How does your company capture institutional knowledge?

Here at [meta]marketer, we’ve begun using an Evernote notebook called “[m]m smartzz” to flesh out some thinking around concepts that surface repeatedly in client interactions, so we have a shared understanding of these areas. The one I was just adding today is about taxonomies. It begins:

A taxonomy organizes concepts and presents a representation of categories and concept hierarchy as a thought framework, shared vocabulary, and institutional knowledge.

For example, one of my favorite book titles is by the linguist George Lakoff, called “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.” It’s a humorous illustration, but a vivid one: the groupings we agree upon say as much about us as they do about the things we’re grouping.

In attempting to produce a meaningful taxonomy for website content management, it is useful to attack the problem from a few different angles:

  • What is the consumer vocabulary? What terminology does the consumer use to describe the concepts, and what groupings make intuitive sense to the consumer?
  • What is our aspirational vocabulary? What terminology would we ideally like to train the marketplace to adopt? What groupings would demonstrate our conceptual framework and biases for the sake of influencing consumer perception of our subject matter?
  • What are the areas of greatest content density? Topics within our subject area about which we have a great deal to say are going to need finer resolution and sharper distinctions than those about which we have very little to say. For example, if we create a taxonomy of [meta]marketer terminology, it will be insufficient to talk about marketing: we will need greater specificity for what aspect of marketing we’re talking about, such as marketing analytics, online marketing, search marketing, etc. But for something that isn’t our core subject, we will not need to be so specific. We may occasionally create content about Nashville, for example, but we probably won’t need to describe whether the content is about Nashville businesses, Nashville lifestyles, Nashville music, or anything more granular than Nashville… whereas clearly other websites and businesses that do focus on Nashville would find it meaningful to drill into those additional levels of detail.

And so on. Truthfully, it hasn’t saved us time or money yet, but it may someday, and for now it seems like good discipline. But I wonder, how are other companies tackling this? Do you have a “smartzz” notebook or folder somewhere, or a wiki? How do you make sure that good explanations of difficult concepts don’t have to be re-created every time?

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