Return on Behavior Magazine
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Customer Experience

September 26th, 2009

Do we over-communicate?

The more information we disseminate, the more value we create, right? Wrong. Bombard your customers and employees with too much irrelevant data and they’ll switch off.

Managers must learn to tap into the killer content.

In the past 20 years there has been a revolution in organisational behaviour. This revolution involved email, the web, instant messaging, texting and, most recently, blogs. It is a revolution in – wait for it – writing. Yes, writing.

Never before have managers written and read as much. The question is: are we maximising the value of our writing and reading? Right now, the answer is “no”.

Data management is one of the trickiest challenges facing today’s organisations. We create vast quantities of data and we need a suitable method of storing all of it. What we’re really talking about here is an administrative rather than a true management challenge. It’s about storage in a data warehouse. You can find stuff but usually only after a long and difficult search. And the quality of what you find could well be suspect.

Think of an iceberg. Below the water we have that huge data warehouse. Above the waterline must be the intranet or website containing the truly useful content that is needed on a daily basis.

Common characteristics
During ten years of working on the web and having consulted in 35 different countries, I have noticed common characteristics to organisational information. Invariably, 95 per cent of the information a company produces is irrelevant when it comes to producing value today. There is, however, five per cent of content that has major value creation potential.

The problem? Data smothers content. Data is like weeds in the garden. The flowers (content) will not flourish unless you do regular weeding. Data eats up those precious resources: time and attention. This problem is particularly acute on many intranets. In many organisations, these are vast sprawling spaces filled with all sorts of stuff, much of it out of date, more of it totally irrelevant to helping staff do their jobs more efficiently.

Most websites and intranets are simply not managed. They have no clear strategy or vision. Buying content management software is not a strategy. I have seen content management software make websites much worse, much faster. If you’re in a hole with your intranet the answer is to stop digging, not buy a JCB.

A friend of mine is a manager with one of the world’s largest, most profitable and most efficient companies. Every day, he gets 100 internal emails – 85 of them are irrelevant to his job and waste his time. This is a firm that is ruthless about maximising the value of its production processes. However, when it comes to its information processes, it is, like most organisations, in the Stone Age.

Principle of scientific management
Frederick Taylor looked at the job of shovelling coal in the Bethlehem Steel Mills and thought that there had to be a better way. Over time, Taylor developed his principles of scientific management. Today, we need principles of scientific content management. We need genuine management thinking here. It won’t come from traditional chief information officers or information technology managers. It’s like Peter Drucker says: these people have spent the past 50 years focusing on the “T” in IT. We need people who focus on the “I” – the information.
Organisations have been brought up on the economics of scarcity. We instinctively feel that the more we produce, the more value we create. There is a voice inside our heads telling us that the more emails we read and send, the more productive we are.

Never before have organisations had so much to say. And never before have people had less attention to give. It is estimated that the mind can process 114 bits of information a second. A conversation is estimated to take up 60 of those bits per second. (That’s why we find it very hard to listen to two conversations at the same time.) If you barrage your staff and customers with meaningless data, they will switch off. As a manager, you must seek out the killer content – that finely honed, perfectly pitched message. That’s where the value lies, and that is what content management is about.

This is a truly exciting time. The way we work is being reshaped. The opportunities for managers who learn to maximise the value from content is significant. Content is a hidden asset. It takes management to tap it.

About the Author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern's company, Customer Carewords, has a unique solution that identifies the words that drive customer action once they arrive on your website. Visit:



Gerry is widely regarded as the number one worldwide authority on managing web content as a business asset. He has spoken, written and consulted extensively on web content management issues since 1994.

In 2006, he was described by The Irish Times as one of five visionaries who had had a major impact on the development of the Web. (The other four were Tim O'Reilly, Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, and Nicholas Negroponte.) In 2006, he received the Educational Contribution award from the Irish Internet Association.

In 2004, he was included in the 100 most influential figures in e-commerce in the UK and Ireland, as part of "An Internet Decade", which was organized by NOP World and E-Consultancy. In 2000, he received the Web Ireland Internet Industry Person of the Year award. He is a founding member of the Irish Internet Association and the Content Management Professionals Association.

Gerry has written four books. In 2001, he published two books with Financial Times Prentice Hall, entitled: Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide. Design Research News stated that Content Critical "should be on the reading list of every course in Web design." Knowledge Management Review described it as a "bible" of content management.

In 2006, he published Killer Web Content (Bloomsbury / A&C Black). Suzanne Sowinska, Manager, Content Publishing Excellence, Microsoft Corporation described it as "essential reading". Bev Godwin, Director, The U.S. Government's Official Web Portal, said about the book: "Genius! Gerry McGovern gets it! If you read ONE book on managing a Web site, this is it."

Gerry has been nominated as best overall speaker at numerous conferences. He has spoken about content management at hundreds of conferences and workshops in 35 countries.

Previously, he was founder and chief executive officer of Nua, a developer of content management software and solutions. In 1996, Nua received the Best Overall World Wide Web Business Achievement award from the European Union.

Since 1996, Gerry has written "New Thinking", a widely read weekly email newsletter covering the role of content on the Web. In 1999, Gerry published The Caring Economy (Blackhall Publishing), which was voted 25th out of the top 50 new economy books by Middleton/Capstone.

Gerry holds a BSc Man. (2:1) from Trinity College, Dublin, and lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Gerry has appeared on BBC, CNN and CNBC television, partaken in various radio shows, and featured in numerous print media publications.



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