What can millennials teach us about the future of content management?

by + on January 13, 2012

I recently had the opportunity to spend time discussing content management systems with a group of millennial students at a large prestigious university. We are building a new CMS driven website for one of the institutions on campus, and the students will be regular content contributors. My objective was to determine their expectations for the new website and figure out how the existing system had failed to meet their needs.

In fact, the institute’s current content management system, technical infrastructure, workflow policies, content strategy, governance model and technical support were all missing the students’ requirements…Completely. As a result they simply registered a private domain name and set up an open-source CMS on a laptop without the school’s involvement. This ‘rogue’ site was up and running in a matter of hours and they remain satisfied with its performance two years later.

Consider the recent Occupy movement, which began rolling across the globe in October of 2011. In a matter of hours occupation groups everywhere propped up full-featured, open-source web content management systems. I had the opportunity to visit #OccupyBoston and I learned they are platformed on WordPress. They wrangle dozens of content contributors and support live video streaming, news, an event calendar and more.

In fact, they were streaming live video to a content rich website within four hours of establishing their encampment. No IT staff, no system administrators, designers, developers, user experience architects or business analysts. Heck, they didn’t even have a reliable power supply or source of bandwidth.

Such an emergent content strategy suggests millennials don’t need a fancy degree to handle technical infrastructure, content or integration with third party technology solutions. In fact, these things are hardly a challenge to anyone I’ve met under the age of 20 these days. To the contrary, building and deploying a website has become almost like an afterthought to the content it will present. Perhaps content has finally been crowned?

For anyone who makes a living helping organizations design, build, customize, integrate and deploy content management systems, there are important lessons embedded in these anecdotes. First of all, to a millennial, contributing content with a CMS is second hand. This is a generation of digital natives who has not known a world without the Internet. They had Facebook in high school. They get it. The days of explaining how to copy and paste embed codes or wasting hours fussing with typeset issues like ‘widows and orphans’ will soon be a thing of the past when they begin replacing their predecessors in the workplace.

However, as users, and the systems they use, continue to to grow in sophistication there will undoubtedly be new challenges to sort out.

For one, we know millennials are an impatient bunch when it comes to technology, accustomed to real-time data and immediate gratification. The university students didn’t have the patience for a three month discovery process. They needed a communications platform now and they assembled one in a weekend. Our processes today for building enterprise CMS platforms are anything  but rapid. Marketing and technology groups running large-scale CMS environments will inevitably need to adopt more agile processes and work harder to keep up with end user expectations and abilities. We’ve seen time and time again these efforts to suppress rogue digital efforts almost always fail.

Looking at our own business, the need for web shops capable of designing and building custom business applications is probably not going to disappear anytime soon. However, many projects are simply a matter of standing up a CMS that supports basic content, news, events and user-defined forms. There are baseline expectations emerging around what such a system ‘should be capable of’ and it is safe to say forward-thinking agencies are looking at how these types of projects can get done with a more  streamlined process.

Working with these students has been an eye opening reminder that our pace is only going to pick up as the next generation enters the workforce and we move into a more digitally-enabled world. My recommendation to folks embarking on new CMS projects is to look for content specialists on intern alley and encourage older contributors and editors to embrace reverse mentoring. The paradigm is about to change. (again).

How do you think the millennials will impact the future of content management?

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Clinton Forry January 13, 2012 at 8:13 am

Great post!

I love the no-nonsense, just-get-things-done energy and spirit. As long as that energy is focused with some solid strategy and long-term consideration.

The organizations with more complex needs and goals will be able to spend less time on the “how are we ever going to do this (re: technology)” and more time on the messaging, goals, and user experience.

That is, if the millennials are able to affect foundational change in content management approaches at these organizations. Which will likely be difficult, given their entry-level status. The key is acknowledging the skill and the need for it (on the part of the higher-level staff).

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