Back in the days of the wild, wild, west, gun fighters and bank robbers ran amok. Gentle folk were afraid for the lives and street brawls were commonplace. Okay, it was exciting, but reputable companies – I mean folks – stayed in the big cities and left the frontier towns to the lawless.
Aw shucks, it’s another metaphor.
The good thing about all those gunslingers and rot gut whiskey drinkers was they opened up opportunities. It was their all round recklessness that pushed the boundaries. But before these new opportunities could be truly capitalised on, somebody had to impose order.
Enter the sheriff…
The sheriff slung the drunks in jail and ran the gunslingers out of town. Sheriffs were also pretty handy with guns themselves. Not a few gunslingers were hired by towns to police their streets and gun down the ‘bad guys’. In fact, apart from the presence of the sheriff’s 5-pointed star, very little differentiated the law man from the lawless.
So, when you’re policing the streets, where do you draw the line? Okay, we’re ditching the metaphor now.
In terms of rolling out the concept of digital governance to wider audiences, I’ve chosen legislation and regulation as my entry point*. This is because, in lawful societies, the risk of legal penalty is a sufficient deterrent (particularly if you’re a big company with a lot to lose). It’s also something that attracts the attention of the board room, which, sorry, content per se does not
But when you seriously consider what could impact on the correct governance and risk mitigation of digital content, you begin widening your scope – quite considerably.
For example, culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, plans to publish a Green Paper setting out the scope of a new communications act by the end of this year. If you think this is just about hacking and tabloids, think again – and read the below…
Hunt gave a few clues as to areas on which he may focus, but appeared to indicate that one may be regulation of programming content on the internet.
Under the current EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, “TV like” services, such as the BBC iPlayer, are subject to regulation. However, the level of regulation is less than that imposed upon traditional TV channels.
“Whether we are watching a broadcast live or through catchup TV services, via a TV or a computer, it is the content that matters, rather than the delivery mechanism,” said Hunt. “So should it be the case that the method of delivery has a significant impact on the method of regulation? Or should we be looking at a more platform-neutral approach?”
There’s data protection and eprivacy and the implications of the European Data Protection Framework (EDPF) Review (don’t ask me, I’m new here) and the Digital Economies Act; some might say the latter was rushed legislation aimed at pirate downloaders and which now seems to be languishing somewhere in Brussels. PRS for Music, which brings together the two royalty collection societies MCPS and PRS, is also looking at the whole area internet piracy and controlling copyright online.
- The EUs general concerns and overall remit around data protection and how personal data is used.
- The ongoing digital implications for copyright and its infringement including ideas floated by the Hargreaves Review.
- The impact of changes to internet protocols.
Then there’s the whole area of cyber security , the Government’s plans for a cyber security strategy, the implications of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry following last year’s riots, a warning from head of GCHQ’s about a ‘disturbing’ level of cyber attacks, as well as high-profile security breaches involving big names such as PlayStation and Google.
It’s not that organisations and governments are not increasingly on their toes when it comes to critical issues such as hacking and data protection. As early as its 2008-2009 report, the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee raised concerns about the potential threat posed by cuber crime, not only to the UK government, but also ‘critical national infrastructure and commercial companies’.
We therefore welcome the fact that this threat has been recognised and that cyber security is now listed as a Tier One national security risk. The new funding that has been made available, as part of the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review), to fund cyber security work is a significant step forward.
Source: 2010–2011 Annual Report, Intelligence and Security Committee
All fine and dandy. But its the next bit of their latest report which attracts my interest…
Whilst the priority and funding are to be welcomed, structural issues continue to cause us concern. We have noted 18 units with particular responsibilities in this field across the three Agencies, two law enforcement bodies and five government departments. Between them they cover policy, management, intelligence operations, protective advice, detection and analysis, with some focused on crime, some on hostile activity from overseas, some on Counter-Terrorism and others covering all three. This risks duplication and confusion and cannot be cost-effective. We therefore recommend that work be done to rationalise the existing structures.
Source: 2010–2011 Annual Report, Intelligence and Security Committee
Some 18 different agencies all getting their head around cyber security. Cooks? Broth? Anybody?
