When in doubt, map it out

Do you work in content and know the term ‘content ecosystem map’?
If yes — hats up to you, you seem to be a seasoned Content Pro!
Personally, I didn’t know about it until my third project at the FH Joanneum in the Content Strategy program. I was made aware of this method by my supervisor — and it was exactly the right step for the basis of my master’s thesis.

Photo by Parabol on Unsplash

What is a Content Ecosystem Map?

A Content Ecosystem Map visually represents the “content reality” of a company or department in the form of a map. (Note: I read about the term content reality first from Scott Kubie, and love it since it fits perfectly)

All the individual entities of a company’s content ecosystem can be used. This could include: Content pieces you create, tools and software you use, or even the different content roles in your company, where you display who does what. What you end up entering into the map is entirely up to you and your goals.

Why should you create a Content Ecosystem Map?

In an ecosystem, all units work together, depend on and build upon each other and thus form a whole. It is the same with the content ecosystem of an online editorial department, as in my project work.

On the one hand, the content ecosystem map can depict the current state of reality, but also the desired target state. Depending on the goals set, both states can also be combined. This can be particularly useful in identifying potential problems and recognizing deficits easier.
Another positive aspect of the map is the diversity and freedom that underlies its creation. In order to represent the ecosystem in a form that can be particularly useful to the company or department, a consensus between your co-workers must be created on which elements should be included and which you leave out.

The visual preparation of the content reality should not only be understood as a final product. Rather, it is also an activity and a process that creates clarity and understanding.

How do I create a Content Ecosystem Map?

An important part of creating a content ecosystem map is the collaboration with your colleagues. To make the content ecosystem map as accurate and truthful as possible, team members should be involved. This can take the form of a workshop, as in my particular project work, or also individual interviews. After mapping work steps, roles, and similar entities, owners of the respective roles should be asked to verify the information reproduced. The tool I used for the workshop and the mapping is Miro.

Here is how I did it:

Some background information: In the field of content creation, our online editorial team already suspected that deficits existed in various areas. However, no exact problem could be identified. In some cases, working methods and steps in the workflow were not considered optimal, but a more detailed analysis was not carried out.

To get started, me and my team began with a brainstorming session. The idea was to collect all the individual components that were relevant for online editorial work in terms of content and just them write up. These included tools, stakeholders, channels, content types, and work steps.
Then we slowly started sorting all the individual parts, connecting them to each other and naming the connections. This resulted in a first prototype, which served as an indicator of how the map and the project itself could develop further.

The first prototype: Unclear structure with loose ends.

It should be noted that it proved difficult to find a clear structure for the presentation of all the individual parts during a relatively short workshop of about 3 hours. I spent quite some time afterward creating a visually appealing and understandable structure, but I ended up with a satisfying result.

The final map: Structured, color-coded, and with named connections.

The Content Ecosystem Map represents reality. The current state. Nothing more, nothing less. To work my way to a desired state of the content ecosystem, I researched statistics, best-practice methods, and relevant literature about everything I thought could be flawed, like workflows, roles and responsibilities.

The content ecosystem map and the research ultimately clearly revealed, that there were severe shortcomings in the field of Content Operations and Governance.

Two months later, I find myself in the position of writing my master’s thesis about this very topic — all thanks to the ecosystem map.

The ecosystem map still serves as a basis for my thesis. In the near future, I will publish an article about my thoughts on the importance of Content Operations and Governance as well as some insights into my thesis.

Until then, you definitely should read up on the article Who’s in charge of your content? by my colleague Azza, where you can learn more about Governance.

Want to dive deeper into the topic of Content Ecosystem Maps? Then absolutely check out the four-part blog series by Scott Kubie of braintraffic.com.

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