Content Management Systems and Digital Literacy

Hart-Davidson hits the nail on the head, Content Management Systems (CMS) “do not do that work by themselves” (p. 14). A CMS can give a company what they are willing to put into it. They are not a solution, they are a tool. They are exactly what we make of it. Hart-Davidson states that “technical communicators typically come to play many different roles and deploy diverse sets of skills over the course of a career” when using CMS (p. 134). The roles mentioned must be assumed, but to successfully integrate the CMS into the company, the company must also integrate one or more company processes into the system to really benefit from it.

Training or some kind of education on how the company uses a CMS is a key to success. I’ve used quite a few systems and have seen excellent and poor uses of them in companies. When companies don’t have any rules around how a CMS is used, it becomes a free-for-all of good and bad information. It’s confusing. There is a plethora of online content available online for learning how to use and manage CMS systems online. However, even if you know how to use the system, this may not be how the company uses it.  The video below only touches on some common mistakes in administrating SharePoint itself and it’s over an hour long.

Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski both discuss “mapping” and “signposting” in information design (pp. 112-114). These concepts are a big part of UX and extremely important to ensure users can become literate in a system. I’ve found these levels of user interface designs are not well applied to most CMS. At one of the companies I worked for I had to redesign the front-end of a SharePoint site to make it more accessible and simplified for others in the company. This tells me that we have a long way to go in our design of CMS from a design perspective. Confusion in using the interface itself will almost surely create inconsistent data, especially when most people will have access to the system.

Process in how you use a CMS is key to making the system useful. Yes, it can allow versioning of documents, but when people are not required to update or sign off on documentation, it can create data that looks trustworthy but is not. Most systems have workflows integrated into them, but unless going through that workflow is a part of a sign off process for the deployment of a product, then why would people go through the hassle?

To make sure our documentation is trustworthy, my team and I will link our documents to specific releases of software. This way it will be clearer in what context you can assume a document may be relevant for. In terms of metadata we make sure that everything is under our team’s section in the system. We also have the option to tag certain customers if the document is specifically relevant to that context. The process we employ around this ensures that we do not have to continually maintain every document, but instead deploy documentation at our own pace and as needed.

I don’t think I could live without a CMS at a company these days, because the alternatives are much worse. But literacy in these systems remains a problem. This is probably due to the fact that the users are not the same as the customer. Additionally, I see many systems treated as a golden solution instead of a platform. It will be interesting to see how these systems and their usages evolve over time.

Posted on November 4, 2017, in Digital, Literacy, Technology, Video and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Miriam,

    Thank you for sharing your diverse experience with content management systems. I am glad we are learning about these systems. When I was an undergrad, I had to take a web design class because most newspapers have websites. For my business minor, I had to take a information systems class that covered basic HTML. However, when I entered the field, I found the HTML training was far more useful than the web design course because the newspaper already had a website, and it used a content management system to update it.

    Of course the Internet isn’t as much of a novelty as it was 15 years ago. DiSalvo and Rosinski pointed out that when most people first started designing websites, they forgot all the design principles and instead threw every possible feature on their sites.

    I agree with your point that common sense applies to make these systems as user-friendly as possible.

    Jennifer R.

    • You make a great point. 15 years ago we were still so excited with what the internet could give us, but maybe not as much on the delivery. My first website had moving horses and scrolling marquees everywhere. Black background with lime green and hot pink font. It was my baby. I’ve since deleted it out of embarrassment.

      Maybe it’s rise in competition that has really sparked our desire for UX and and usable systems.

  2. Miriam,
    I echoed your sentiments on CMS not being a panacea and that what a company puts into it pretty much dictates what it gets out, period. In my job, we have been trying to implement ServiceNow, a platform that, among other things, is a fairly robust CMS.While leaders question why we aren’t further along in providing the kind of documentation that they want, they also have diverted themselves with, for example, questioning repeatedly why Microsoft SharePoint isn’t a better choice. (It’s not; from an information security perspective if nothing else).

    • Indeed, I have found companies often like to find new technological solutions before putting more effort into one they have. This exposes many of the difficulties technical communicators will have in trying to stay literate. I really hope they do not choose SharePoint.

  3. Hi Miram,

    I like the idea that content management systems don’t ensure success but give a company the tools to succeed. A company could use a content management system and not put that much time into it and not have the best results. Or you could find a passionate team that creates beneficial content. I think this lesson can translate to many other aspects in the workplace and personal life too.


    • Absolutely! Aside from Jennifer’s Roomba, I think many things in life are what you make of it. The way Content Management Systems work can really help highlight great technical communicators in a public way to others in the company, which is amazing.

  4. “To make sure our documentation is trustworthy, my team and I will link our documents to specific releases of software.”

    Great–and this reminds me of a point from one of my undergrads: “@ MLA it’s 2017 why can’t I just directly link my sources into the text???”

    Why would anyone flip to the end of a document these days? Either hyperlink or footnote on the same page to make it easier for the reader.

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