I think there is a real danger that as the digital wild west becomes the tamed west that we could end up in a situation where the streets are populated by too many sherif’s, firing off their six guns for offences no more horrendous than jaywalking. I’ve read the phrase ‘governing the internet’ more than once and frankly it worries me. Didn’t Canute try something similar?
But it’s not all bad news…
After the gun and the guns for hire, and the early day sheriffs who relied on their quick draw, there came judiciary and laws than formalised the processes for identifying bad from good and exacting appropriate penalties. That’s where I think we now need to go with digital governance.
Those of us involved in content, its creation and implementation are ideally placed to step into and exert our influence in this area. I used the word ‘influence’ rather than, say, ‘control’, after careful thought. Think traffic police rather than Big Brother. It’s all about enabling the flow of communication while mitigating the risk of pile ups.
We already act as the linchpin for a whole range of disciplines. The image below was created by Richard Ingram and is one of many of his stunning visualisations that go towards explaining our turnkey positioning.
• We already have, and continuing to improve, a range of tools and methodologies that allow us to guide clients in project choice, rationale, implications and implementation.
• This is alongside the deploying of the actual content itself across an increasing array of channels and delivery mechanisms.
• To this array of tools and services we ‘simply’ need to add governance tools and methodologies, such as a suitable content risk matrix that will allow us to identify the more important issues that clients need to address – and mitigate.
I’m going to show you what that content risk matrix might look like in my next blog.
I have a friend who recently had her garden renovated and decided to treat herself to some new garden furniture.
She started by ordering two big parasols off the internet in ‘black’. The only problem was that when they arrived they weren’t black at all, they were a dark grey.
“Ah yes,” said customer services when she rang to complain, “they’re a really, dark grey. Almost black.” “But not black,” said my friend. She sent them back.
Next she ordered some handmade metal furniture. It was expensive but looked beautiful on the website. She wanted black and while the furniture looked black in the photos, the colour was described on the website as “Hellebore”. My friend sent for a sample – just to be sure.
A small metal sample duly arrived. It was certainly very dark but the sample size and the matt paint finish made it difficult to be 100% sure. “Is it black?” she rang and asked the manufacturer. “Yes,” they said. When the furniture duly arrived it was… dark grey. “It’s our version of black,” said the manufacturer.
So, what’s the moral of this tale?
I’m not going to bore you with what happened next in this particular saga of retail ineptitude and arrogance, but from a content perspective, whether grey is the new black and whether you should call it Hellebore speaks to the heart of the content strategy conundrum for me.
“Conundrum,” I hear you say (okay, you’re not saying it but I’m fond of the odd rhetorical device), “Surely the case for content strategy is unequivocal.” Hmmmm.
Don’t get me wrong. Content strategy is the glue that allows its experienced practitioners, and organisations that listen to them, to make sound, cost effective decisions about content as an integral facet of any business or activity. Content is business. Business is content.
Without content in all its forms – from tweet to transaction process, article to image, video to brochure, app to pack shot – you cannot engage with your audience. Without content it’s like juggling with no hands. Without good content it’s like juggling with skipping ropes. It may draw the attention for a few minutes. But who wants to watch someone drop something repeatedly? Put the ropes down. It’s time to get balls.
Content strategy isn’t an easy option. Sometimes it means you have to unpick stuff that you’re been doing a certain way (and successfully) before you can ‘do’ your content properly. It can be like breaking a leg in order to reset it. But many organisations are happy to limp along rather than go through the pain. Personally, I find it very frustrating. Content strategy is black and white. But most companies still want Hellebore.
Bringing the metaphor back into the room…
From a marketing perspective, having a very, very dark shade of grey that’s not just described in your content as “Very, dark grey” or “Slate grey” or even “Almost black” makes a kind of sense. It’s a point of differentiation. It’s adding an extra layer of glamour. It is not particularly helpful, or useful, but if there are other more helpful and factual texts, perhaps some customer reviews and some good photography, this indulgent sub-routine of hyperbole is tolerable.
Back in the days before the interweb, it may not have mattered quite so much. If I went to a shop I could see products with my own eyes. Hellebore be damned, it’s black.
Product brochures and retail catalogues for any halfway decent brand were usually produced with scrupulous attention to colour accuracy. It saved on returns and refunds. It protected the brand from disgruntled consumers.
