Content migration is simply a fact of digital life. As platforms upgrade, integrate, transform, and even spawn anew, enterprises need to take their content along with them on the ride.

During this three-part blog series, DEG has offered a series of content migration best practices. Part I focused on the preparation and planning, while Part II provided helpful tools and checklists.

how to do content migration

However, here in Part III we break the bad news: Your content migration can follow every single one of our recommendations so far, yet still run into problems – problems that can’t be solved by analytics, spreadsheets, project planning, code, or any similar tool. No, these particular problems will often require you to tune up your emotional IQ and read up on everything from cognitive psychology to cultural change in the workplace.

Yes, the mushy stuff. Sorry. However, addressing the mushy stuff can often make all the difference in your technological investments and solutions operating to their full potential.


Content, Culture, and Change

Within an enterprise, a content migration often occurs as part of a big cultural and/or technological change. In a world of constant disruption, where change is becoming the norm, you may not think more change is that big of a deal. In some cases, in some organizations, maybe it isn’t.

When it comes to the common areas where content migrations break down, however, a pattern does emerge. In the examples that follow, a smart reader will notice that the items all share a certain emotional subtext – either some sort of resistance to, or anxiety about change.

Change can often make our vision of the future fuzzy. We become either nearsighted or farsighted, and either way we might take a few missteps. In the face of change, we often diminish potential problems or exaggerate them, and thus risk oversimplifying or overcomplicating how to respond. This in turn correlates to difficulty in assessing and allocating the necessary resources – and you see where this is headed. Nowhere fun, that’s for sure.

While each content migration is unique, it usually encounters one or more of the speed bumps below. These bumps are often symptoms of deeper underlying problems with balancing cultural and technological change.


Example #1: Do you REALLY need all this stuff?

When you move too much content, you risk perpetuating content burden and bloat. Remember, every single byte of content moved also represents dollar signs in your organization’s overhead. Content has a lifecycle, and a natural part of that lifecycle does include hitting “delete.”

Change Problem: Employees can get deeply, emotionally attached to their content, and they envision it as living on in perpetuity, as a validation of their worth and work. Within organizations, content often functions as both capital and control – and the person who has the most wins. Now, try deleting all that. It’s no surprise that cultural problems can erupt.

Solution: For the migration, strongly encourage content owners to prioritize, edit, and delete prior to a certain date. If the word “delete” is causing panic attacks, try this kinder, gentler phrase: “Perhaps the time has come for us to archive this.” For future content governance, try these solutions:

  1. Introduce the concept of content expiration
  2. Consider enforcing content limits
  3. Start specifically counting content costs in budgets
  4. Start using analytics to identify your most successful (and less successful) content.


Example #2: Don’t worry, we’ll clean up the content when we get it over there

This is a giant fallacy. What makes you think you will have any more time in six months than you do now? And why in the world would you want to launch a new site or system full of outdated content? Content dates unbelievably quickly – it always needs refreshing. Why exactly are you avoiding this task?

Change Problem: In all likelihood, you are avoiding cleaning up your content because you lack a clear content strategy. This probably means that your enterprise doesn’t allocate content costs very clearly, and therefore dealing with content is always a burden on someone’s “real” job. In addition, given this lack of content strategy and competition over scarce resources, members of your organization might already be engaged in content wars. Basically, they don’t agree on when or how to generate content, much less what it should look like, how it should be reviewed, etc. – so different factions have all evolved their own independent systems. In a word, yikes.

Solution: Where do you start? Well, there’s no time or place like the present. Begin with developing a content strategy and allocating resources to content management – a necessity as more and more enterprises begin to take on publishing functions in terms of content marketing. Remember that content strategies (especially in the new world of two-way, horizontal, and social communications) don’t just come from the top down, they also have to incorporate the front lines, too.


Example #3: Aw, it’s just a lift and shift

Lift and shift – this refers to the idea that engineers can simply write some code that will magically lift all the content from the old site, and drop it into the new. Don’t we wish. (Note: In Part II, we discussed several ways automation can greatly assist specific portions of your migration – here, we are just cautioning against thinking automation can do it all.)

Change Problem: This problem has several aspects. First, it reflects resistance, the idea that things aren’t REALLY changing. It also reflects the devout hope that the content migration won’t REALLY be a big deal. However, at heart this problem is about over-depending on automation, and avoiding the critical thinking and analysis that are an inevitable part of dealing with content.

Solution: Step up. Automation is supposed to free you from routine tasks so you can think more, not less (in the workplace, anyway). Accept that role and responsibility, and operationalize it. Otherwise, you risk ending up with your new system perpetuating the problems of the old – and even if you can in fact lift and shift all your content in the migration, are you sure that’s really a good idea?


Example #4: Why can’t I revise the information architecture at this point in the process?

In order not to create a metadata headache of semi-colossal proportions, an information architecture (IA) needs to be as stable as possible at the upper levels prior to a migration. Moving a page here and there won’t hurt much. However, changing tab names and section names, even making extensive last-minute edits to page titles, etc. is a bad move. (At the very least, these changes will cost you more time and money.)

Change Problem: On one hand, it’s not like IAs are eternally stable and sacrosanct. By their very nature, they evolve with your site. Still, when there are parties bent on revising the new IA at the late stage of the content migration, you may find at least two underlying change problems: (1) they are trying to get the new site to look like the old one, and/or (2) your stakeholder process failed to create a common understanding of who the user is and what that user needs to accomplish on the site.

Solution: Guess what. Sometimes managing change takes a lot more than the initial stakeholder process. It can also take an implementation strategy, an adoption strategy, and an ongoing education and training process, too. Especially in traditional, hierarchical organizations that have little experience with user-driven web design, turning the ship can take some time. Hang in there. Nor do you have to defend the new IA with your life, of course you want to resolve problems if they exist – just when issues do arise, be sensitive to underlying change problems, too.


Content migrations can break down in many areas, and these constitute only a few of the examples. Whatever issues arise for your particular migration, keep this principle in mind: These problems likely have both technical and cultural aspects. All the technical fixes in the world won’t get you out of having to fix the cultural issues, too. Moreover, if you don’t address the cultural component, then the technology might never function to its whole potential.

What is your experience with the cultural change management issues that arise with content migration? If you have any additional questions about content migration or enterprise collaboration, DEG would be happy to help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>