Content Management vs. Knowledge Management: What’s the Difference?

Madeline Jacobson
4 mins
woman typing in word processor representing content management vs. knowledge management

When thinking about content management vs. knowledge management, it’s helpful to imagine the set of tools you might use for a home project.

Thanks to HGTV, it’s probably safe to say that many of us have attempted a few DIY projects—the professionals make it look so easy. You purchase all the supplies and tools and block off a weekend (or two). Halfway through the project, you realize some of the wood was measured and cut wrong, requiring some extra work. You believe a circular saw can do the trick—it’s all you have.

While the circular saw may have done the job, going back to the store and buying that jigsaw would have probably made your life a little easier, saved you time, and resulted in a better product.

Content Management vs. Knowledge Management: Frameworks for Preserving Information

Organizations face a similar challenge when it comes to choosing tools to manage information. This is where the debate of content management vs. knowledge management begins. Many organizations use content management solutions (a circular saw). Others leverage knowledge management solutions (a jigsaw), and some use both. 

The two frameworks provide different ways of preserving information, something that is essential for all businesses. By preserving information, companies ensure that they don’t lose valuable knowledge when employees leave, that they have a referenceable database for tackling problems that have been solved before, and that they have a learning center that new employees can use to get up to speed. 

The key differences between content management and knowledge management lie in the types of assets they incorporate and the ways those assets are deployed. We’ll take a closer look at both frameworks below. 

What Is Content Management?

Content management tools function as the overarching repository where companies store information. According to KMWorld, the purpose of content management is to manage projects, websites, web pages, and documents. The focus here is creating systematic, consumable content for a specific medium. For example, a team of content creators within the marketing department might plan, write, and publish blog posts intended to educate prospective customers. They will likely use a customer system management (CMS) platform like Wordpress or Hubspot to manage and create this content.

Some organizations will configure their CMS platform to be dual purpose and act as the company intranet. While this is possible, CMS platforms are not purpose built for knowledge management and could pose a set of challenges relating to scalability, information retention, and user adoption. Content management tools are essential to organizational success but are not always the best tool for every job.

What Is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge management (KM) is more multidimensional than content management, with the ability to search for, capture, update, and maintain relevant information all in a single platform. Anyone can curate or update information in real-time, sparking conversations and collaboration among peers and across departments. And while knowledge management systems can contain explicit documented content (such as process documents and how-to guides), they can also capture implicit knowledge by enabling employees to publish questions and answers. 

When comparing content management vs. knowledge management, you could argue that both systems can store a 200-page training document, but only knowledge management systems can help capture the interactions and institutional knowledge that surrounds that document. These systems can help you identify experts and then capture their knowledge so your entire company can benefit from it.

However, just like any other tool, KM poses its own challenges. Dbkay + Associates explains that one of the biggest obstacles to overcome with knowledge management is getting employees to integrate it into their day-to-day duties. If employees aren’t actively capturing and curating information, there is a problem. A KM system will become stagnant, causing you to go backwards as it relates to creating efficiencies to help employees be successful and drive change.

One way that many companies overcome this challenge of stagnation is by choosing a KM system that integrates with tools their employees use every day, such as Slack, Salesforce, and Zendesk. When a KM system seamlessly integrates with tools that are part of an employee’s daily workflow, the employee is more likely to adopt (and continue to use) the KM system.

Examples of Content Management vs. Knowledge Management

To better illustrate the differences between content management and knowledge management, let’s take a look at two examples.

Let’s say that a professional services firm is building a resource center for their website that they will use to share educational articles and other content for their clients and prospective clients. They plan to use a content management framework to complete this project. They have an editor who will serve as a project manager and several content creators who will write the content. The editor and content creators use project management software to track their progress, and when they complete new content, they upload it to their content management system and publish it on their website. They can continue to update existing content and add new resources to the CMS platform as needed.

Now let’s say that the same professional services firm needs to make sure that their customer service representatives can quickly find the information they need to assist clients over the phone. The CMS platform isn’t designed to quickly surface the specific knowledge they need, so the company decides to use an internal knowledge management platform. Designated knowledge managers may add customer-facing resources, policies, processes, and other formal documentation to the platform, but they may also encourage customer service representatives and subject matter experts to ask and answer questions in the platform so the company’s knowledge base grows over time. 

Driving Change with New Strategies

Content management vs. knowledge management is an ongoing conversation, and the truth is, they are interconnected. But for these two tools to work together, a knowledge management strategy is imperative. A knowledge management strategy can be used to not only capture and preserve the knowledge that exists across the organization, but to make it searchable and accessible to everyone within that organization so they can use it to make decisions and do their best work.

Note: This blog post was originally published in June 2017. It was most recently expanded and updated in November 2021. 

November 16, 2021

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