So, I ask myself, has something changed (or failed to change) now we’re engaging with products and services online? If organisations don’t pay attention to the basics such as product descriptors and colour accuracy, don’t they run the risk of customers ringing up to raise hellebore?
The accuracy (or lack of it) in online colour rendering is one issue. But it speaks to the bigger picture. It means that an organisation or organisations didn’t think about how the colour might render on a computer, laptop, mobile or tablet screen, or how it may vary if a potential customer decides to run off a hard copy on their printer?
Did anybody think?
The very expensive garden furniture on the website my friend ordered from was pictured in shades of red, pale blue, black(ish), green and white, described respectively as carmine, salvia, hellebore, hosta and aconite.
In their original and horticultural terms aconite and hellebore are plants that come in various colours. Personally, I’d say that aconite is more likely to be perceived as a darker colour. There are slight witchcraft connotations and when you look online it does seem to turn up as a colour descriptor for dark grey or dark blue (although it can be a bright yellow). Hellebore, as a plant, is commonly a white or greenish white (but it can also be pink and even a blood red).
Is it possible that the words used to describe the colours shown in the pictures got mixed up? As the colours aren’t described in common sense terms, would anybody have known to correct them?
This is more than just a rant about Marketing speak. It opens up a whole other area of content issues (that keep content strategists and their clients awake at night… maybe) – such as content labelling, defining real estate and its purpose, use of copydecks, meta data matching on text and images, using content systems to ensure the right content is put into the right place both online and offline, understanding context, competitor research, word usage, search implications… And I’m thinking of all of this just because an online retailer of sun umbrellas and a manufacturer of expensive garden furniture can’t lower themselves to use the words: ‘dark’ and ‘grey’.
It could also have been addressed by larger samples, accurate descriptions, meta tagging and a more sympathetic customer service. It could have been addressed by a company simply saying: is Hellebore good enough?
Now, here’s the segue…
I’m speaking at CS Forum London this September. The title of my talk is Content doesn’t just happen. And while the colour of garden tables may not be a nuclear issue, it does speak to the fact that businesses are still not thinking about the basics online or understanding how fundamentally catastrophic this disregard is. And they’re certainly not thinking about their customers (in anything more than cash cow terms).
This thinking has to extend far beyond simply being able to ‘write well for the web’ or the production of ‘web-ready’ content. It means learning how to read audiences and then structuring content that ‘fits’ the context of that audience. It touches everything from technology to what your marketers and product / service developers decide to name your latest offering and the colours it comes in.
Maybe Hellebore is the new black. Maybe juggling with skipping ropes is the next big thing. But I very much doubt it.
From March 1, any communication on your website that sets out to tell users about goods, services, opportunities, freebies… but where the primary or ultimate aim is to sell something, will be regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The ASA is the UK’s independent advertising watchdog, responsible for controlling marketing communications in all media in the UK. (They work with statutory partners such as Trading Standards, the Office of Fair Trading and the communications regulator Ofcom.)
The March 1 changes cover the marketing communications of all organisations operating from the UK on their own websites and in other non-paid for space online under their control eg Facebook.
The ASA talks about copy a great deal in its guidance but their remit could easily extend to any type of content, for example a home page video or a viral campaign on YouTube.
The ASA’s extended remit may come as a surprise to a lot of organisations (the ASA’s own cross-media advertising campaign was only launched at the weekend). As always the big question is who’ll get their knuckles slapped first, for what and how hard?
The ASA’s punitive powers already include obliging broadcasters to comply with ASA rulings but it’s also brought in some new sanctions from March 1 including “an enhanced” name and shame policy. And paid-for search advertising that links to non-compliant marketing communications may be removed with the agreement of the search engines.
It’s also important to keep in mind that marketing content that falls under the scope of the ASA’s remit may not necessarily include a price or seek an immediate financial transaction. Let the seller beware.
The change falls under the scope of UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the Committee of Advertising Practice / CAP) Code.
CAP decided to extend the digital remit of the ASA in response to formal recommendations from a cross-section of UK industry, including the Internet Advertising Bureau. Nick Stringer, director of regulatory affairs for the IAB stresses that self-regulation must maintain pace with today’s fast-moving digital environment and changing consumer behaviour. “The ASA’s extended digital media remit aims to protect internet users and enhance their trust, as well as industry and political confidence, in the medium.”
