LavaCon 2017: Content Turf Wars

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In November 2017 I attended LavaCon in Portland. If you are not familiar with LavaCon, check them out here. It is one of the best content marketing conferences in North America, with active and participating attendees. A highlight in the circus of conference speaking.

In 2017 I gave a presentation about “Knowledge Freedom: Break down the silos”. I had so many questions from the audience during the presentation that I ended up running over my allotted time. This post will be the pilot of a series, addressing most of the questions posed by the audience. The audience’s concerns were, around topics we all struggle with today. Some we will in the future, considering the decentralization and global work environments we find ourselves in more and more these days.

Collaboration and Content Strategy

We all agree in theory that collaboration amongst all content creators, no matter what department they report up to, will ultimately deliver the best quality and most consistent content to the market. It is also beneficial to the company, because you might catch duplicative projects or interdependencies early on. I have yet to meet an executive will be upset with you for saving time, money and resources.

As we were discussing the idea of collaboration and streamlining new content projects during the presentation, one of the audience questions caught me by surprise.

“How do you manage and mitigate conflict amongst multiple collaborators on the same project if each team has their own way to present their information?”

I can’t even say why this question surprised me. After all, I had experienced this first hand myself.  I am sure you have too. I like to call this phenomenon – Content Turf Wars.

Content Turf Wars

Thankfully more often than not, it does not come to a real turf war. I would say 80% of the time when teams are collaborating on extremely similar or the same projects, most people are happy to let go of the responsibility, and let others take care of it. It might even go as far as them becoming totally hands off, and that’s not great either. But you can steer that behavior much more easily, by encouraging people to commit, collaborate and contribute to the project. Even if the final deliverable is not their responsibility.

In those rare instances (and let’s hope they stay rare), when you have competing teams wanting to influence, impact and steer the project, you may face potential content turf wars. The biggest obstacle to overcome are personal wants and needs. The moment a project is something you have emotionally invested in, it is really hard to let go, or accept another’s stamp on it.

I see two major pitfalls in this scenario:

  1. One person takes full charge and intentionally cuts out everyone else. The end deliverable will not suit the ultimate business or customer need and therefore the project will be redone or scraped altogether.
  2. The second one is when the participants simply won’t budge on their personal stance and a resolution needs to be brought on by an executive.

You can steer or correct the former and usually achieve a bigger chance of success. The latter is truly difficult. Communication are around sensitive issues will expose you to business risk.

High Impact or High Risk Content

Some of the experience I had during my time in the tech and financial services industries taught me a lot about overcoming my personal expectations. I always aim for transparency and owning up to mistakes. But managing communications within a community around bug fixes, security issues, hacking and other high impact, maybe even politically charged events are fraught with peril. I had to balance my desire as a community manager to provide transparent and honest answers to customer questions, with legal risk and brand reputational considerations. All of a sudden sharing a blog article around the Equifax data breach or that little Intel microprocessor snafu becomes a business risk or opens you up to legal action.

So what, should we simply stay quiet? Some of these are hard battles to fight. What can you talk about? How much risk can you take on?

Ultimately I found that you can’t resolve all internal disagreements directly. That’s where it comes in handy to have an executive sponsor. This person should always wear the business-first hat, in all conversations. He or she will have to be the ultimate referee, because both sides involved in the project might have very valid facts. Yet they still don’t add up to an ultimate truth or the one right way of doing things.

Executive Guidance

I was overruled by our executive sponsor on such projects before. I won’t say it did not sting. It sucked. Truly. But I am a proud person and being told your facts and arguments are just simply not good enough to compensate for the other side’s arguments is hard to swallow. And I know I am not alone with this.

Sometimes you win some and sometimes you lose some. Ultimately we will all learn something. If nothing else, you learn about the personalities involved in the project. Maybe the next time around we will understand each other’s positions a bit better at the beginning of a new journey and are able to set a framework, that we can find compromise within.

Ultimately what I learned from such experiences is that we are not all business owners. Most (not all) companies are built for profit. Sometimes decisions are made for the company and not for the community or the customers. And sometimes transparency has to take a back seat, even if it annoys the community manager in me.

I truly believe that with the right team you can minimize such incidents. By handling difficult situations, you are setting a good precedent for the next time. Maybe then, you won’t need to escalate and can find a solution with the people in the room.


Additional blogs from this series include:

Content Security Clearance

3rd Party Content

Content Maintenance

Content Quality Assurance

A big thank you to all who attended, asked and prodded me with questions. An even bigger thank you goes out to my dear friend Laurel Nicholes, who has guided and mentored my career for many year (and who I will miss forever). This series is in memory of all the hard work and inspiration you shared with us over the years.

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