On a recent cold and rainy day, I ducked into the Trinity College Library in Dublin to get a glimpse of the “Book of Kells,” one of Ireland’s most cherished masterpieces. Written between the sixth and eighth centuries, these illuminated manuscripts contain the Bible’s four Gospels and are considered one of the wonders of medieval Europe.
While the extravagant illustrations with their brilliant colors and elaborate ornamentation are amazing, the content integrity of the time is what caught my attention. Perhaps most intriguing is the diversity of the scribes—there are believed to be at least four—each of whom used their own penmanship. From somber and serious to creative and ornate, each scribe expressed his unique personality.
Despite the monks’ hand copying of text, including other hand copies, the fact that the ink (black, red, purple, and yellow ink) and sections of text (prefaces, summaries, and concordances) are very consistent for the targeted audiences and norms of the time, implies a high level of content integrity. Today’s content creation in your organization might not have the same historical significance as the New Testament. However, just like the sixth century scribes, you can deliver high impact content with integrity. The key, however, is having and knowing the rules: what you must and must not do when creating content.
Content specialists have historically defined content integrity as quality content created and delivered in a timely way, with alignment to audience intentions and actions. While this is a good start, the definition assumes there is a simple audience and company relationship that functions in isolation. This definition neglects to embrace the wider digital context that has matured and evolved over the past decade to include laws, regulations, and competitive advantages. In other words, content integrity isn’t just good content; it’s based on meeting the organization’s objectives and avoiding undesired risk.
Beyond the standard aspects of readable, findable, understandable, actionable, and shareable content, there are many content challenges. These challenges depend on your business objectives, user geography and culture, and technical publishing infrastructure.
In my consulting experience, there are many common issues that are neglected by marketers and content contributors, but the following five content integrity issues are the most common and perhaps riskiest to the business:
Is your content accessible to those with disabilities? In targeting your audience, have you considered those who might be disabled or have motor skills challenges? Whether those with disabilities are your target audience or not, the law in many countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Brazil, require that you provide access to content for users who have audio, visual, and motor skills disabilities. Not only can your business face fines for ignoring this requirement, but you may place the reputation of your organization at risk. Airlines, banks, and other business-to-consumer organizations have experienced especially negative press with their failure to adopt only accessibility practices.
Not all content must be accessible, but you should have a policy and plan in place as well as demonstrate efforts toward making content accessible. This includes tagging of images to accommodate visually impaired users leveraging content readers and having high contrast in colors for those who are colorblind. Most organizations choose to align their requirements and accessibility programs to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Accessibility Standards, the recognized authority in this area.
The classic example of accessible content is providing equivalent alt text for all images.
Is your content localized to language and cultural requirements? It is hard to understand and account for all local legal and cultural requirements. This is especially true for those within an organization’s headquarters or when creating content for a global audience. This challenge has brought negative press to many companies over the years.
IKEA experienced loss market share and public credibility when it dropped its lifestyle website in Russia over fears that the government would consider it a promotion of gay values to minors (illegal in Russia), only to be met with public backlash and boycotts. Smaller issues—such as heeding that some countries and regions (e.g., Quebec, Canada) require websites that offer products and services to be written in French—have troubled the likes of Pottery Barn, Club Monaco, and Anthropologie. Williams-Sonoma group, which owns Pottery Barn, blocked access by site visitors from Quebec until it could re-launch the site in French and cater to the local audience in full compliance with the localization law.
Club Monaco’s website invited customers to visit retail stores since their site didn’t comply with Quebec’s French language charter.
Research markets where your services and products are targeted. Create a policy documenting your plan to provide content translated and localized for cultural norms. Because content creators and contributors may not be aware of all requirements, it is a good practice to include the requirements directly into the content management system. Users can learn about the requirement as content is being created or produced. It is best to have a local resource review content prior to its publication, or even consider a small content focus group for key strategic campaigns and content publications.
Does your content production plan consider user privacy? If this seems like a complicated step when thinking about how you deliver and capitalize on your content, that’s because it is. Not only do countries have different laws and regulations, but specific regions (e.g., EU) and states (e.g., California) also have unique requirements.
In addition to having a general privacy statement, organizations must adhere to specific regulations for content targeted toward children as outlined in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Coloring pages, animations, cartoon characters, and content that may attract visitors under the age of 13 are subject to this act, which requires special notification of parents and the ability to remove all child-related information—including site visit and analytics data.
Content creators often ignore this requirement since it is not commonly understood and historically has not been enforced. All of that changed in 2016 with organizations facing fines and negative press for tracking children’s online behavior.
Does your content production take into consideration user data storage and transfer? In the course of creating marketing campaigns and content, we often think about ways to collect user information in order to understand how our content resonates and how we can exploit that to achieve our business goals. What might seem like a benign activity—like collecting a last name and assigning it to online browsing patterns—is subject to storage and transfer laws and regulations. This can include prevention of exporting that information outside of the country in which the user resides. While Russian law has been the most visible instance of this requirement, other countries (e.g., Australia, Kazakhstan) restrict the transfer of personal information outside of their borders.
Expect more data localization laws following recent developments; for example, the first enforcement of Russia’s data localization law being upheld. Plan for country- and region-specific (namely European Union) requirements.
In advance of creating content and campaigns that collect information, whether it is directly entered into a customer relationship management tool or simply stored in a database for future reference, consider how you want to use the data and work with your information technology department to determine a content hosting and data capture strategy. Leveraging cloud services can simplify this issue, as the burden for data retention and storage can be shifted to a provider—Amazon, Microsoft, or others—who has already addressed this issue and is staying ahead of quick-changing laws and regulations. You can also customize on the fly what information you collect from site visitors based on their browser’s originating IP address, which would further protect you from fines but will also limit what analytics and intelligence you have for future content targeting.
Have you addressed common industry-specific content requirements? Of course, it’s hard to know the things you do not know, but as a content creator, contributor, or publisher, you should seek advice from others in the organization whose job entails knowing—general counsel, compliance, regulatory—before you create and publish content. Every industry has its own online content requirements or laws. Ignorance is never accepted as an excuse by authorities or customers.
Technology and technical product companies need to address export of data to embargoed nations under U.S. export control laws. A simple product specification sheet placed online and accessed by a prohibited country or individual is enough to lead to fines. Or if you are a life sciences company, have you inadvertently mentioned the name of your product in marketing materials? This act is illegal in many countries but especially stringent in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria. There are as many different regulations as there are industries, making it impossible to address all of them in this brief discussion, and you can learn more through the Federal Trade Commission website.
Seek guidance from your legal, regulatory, and compliance departments for content publishing and distribution within your industry context. Specifically ask for policies that impact content delivery in other countries and to embargoed individuals, even those that you may not explicitly be targeting. Your company specialists may consult with country-specific specialists, but taking a stance and having guidance in writing should help insert integrity into your content and protect your organization from unnecessary risk.
In today’s budding digital market, every organization stands to benefit from sound content practices that have integrity and protect the organization from legal, regulatory, and brand risk. Content integrity is an asset to the organization when appropriate practices are in place and when you integrate the top five digital concerns and avoid these aforementioned mistakes:
Like the varying clerks in the times of the “Book of Kells,” with the right knowledge, your content can be clear and sound regardless of time and circumstance. Something to be admired and emulated for years to come.
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