- advertisers’ own marketing messages on their own websites, regardless of sector, type of businesses or size of organisation
- marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under the advertiser’s control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
What’s not covered:
- classified private advertisements
- press releases and other public relations material
- editorial content
- political advertisements
- corporate reports and investor relations.
User generated content?
ASA points out that generated content (UGC) that has been adopted and incorporated within an organisation’s own marketing communications could be covered. This will be considered on a case by case basis.
For example: “ASA is likely to take a very different view of a consumer’s positive comment that has been posted, by the website owner, in a prominent way on the front page of its website, than if that same comment appeared within the context of a consumer message board moderated for harmful and offensive language or images only”.
How to make sure you comply
CAP is offering guidance and courses. The IAB has also including some useful FAQs on its website. From a content strategy (CS) perspective the key thing is to make sure that all your content is fit for purpose and doesn’t fall shy of any regulation.
While the March 1 changes are the latest, many websites fall short of what’s required elsewhere – for example Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act which covers access and came into force back in 2004. Ringing any bells? It means your website must be accessible to blind and disabled users and this should be influencing everything from colour choices to meta data.
Content audits and the use of copydecks are just two of the CS tools where regulatory or legislative requirements could be captured and verified. Even without the weight of law, large organisations need to be running tight ships – eg who wrote it, when, who signed it off? Clearly defined and maintained internal content creation processes are a must. And let’s not forget content training that not only improves content creation skills but raises general organisational awareness of why all content, on’ and offline is so important.
Apart from anything else, if you can demonstrate you did your best to comply with this law or that regulation, the punitive response maybe be less harsh than in organisations where content is chaos rather than king.
I was at a meeting organised by Amanda Davie at Reform, which looked at the need for a mentoring scheme aimed specifically at women working in the digital industry.
It was a great meeting.
I met some great women.
The mentoring potential in the room was awesome.
Ah, if only I was 30 years younger and had just one of those women going into bat for me. I could have invented facebook, or, at the very least, been running Microsoft.
I’ll tell you how the scheme develops over the coming weeks, but, in the meantime, the meeting got me thinking about the whole area of mentoring, whether women need specific schemes and what is it about the nature of digital disciplines that might make women less, or more, enfranchised?
I started to think about my early year’s in the newspaper industry. One thing I remembered was that, when I started out, I was my own worst enemy. I remember attending an interview and saying that I had ambitions to work in the magazine industry. Why? I was asked. Because I thought that it would be easier for a woman to get on in magazines than in newspapers, I replied. I was in a room full of blokes, all with newspaper backgrounds, and you could have heard a pin drop.
The fact is I’ve seen women struggle through glass ceilings only to pull the ladders up behind them to prevent other women getting through. I’ve seen men and women extend the hand of support and give me and others, opportunities that I can only wonder at in retrospect. They had faith. They gave us a chance. They gave us the confidence to give something new (and scary) a go.
And I suppose that’s what we all need – faith, opportunity and confidence. And, I suspect, that’s what good mentoring comes down to.
I distinguish mentoring from other types of ‘help’, such as old boy networks. Old boy networks are predicated on something different entirely. They’re based on giving someone a leg up because they happened to go to the right school (or be the ‘right’ gendre).
Modern mentoring is all about spotting the potential in someone, or coaxing out that potential, so they can be the best they can be. In that respect, perhaps women are more able to spot potential in other women. And as digital disciplines are relatively young, the women who have experience in them are even more valuable (as younger industries don’t have a large population of veterans to call on). These woman have seen their areas of expertise evolve at a breathtaking pace. In some areas they may well be the minority gendre. They recognise the issues – a lack of confidence, perhaps; lack of technical training, concerns around combining work and family…
I mention the latter but this is not about women needing different mentoring because they also make babies. Some women have families, some women don’t. It may be part of what makes you, you. It certainly isn’t all of what makes you, you. Not by a long chalk. But a mentor could just as easily be dealing with someone who wants to combine a fulfiling professional role with time to volunteer in the charity sector.
The fact is I warm intuitively to the idea of women, such as the ones in the meeting I attended, using their experiences, empathy and objectivity to mentor other women. And, as a woman, I set great store by my intuition.