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Content management vs. knowledge management: What are the differences?

Knowledge management and content management both deal with creating, managing and distributing. But there are key differences between the two concepts. Learn more.

Content management and knowledge management may appear to be interchangeable terms, but there are key differences between the two concepts.

The term content management is everywhere these days. Its importance in the enterprise is hard to overstate, as customer personalization and targeted marketing grow increasingly ubiquitous. It's important to understand exactly what content management entails and how it works.

But there's a similar term out there -- knowledge management -- that often muddies the waters. It's important to understand the differences between the two terms, what each of them has to offer, and how each affects the enterprise.

What is content management?

Organizations use a content management system (CMS) to create and manage targeted content across multiple channels -- a need that is steadily rising in many organizations that reach out to their customers through the internet. The content can be anything -- marketing materials, announcements, coupons -- and the channels can include websites, SMS, emails and more. The CMS assists in the creation of that content, its management and its deployment.

This covers a lot of territory. Marketers can use a CMS, for instance, to swap out content in an online marketing campaign so that the content appeals to a particular demographic, targeting it more precisely. They can also use it to swap out content in a message to the customer on a more personal level, based not on the customer's demographic but on the personal data that the enterprise has stored.

The pinnacle of a CMS is enterprise content management, which is a CMS wrapped in workflow. Enterprise content management schedules content deployment, automates targeting and integrates approvals and notifications as part of the process. This automation enables a real-time CMS, making it possible to deploy content dynamically for the customer as conditions change in the moment -- say, during a visit to the company website.

Knowledge triangle

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is very similar to content management in principle. It involves creating, managing and distributing, just as content management does. While content management creates, manages and distributes content, knowledge management does the same with knowledge.

Knowledge in general is what describes something or explains its use, or how it's done. The old adage is that information is made out of data, while knowledge is made out of information. That's pretty accurate. Knowledge also has a distinctly human component; even more so than with data and information, it is about understanding.

In the enterprise, this includes a wide range of kinds of information. Enterprise knowledge can include the specifics of business processes; the way that the business obtains certain critical metrics; the substance of in-house expertise and experience or the embodiment of institutional memory. It can be created, or imported from outside; it can be modified, updated over time; it can become obsolete or irrelevant.

Content management pushes information, knowledge management exchanges information.

As with content management, knowledge management can have different forms and scale. In one organization, it can be a simple document management system, in which documentation on processes and policy reside. In another organization, knowledge management might take the form of a knowledge base -- a system that gathers facts and records into one place, where users can access them to support decisions.

At its zenith, knowledge management manifests in knowledge management systems, which apply process to the distribution of knowledge and simplification of access to it so that users can rapidly seek out whatever knowledge might inform what they're trying to accomplish. This can include workflow, multichannel access, extensive tagging, mechanisms for dissemination and tools for collaboration in its capture, storage and distribution.

What are the key differences between content management vs. knowledge management?

Several key differences between the two kinds of systems emerge.

  1. Creators. In a CMS, the content creation is typically handled by a small, dedicated team of content experts. In a knowledge management system, the opposite is true. Because the point of the system is to capture and codify institutional know-how, virtually every employee is a potential contributor, and even outsiders may often be welcome.
  2. Consumers. In a CMS, the end consumer is most often a customer or potential customer; in a knowledge management system, the end consumer is most often an employee.
  3. Commodities. In a CMS, the main commodity is information. The organization is giving the customer specifics about a product, a marketing or promotional event, or something else that has attributes and a schedule attached to it that they might find interesting or useful. In knowledge management, however, mere information isn't the coin; the purpose is to pass along understanding. It's about the sharing of perception, interpretation and expertise.
  4. Types of exchanges. Content management is about accommodation between the enterprise and the customer; knowledge management is about collaboration between employees.
  5. Direction of distribution. Content management pushes information, knowledge management exchanges information.

The impact and importance of both

For all these differences, the two systems have one big thing in common: They are both critically dependent upon metadata. The descriptive attributes of content enable them to be directed to the right customers; the attributes of knowledge objects make them accessible to the right employees.

A key distinction between them underscores how essential both systems are in the enterprise: Content is highly specific information that is granular in application. Knowledge is exactly the opposite -- it is as broadly applicable as it can be, once its consumer takes it in and understands it. For this reason, both systems are essential in the enterprise. One without the other can undo many of the benefits of either.

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