They say that knowledge is power. What’s even more powerful? If you deliver knowledge in a format that people can easily consume. Knowledge base articles may fit the bill for a time, but as you grow your needs may change.
You should always look to present knowledge in an easy-to-use, digestible, and accessible format—no matter if your knowledge base solution is intended for only internal employees, employees + customers, and any other audience.
In this post, we’ll cover how to think about KB article creation, and what you need to ensure each piece of knowledge you publish is helpful to readers. Before we dive in, let’s start with the basics.
What is a knowledge base?
A knowledge base is a self-service collection of articles, information, and documentation about products, services, topics, or your company. A knowledge base should include answers to frequently asked questions, troubleshooting instructions, glossaries, industry-specific data, how-to guides, and other important information.
The purpose of a knowledge base is to store and organize information, so information seekers can find answers to questions without asking for help.
What are the benefits of setting up a knowledge base?
Regardless of the nature of your business or industry, here are a few reasons to implement a knowledge base:
- It saves your customer service representatives time by allowing your customers to find the answers they need without having to ask an agent.
- Customers in this day and age have grown to expect most companies to offer a self-service option.
- It gives customers some level of round-the-clock and after-hours support.
- For simple content types. Knowledge bases are ideal if you need to publish simple wiki-style articles
- It increases employee productivity. When employees can find the answers to their own questions, it helps keeps other employees in a flow state of maximum productivity
A best practices checklist for knowledge base articles
No matter what knowledge base software you choose, always adhere to knowledge management best practices; you may find you need more than just articles as a content format.
Before you publish or update any KB articles, review these best practices to ensure all published knowledge will be useful.
Determine who will view your KB articles (and where)
Before you publish or create any articles, ensure creators ask some basic questions to ensure they produce articles of value. Questions like:
- Who is the intended audience? (employees, customers, both?)
- How and where will users access this article?
- What topics/information in the article will the audience find most useful and helpful?
- What articles should I create first? Is the customer support team inundated with repetitive questions?
No matter your target audience, at some point you will need a platform that allows for various content types like articles, videos, cards, guided workflows, and so on.
Determine if an article is the best content type
No one wants to ask a simple question during a live chat session and receive a wall of text in return; they undoubtedly expect to receive a one-sentence answer, possibly including a link that will direct them to the answer to their question.
Simple knowledge bases may get the job done for small companies, but enterprises require integrated knowledge built into agent desktops and workflows.
Suppose you need to provide information for employees internally and external customers (like Slack plus a customer-facing chat solution). You might find it’s time to graduate to a KM platform.
Many knowledge bases are highly collaborative, but if customers and call center agents rely on the accuracy and timeliness of the information within your knowledge base, you’ll want a platform complete with the authoring, AI, and governance tools you need.
To help you decide what type of knowledge management software you need based on what’s most important, check out our post on the top knowledge management tools by category.
Identify the best content type for presenting knowledge
Even though articles/wikis or cards are what most people think of when they think of a knowledge base, other content types do a better job in some environments.
You should always present content to users based on context, the environment the knowledge consumer is in. For example, an article may be the best way to present an entire policy someone needs to read; a wiki may be ideal for a simple 5-step tutorial.
For content that needs to be presented in a series of steps with decision points, a decision tree is a better format than an article.
If the information would best be presented visually, video is often the most appropriate format.
Many dedicated knowledge bases display articles beautifully if viewed within the knowledge base itself, but they struggle to integrate (or provide the ideal content type) for CRMs or customer support environments.
Set up user groups and permissions
Since you’ll likely have a company-wide collection of information, certain knowledge base articles (and other content) should be accessible by the most appropriate user groups. In addition, you’ll want to think about how to best grant permissions to various users.
Every employee in your organization should not be able to edit (or create) knowledge base articles.
You may only want mid-level management and above to approve article changes. You may reserve adding, change, or remove documentation to upper management.
It’s likely in your company’s best interests to assign individuals to certain user groups, each with a specific permission level allowing those within that group to read-only, request changes, or edit your knowledge base information. In some industries like finance, law enforcement, or government, some information may be confidential or even classified; in this case, user groups with set permission levels are mandatory for compliance.
Ensure KB articles can accept comments and feedback
All in all, your knowledge base should ensure each employee has permission to view the content most relevant to them—and they can leave feedback on articles they have expertise in.
Allowing for feedback is an important part of permissioning—and why you should take time to set up permission levels properly.
Make sure content creators optimize content for findability
Before you begin publishing articles, you should have a defined taxonomy to appropriately categorize information. If you take time to assign articles to categories and subcategories, it helps searchers find what they need (since most knowledge bases designed for internal use don’t have great search capabilities anyway).
Your knowledge management strategy should include tags and category assignment; depending on how sophisticated your knowledge base, you can also improve search results if you apply connections or linkages between relevant articles or content types.
Use the right knowledge base terminology
Also make sure users apply standard terminology within document titles, descriptions, tags, categories, etc. For example, suppose you’re creating a knowledge article for a banking institution. In that case, you must ensure one content creator doesn’t tag, label, or optimize the article using the term “checking accounts” if another uses the synonymous term “demand deposit accounts.”
Consistency in terminology makes it easier to locate and surface the most relevant knowledge base articles or other informational content for any query. It also doesn’t hurt to manually create documents’ connections by linking directly to other knowledge base content.
Be open to feedback and constructive criticism
Be open to employee feedback as you begin publishing or updating articles—companies all have different content creation processes and it helps to know immediately if something isn’t working. This could be process-related feedback, or general feedback on the capabilities of your knowledge base software.
Eventually, your knowledge base articles will eventually become outdated. Before feedback comes in, think about how best to flag time-sensitive information like interest rates, prices, seasonal store hours, or any other data points likely to change.
Your knowledge base should be optimized for usability until you reach a point where you’re ready to upgrade to a KM platform.
Interested in more tips to optimize your knowledge base? Check out our Knowledge Management Best Practices Guide by Harvard University Information Research Specialist and KM Expert, Patrick Clapp.