Jun 14th, 2011 @ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

If all you want is a CMS, you’re doing it wrong

I don’t know if he remembers, but I once sat in a Washington D.C. cafe and argued the utility of topic pages with Matt Thompson for an entire hour.

Matt’s unique perspect working on Project Argo makes me sit up and listen every time he has something to say about the industry, whether he’s talking about topic pages or, more recently, Content Management Systems. So I took notice when he wrote about the future of Content Management Systems on Poynter.

Matt discusses the evolving expectation of a CMS and makes numerous points about the content needs of a CMS noting that it cannot be the end all solution to all of the problems of a news organization.

We’ve finally begun to accept that no single CMS can handle all of a digital news organization’s content functions. A good content management system today is designed to interact with lots of other software. There’s now a genuine expectation that a CMS will play nicely with videos stored on YouTube, or comments managed by Disqus, or live chats embedded from CoverItLive. Other environments such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr come with their own suites of tools. And increasingly, what we call a “content management system” is actually a combo of multiple tightly-integrated systems.

I agree whole-heartedly with most of Matt’s thesis but there is one facet where the modern CMS fails the independent news organization that is rarely mentioned: revenue. Specifically industry standard tools that are par for any website that sells a product or service.

I believe strongly that journalists overvalue multimedia tools as a means to tell stories, so I’ve never been frustrated at the lack of social media or multimedia integrations with my CMS. News sites must do more than tell stories, they must turn readers into customers if they hope to survive.

That conversion can vary depending on the news site. A conversion can be a sign up, a subscriber, purchasing membership or attending an event (or sometimes, all of the above).

Currently at Technically Philly, we’re beginning our plans for a long-overdue redesign, and chief among our needs is what amounts to a CRM to help roll out our perspective membership platform. I don’t need something that makes it easy to post YouTube videos, I need a tool that helps us gather relevant information about our readers to deliver the content that best suits their consumption habits. I need to know which of my users are most engaged with our content and how to convert them in to customers. I need to know the newsletter they signed up for and the event they purchased tickets for. With this information, Technically Philly could send targeted sales campaigns to our users with relevant content.

For example, if I see that John Doe signed up for our venture capital newsletter (which is free), I know he’ll probably also enjoy attending Switch Philly, our startup demo event (which is not).

Currently, industry standard CRMs like SalesForce were not created with content creators in mind. Instead they are often created for sales teams at more traditional businesses. However, what if there was a simple HTML tag I could tie to links that would automatically update our reader’s profile in our customer database?

Technically Philly is not the only news site in search of such functionality. Armstrong, the Knight Foundation-funded CMS boasts CRM integration on the home page and I think it’s a right direction. I would never suggest that CMS makers bake in full-featured a CRM. However CRMs and similar platforms are rarely even considered when discussing a news site.

While workflows and content presentation are important, independent news sites need more. Workflow and multimedia tools are important but they are small improvements on the process of journalism. Real revenue and customer management tools placed in the hands of site owners would produce more innovation than Storify ever will.

Background photo by Flickr user joeshlabotnik.

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