What Self-Driving Cars Teach Us About Content Management

Image of a self-driving car's heads up display in motion
Though technology is reshaping our world every day, complex situations often require the human ability to strategize, connect, and communicate. Someone who can take the wheel, make decisions, and steer the site towards success. A great example? A complex website needs a managing editor.

In April, Elon Musk boasted that by mid-2020 Tesla’s self-driving technology will achieve “Level 5 autonomy,” meaning humans can confidently let their cars do all the work. Thus far, engineers at Tesla — as well as Google, Uber, and traditional automakers — have only put Level 3 (or “conditional”) technology onto our roads. So today’s vehicles can drive autonomously in ideal operating conditions, with a human ready to take over if necessary.

Some experts say that Musk’s prediction is wildly optimistic and Level 5 autonomy is, practically, at least a decade away. There’s a very good reason for that: operating a car is really hard. Even a short drive requires advanced decision-making and information processing. Riti Dass has written in Medium:

“Driving is an intensely social process that frequently involves intricate interactions with other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. In many of those situations, humans rely on generalized intelligence and common sense that robots still very much lack.”

And… even if Artificial Intelligence overcomes these challenges, there are even greater obstacles. Weather, for example. Modern vehicle sensors are less reliable in fog, rain, and snow. Are you ready to let go of the controls while your car navigates black ice after a winter freeze?

As UX practitioners, we’re fascinated to see where this goes. Even if the technology is slow-developing, we hope autonomous vehicles live up to their promise of being more convenient, safer, cheaper, and better for the environment. On the other hand, we’re reminded that the tools we create need humans. Drivers, if you will.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to content management.

Understandably, many website administrators want content management to be easy. They want to put it on auto-pilot. After all, they may have already made significant investments in a new CMS, a design system, and a set of flexible templates.

But, like a car, a website needs someone behind the wheel. Particularly in Higher Ed, there are just too many variables, too many sensitive decisions, requiring a quick, thoughtful response. With so many stakeholders — administration, faculty, alumni, prospective students, parents — content management is also “an intensely social process.”

That’s where a Managing Editor comes in.

What does a Managing Editor do, you ask? Let’s look at some of the ways that he/she can steer your content in the right direction:

Content Updates

Content is always changing, even if you’re only responsible for a specific school, department, or program. News articles and research publications are published; faculty/staff bios need updates; enrollment cycles must be planned months in advance. A Managing Editor makes those changes or, if necessary, delegates the tasks to others.


Did we say delegate? That means staff must be trained to contribute to the CMS. And with multiple contributors, you need a clearly-defined workflow. What level of access does each user have? What sections are they responsible for? Who approves updates prior to publishing? A Managing Editor takes ownership of these decisions.


Keep in mind that training will be ongoing. Staffing changes happen, and new contributors assume roles in the CMS. As your in-house CMS expert, a Managing Editor coaches, shares information, and gets everyone up-to-speed.


With multiple contributors, you are bound to struggle with inconsistency. That confuses users, and causes them to look elsewhere. A Managing Editor is vital to ensuring that your organization speaks with one consistent voice and tone, and follows a defined style guide. He/she is also the last defense against spelling and grammatical errors, which damage your credibility.


Once you are staffed and trained, with a workflow in place, you can look beyond the immediate work-at-hand. What content will you need in the next year? Whether it’s blog posts, photo assets, audio, video, or student stories, a Managing Editor leads the way with an editorial calendar — specifying who, what, and when.

Social — and More

Your website isn’t the only content source you need to worry about. (If only.) You need a presence, and active participation, on various social media platforms. If increasing enrollment is your goal, you likely have digital marketing campaigns and microsites as well. A Managing Editor can apply standards and processes to all of your digital publishing platforms.

Implementing Technology

A good CMS is user-friendly and intuitive. But it’s still a complex, powerful tool. A Managing Editor knows its capabilities and limitations — and ideally — helped us design it. Other related technology may include writing platforms (ex.: GatherContent), editors (HemingwayApp, Grammarly), and third-party systems (news aggregator, events calendar, etc.). You’ll want the expertise of a Managing Editor to choose the right tools.

If you need even more convincing, Jess Ostroff wrote a good post about Why Next Level Content Needs A Managing Editor.

But back to self-driving cars. By now, you can see how a Managing Editor is like an experienced driver. We’ll take it a step further. Your Managing Editor is not just there to operate the equipment (i.e., the CMS) and navigate. He/she is your tour guide, driving instructor, and dispatcher. You know, all the stuff that requires a human touch.

But enough with the metaphors. You get it. You’re probably saying: “we’d love to have a Managing Editor, but we just don’t have the budget.” We’d ask: can you afford not to hire someone? Outdated information — particularly for upcoming enrollment cycles — is costing you money. So is your under-trained staff, inconsistent content, outdated technology, and missed opportunities on social media. Doing things the right way is expensive; doing things wrong is costly.

NewCity can help. So get in touch. Talk to us about workshops, training, and services related to content management.

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