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What is content management software? What is the difference between content management and CMS?

Content management software automates the process of publishing information to a website. That simple statement has several important assumptions behind it:

  • that information is published, vs. posted
  • that there is a process that can be automated
  • that the website will have enough content being updated often enough that it will warrant a substantial investment

These assumptions are not to be taken lightly. Often, digital content is created by different people than those who communicate in person, by phone, or in print from an organization to its audiences. As long as that is the case, your website’s effectiveness will be limited.

Content management is the means to ensure that the information an organization issues is accurate, on-target, legally compliant and consistent. True content management encompasses digital content displayed on any device, e-newsletters, social media, call center scripts, direct marketing materials, sales presentations, press information, advertising, product information, executive speeches, etc.

Imagine if your information was integrated:

…if your organization’s information was created through a collaboration of communications, training, marketing, business strategy and customer service…

…if your customers could go to your store, your website, your salespeople, your call center and get the same information…

…if your salespeople, executives, communications department and customer service representatives all knew what each other was saying, and that their information matched.

Managing Web-based content

Good web content needs a publishing process behind it, to ensure that it is accurate, up-to-date, on-brand and serves the needs of the author and organization who generate it, as well as the reader. Software tools can automate some of the content management process, but content management can happen without software-and the thought processes drive the content management requirements, not vice-versa.


Content management systems, in general, do the following things:

  • Have a standard way to accept all content, whether through the use of templates (forms) or by saving from standard office software.
  • Store content in a central place.
  • Take content along the approval chain, usually called workflow.
  • Separate content from presentation, so that changes in the design of a page or site can happen independently from the content and content is easier to reuse.
  • Enable metadata to be entered for each piece of content, enabling it to be found more easily by internal search engines and delivered dynamically on pages.

There are benefits and risks to using a CMS


  • Your website will have a consistent look and feel, since a CMS presents content according to sitewide standards.
  • Further, if the same content appears on different sites, it will be displayed in the look of each site.
  • Most CMSs can automatically update internal links, ensuring that no one reaches a dead end in your site.
  • By standardizing your editorial processes, your website is likely to have better content.


  • Content management systems are expensive, costing up to several hundred thousand dollars.
  • Open-source software might have no cost to buy, but it needs extensive customization.
  • Myth: If you build it, they’ll use it. Without motivation and recognition, people’s behavior won’t change.
  • You can’t count on a CMS to create content for you, or inspire people to update their content, or make people better writers.
  • Many content management systems are not usable without training…an especially significant issue for content owners who only need to update their information infrequently. (This is often complicated even more if the people who post content are not the ones who author it.)

Do you need a CMS?

You definitely need content management in your organization. The question is whether you need software to do that management.

In your organization…

  • who distributes information?
  • who receives that information?
  • what information was the recipient looking for, and did the information provide that?
  • why was the recipient looking for that information, and did the information meet that goal?
  • what was the organization goal in communicating the information, and was that the right one?

Most organizations don’t know the answer to these questions. And, to complicate matters even more, they don’t know much at all about what information is being communicated from various parts of an organization to various audiences — in other words, whether several business units or departments are saying contradictory things about the same things, to the same audiences.

Creating enterprise-level content management

Content management efforts cannot only reside in the communications department, although communicators should take a leadership role. They cannot be centered in IT, although technical developers need to be involved through the entire process. There needs to be a cross-functional team devoted to assessing what the organization’s content management needs and opportunities are, given that organization’s culture, business goals, and audience needs.

How to choose the right system and avoid choosing the wrong one

  1. See content management as a strategic companywide effort, not a technical project.
    If content management is seen purely as a technical project, its focus will be on the implementation of a software package, vs. a significant shift in business process.
  2. Scrutinize CMSs in light of your needs.
    Frankly, the marketing language for many content management systems sounds similar. But start by screening vendors and reading comparison reports, including CMS Watch.
  3. Start by learning what you need.
    Phase one of your CMS project is to create a strategy for your content and requirements for what you need a CMS to do. Your focus can’t be only on the technology. The strategy/discovery process needs to uncover content creation processes and develop best practices that can be adopted throughout the organization. It needs to state a compelling case for content management that will inspire executives to embrace its use. And it needs to involve HR, motivating people to participate in this effort.
  4. Make your RFP very specific to your needs.
  • State each requirement (or preference, if a feature would be good but not essential), and have vendors answer the following questions for each one:
  • Does your product provide this capability?
  • Is this capability a standard feature, an add-on, or will it require custom development?
  • If the feature is not standard, how much will it cost to buy/build?
  • Please provide details about how you would meet this requirement.
  • Are there any qualifications to your answer?
  • Create a multidisciplinary team for the CMS selection process

The people who choose a content management system should include technology, content, and business.

Content Company can help your organization develop a content management process, or choose software to help manage your content. Contact us for more information.

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