Online Endeavors Need a Spare Tire

You need a spare tire in your content strategy. Otherwise, you’ll end up stranded with a blowout on the information superhighway.

Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto is a simple two words: Be Prepared. (I am an Eagle Scout, you know.) I think of that motto often, in both personal and professional settings.

We’ve all encountered unexpected situations and issues of one sort or another while working with online projects. The anxiety level is usually in direct proportion to the lack of preparedness.

  • Online content emergency + no plan = TIME TO FREAK OUT
  • Online content emergency + content strategy = cool as the other side of the pillow

Preparedness is not always black and white. It’s more of a spectrum, really.

For example, I saw the cutest car in the parking lot the other day—a Fiat 500. I went right to my desk to look for more info on their website. While clicking through the options, I discovered an odd one: A SPARE TIRE.

A spare tire. As an option. Really?

Some car companies now include a “tire repair kit” instead of a spare tire. It’ll fix some minor problems like a slow leak or a nail puncture. No biggie.

But, if you hit a big pothole and completely destroy your tire, you’ll be left stranded. This happened to me earlier this year. No repair kit would have helped the shredded remnants of my tire. To be fully prepared, I needed a spare.

Issues Known or Unknown

In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the following quote. It remains relevant, yet somewhat garbled, today:

[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Believe it or not, spare tires and unknown unknowns can have an impact on what you do online.

Online Content with a Slow Leak

The known/unknown quote serves as a reminder to account for the most likely and obvious things that might affect an online endeavor in some way. Take these flat-tire scenarios, for example:

  • Staff changes disrupt content workflows
  • A CMS update breaks your current site
  • Third-party content provider folds

These things can and should be anticipated. They are “known,” as Rumsfeld would say. Contingency plans to deal with them can be crafted and shelved until needed. It’s all in a day’s work for a sustainable content strategy.

Online Content-Shredding Blowout

But what about those pesky “unknown unknowns” that Rumsfeld talked about?

Plan as we may, there is always something that comes along to break even the most carefully assembled contingency plan. Often, the unknown unknowns are major and abrupt. For example, some tire-blowout-level  scenarios:

  • New laws or regulations change your content ecosystem
  • Upper management changes the overall business objectives
  • Competitor innovation changes the market landscape
  • Technological innovation changes the industry

What can we do? Develop a fast and flexible approach that allows content teams to address those unknown unknowns as they come up. This is not meant to be an explicit plan. Instead, it should be a modifiable process that is informed by the foundation work that goes into every solid content strategy.

Using Your Spare Tire

When the unknown unknowns make themselves, um, known, established roles and responsibilities become even more important. Some things to consider when establishing your “unknown unknowns” approach:

  • Include the proper staff and stakeholders. Not every person needs to be at the table for each discussion, but the right ones should be.
  • Keep an eye on sustainability. Changes must be realistic, and within the true scope and capability of those involved (as with any content project).
  • Set everything in alignment with your core strategy and business goals. Any one of the tire-blowout-level scenarios can lead endeavors off course.

Take the time to put together plans for issues and situations that might threaten your online endeavors. Then, create a process that will allow you (and your team) to address any other situations that come up.

Before long, issues will be resolved and you’ll have your tires on the road again.

(“Tired Tire” image by WheresWilson (cc: by-nc-sa ))

(This post originally appeared on the Brain Traffic blog)

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