Creative Strategies

Friday, September 18, 2009

Three baby steps to start taxonomy and categorization

So you're discovering you have a lot of information stored away, but it needs to be categorized or tagged in some way. STOP! Most organizations just start labeling content without any sort of standardization or any idea of the impact correct tagging has.

Why is stopping important? Because everyone categorizes differently. Here's a small unscientific test I did using my friends on Facebook. I posted a status simply saying " If I say 'Apple', you think. . ." After thirteen responses (again, it wasn't very scientific) four people associated the word with something edible and four people related it to technology. Three other categories also came up. So with one simple word, there were five trains of thought among only thirteen people. How big is your organization?

So what do you do? Initiate. Educate. Communicate.

1. Initiate the program by having a conversation with marketing or a leader in your organization that knows the workings of many departments. Start with a list of what types of content are being categorized. Simply write a list with the terms that make sense to YOU and then get the feedback from a small group of people. Marketing or someone in leadership can be great resources because they often know what terms need to be used with clients. And keeping clients happy is important. But the terms do need to make sense for employees as well, so there will be some back and forth. But it's important, so stick with it. The main idea is to keep things consistent. One group within an organization should not be using one term for something while another group describes it someway else. (i.e. Marketing Materials vs. Brochures) If you need help coming up with different keywords that make work for everyone, check out Google's Keyword tool

2. Educate your staff. Coming up with a final list is one thing, but you have to teach people not only what the correct terms are, but also what they mean. Show examples of what sub categories may fit into a certain area. (i.e. 'desktops' and 'laptops' are subcategories of 'computers') You may have a need for a certain subcategory to reside under multiple categories. . . limit this as much as possible. While there are some words that will make sense in multiple places, limiting this will cut down on confusion.

3. Communicate the reason for and the meanings behind your taxonomy again and again. Many organizations have the habit of launching something, communicating the launch and then never discussing it again. That's how projects die and how accountability is stunted. Remind your users what the terms are and what they mean. Let them know if a new term is added or an old one is renamed or removed. Communicating this information will not only remind staff about the tools the taxonomy is used for, it will help educate new staff and open up new discussion avenues within your group.

It's never too late to start a taxonomy project. Starting late may require more work hours in updating older information, but it's worth it. You'll find information faster, cut down on confusion and inconsistencies in speech internally and externally, as well as gain a better understanding of the different aspects of your organization.

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