to help customers research products before they buy. Much of that same content also can help customers after they buy. So, we helped the retailer repurpose some of that content to help customers use and care for their products.

5. Feature Silo

Also new, this silo occurs when organizations take a product management approach to their websites and other digital experiences. The company breaks up responsibility for the website or the experience into features owned by product managers. When there isn’t a central product vision (as David Hobbs often stresses) and content coordination across features, this silo can emerge. The main sign is content in one feature unexpectedly affects or even contradicts content in another feature.

For example, I once worked with a hotel company that split its reservation flow (the process to find and book a hotel room) and the detailed content about hotels (hotel details) into two separate features. The reservation flow, of course, provided some hotel detail content. Once, the company almost released the reservation flow without accommodating a change to the hotel details content. Had the two feature teams not talked in time, the release would have thoroughly confused travelers.

Spot and Smash Content Silos

As the need for content has intensified in our increasingly digital business world, the types of content silos you could face have multiplied. I’ve only scratched the surface. Watch for the signs of silos so you can break them down before they muck up your content progress.

Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in February 2014.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the founder and CEO of Content Science, a growing content intelligence and strategy company based in Atlanta GA. Content Science owns Content Science Review, Content Science Academy, and the content effectiveness software ContentWRX.  Colleen regularly consults with executives and practitioners to improve their strategy and processes for content. She shares insights and guidance from her experience regularly on Content Science Review, at events around the world, and in highly rated books such as Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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