• Organizations struggle to manage and govern taxonomies, leading to fragmentation and poor performance
  • Content is only found, used, engaged with and measured appropriately to the extent that it is adequately tagged
  • A taxonomy guild can help content organizations replace silos with bridges by fostering community collaboration and common governance

As a relatively new research director for SiriusDecisions, my job includes shadowing my colleagues Christine Polewarczyk and Phyllis Davidson as they support clients in inquiry. A typical inquiry involves listening to the clients’ challenges and pain points and providing advice on how to address the most pressing issues. Many of our clients who subscribe to our Content Strategy and Operations service lead content efforts within their organizations.

Gothic university bridge in Cambridge England

In my first few weeks, a common thread emerged from many of these inquiries: Leaders of internal content agencies struggle to get buy-in on the kind of transformation they know their organizations need. Content factories, as we call them, often contain the best and brightest practitioners and subject matter experts (SMEs) in the company. But their stakeholders come from a variety of siloed organizations, which have an outsized influence on the content practice because they are the funding sponsors. The challenge is simple: How do content leaders convince their stakeholders to invest in the kinds of transformation that will lead to more success?

In my roles as a content leader before joining SiriusDecisions, I was often challenged to convince my stakeholders that proposed content innovation was worth the investment. I wasn’t always successful. But when I was successful, the common denominator was collaborative governance. I have called the groups that I helped form boards, councils, centers of excellence and guilds. Whatever you call them, these governing bodies build bridges between the corporate silos that hinder collaboration and lead to fragmented and duplicative content for a company’s target audiences.

I like the guild metaphor because it puts me in mind of the medieval Scholastic period, when massive institutions of higher learning sprang up all over Europe, in Gothic structures that stand as monuments to knowledge and skill to this day. It was the genesis of the university system in Western society – clusters of discipline-specific experts collaborating to advance their practices with a guild-like spirit. The overarching attitude of guilds is informed by “yes and” critiques, adding and iterating on best practices and building a culture of mutual support.

Universities all over Europe were built by guilds of craftsmen of stone and glass. Carpenters built shelf upon shelf for the books being written by everyone affiliated with the universities. As the scriptorium gave way to the printing press, new research exploded. The explosion of the written word fueled guilds composed of writers, editors, journalists, publishers, printers and librarians. Librarians invented taxonomies for organizing the new books, and to help people find the information they sought.

Nowhere is the spirit of the guild more powerful than in taxonomy, which sits at the intersection of brand expression and customer understanding. If the corporate taxonomy is too “inside out,” reflecting corporate jargon, customers won’t understand how to find the content they need. If it is too “outside in,” reflecting the language of the crowd, it is too generic to succeed in a crowded category. A taxonomy guild sits at the fulcrum of these two counterweights. Guild members from all over the company can represent their brands, while the SMEs from the content factory represent the voice of the customer.

Ideally, a guild includes people with diverse skills: content strategy – the discipline where metadata modeling (aka content modeling) lives – taxonomy and ontology governance, artificial intelligence expertise, subject matter expertise and platform expertise. Of those, understanding of the platforms where content creators build, structure, tag and manage content is critical. A taxonomy guild is only useful if it aids in publishing better metadata. That depends largely on a whole stack of software, including the content marketing platform, content management system and a content library, which can span several repositories with the right universal tagging system.

The benefits of collaborative bridge building include common standards, practices and measurement frameworks across the various groups that create content for their target audiences. From the perspective of audience members, the biggest benefit to the bridges between silos is easier access to the content they care about, because it is tagged and managed in a standard way.

Whether you call it a guild or something else, taxonomy and metadata must be governed collaboratively. In our upcoming 2019 Summit talk, “The Keys to the Content Kingdom: Unlocking Your Content’s Potential with Metadata, Taxonomy and Semantic AI,” Christine Polewarczyk and I will explain how to  this governance and why it’s important.

In addition, though cross-functional, guilds should be owned by an organization that manages content, such as digital marketing or the content factory. This allows better access to the SMEs who can filter potential metadata on the basis of their understanding of the audience. In our “High Performance: Content Strategy and Operations” Summit presentation, Phyllis Davidson and I will delve into some characteristics of high-performing content teams. According to our research, high-performing content teams were 75 percent more likely to have taxonomy ownership within marketing. Come to SiriusDecisions Summit to see the whole talk!