Planning, creating, publishing and maintaining content is a team effort.
There are often lots of people involved and that can mean plenty of politics too. Add in the technology and infrastructure needed to deliver content as well, and we’ve got ourselves a challenge. Trouble is, many of those people work in silos, with varying processes, agendas and priorities. This results in inefficient and chaotic ContentOps.
Striving for efficient ContentOps
Content operations (ContentOps) comes after strategy and before delivery. Investing in ContentOps can help institutions connect their silos in order to produce effective content. But where to start?
Typical ContentOps processes and tools
Implementing and refining certain practices and processes as part of your ContentOps can help to bring everyone together around a shared goal for the delivery of content, to achieve a strategic aim.
This article focuses on four ContentOps principles:
- Clearly defined roles
- Production workflows
- Content types and templates
- Content style guides
Roles and workflow go hand-in-hand, and templates and style guides are also more powerful when combined. There are plenty of other principles such as measurement of content and governance models, but this article will focus on the four listed above. Let’s dig deeper, with reference to some data that we yielded from a recent ContentOps in Higher Education survey.
Clearly defined roles
It’s essential for everyone involved in content at your institution to be clear on their roles and responsibilities. People may be involved in content when it isn’t there main role, and even if it is, it can still be ambiguous as to what their exact requirements are. Having clear roles across a content team is even more essential when those people may be spread far and wide due to decentralised structures and models.
Benefits to clearly defined roles include:
- Fewer revisions and faster approvals
- Less back and forth and wasted time
- No confusion over who needs to do what
- A structured team with a clear and agreed focus
In our survey to Higher Ed customers we asked what the average number of people a piece of content passed through before it was published. The average was 4. The lowest number stated was 2, and the highest was 10. Imagine every piece of content passing through 10 people , scale that up across hundreds or thousands of content items and pages and you can start to see how if those 10 people don’t have a clear role, content can be delayed, forgotten, poor in quality, or never delivered.
That said, you may need 7, 8, 9 or 10 people involved. That’s ok so long as they serve a purpose and aren’t part of the process because they’ve always been or because they asked.
When defining roles, make it as easy as possible for people to get their task done by making it clear what is expected of them. For example, if someone needs to review content, what are they reviewing it for? Let them know if it is for accuracy, voice and tone, brand style, spelling and grammar, something else or all of the above.
As well as communicating what they need to do, if necessary, state what they don’t need to focus on. Lines can easily become blurred between workflow stages when there are lots of people involved. Keep everyone focused on their task and it’ll be easier for them to do what’s needed, and ensure content is delivered in the format needed, and on time.
Content production workflows can be as simple as a series of steps a single piece of content has to go through in order to be delivered. It’s the defined process for getting content done.
A typical workflow might look like:
For content operations, the process is unlikely to end with publish. There’ll be some level of governance required, even if it is in annual cycles such as updating a prospectus/viewbook/brochure.
A workflow will help you understand the effort and resource needed to deliver content (and projects), allow you to gain insights into the project scope and timelines and also help you identify any bottlenecks.
Taking the time up front to define your workflow will help to keep content production on track, provide an agreed narrative for producing and delivering content, and facilitate effective collaboration.
The key is to determine who needs to be involved in the workflow and allocate them to each identified workflow stage. A workflow will help you identify any bottlenecks in order to keep content moving, and it will provide a clear process for everyone involved. In that sense, the workflow will connect silos through a well considered and disseminated process.
We asked our survey recipients how satisfied they were with their current content production process. Zero was totally dissatisfied with content never being published and ten was completely happy with no desire to change anything.
The average here was five. So not the worst case scenario, but certainly room for improvement. The most interesting part here was the supporting comments around this. Common statements from respondents included:
- We don’t have a clear process but we get content published, eventually
- Our workflow isn’t clear to all those involved
- We have different workflows for different projects/teams so it becomes confusing
- There’s nobody to oversee the entire process
- Even with a workflow, people still do what they want, or nothing at all
This is where clearly defined roles and a workflow go hand-in-hand. It’s good for people to know what they need to do, but less useful if they don’t know when or in what order.
It’s also great to have a process for content but it will quickly reach a blocker if it isn’t clear who is responsible for each stage of that workflow.
Content types and templates
A small effort around defining the types of content your institution produces, and the rules and structure they need to adhere to, can save you a lot of time (and pain) down the line.
Creating content templates ensures that those producing content will do so following an agreed structure. This means you won’t receive one course description which is 8 paragraphs of text and another that is clearly structured to map to the CMS and/or page template with headings, call to actions and other content elements clearly provided. Regardless of how dispersed your content creators are, they will all be working with the same template.
Providing templates for each content type (Editor’s note: This is one of the main features in GatherContent) means less time restructuring and reformatting content once it reaches you. It also makes it easier for authors to provide content as it is broken down into chunks rather than being the unhelpful blank canvas of a Word Doc.
It also makes for a repeatable and scaleable process, with confidence in consistency across all areas and teams. Content types help create structure, allowing information to be repurposed for different scenarios and devices.
When designing content types and templates involving people from content, design and development teams ensures a shared understanding of the content.
Content style guides
When there are lots of people creating content, there is more risk of that content being inconsistent, of varying quality and in different styles and formats. Putting this right can take a lot of time.
A content style guide, whilst no silver bullet, is a good way of overcoming these issues. A content style guide will help writers produce content in the right style and format, enable an organisation-wide understanding of the style, and provide clear rules and guidelines for content.
Our survey asked respondents what common content challenges they regularly faced and in relation to content quality and style, the relevant insights are:
- 67% of respondents state subject matter experts struggle to understand why writing specifically for the web is important
- 67% – Poor quality content and inconsistent websites across the university undermine the brand
- 58% – Content standards and brand guidelines aren’t adhered to, diluting the quality and consistency of content
- 54% – Stakeholders have varying writing styles which result in inconsistent content
A style guide will communicate the nuances of your style and language, guiding authors on tenses, punctuation, and formatting. For example, all job titles are written as title case and all article titles are written in sentence case. Or, staff profiles need to be written in the third person and dates for events are written as Thursday November 12th.
It’s imperative that once a style guide is created, it is shared and used. That in itself can be a challenge but without a style guide in the first place you risk content being created and delivered without any guidance.
If you’re looking to create or improve a style guide for your institution, Dundee University’s content style guide offers some inspiration.
Available online, it leads with their content principles and then provides plenty of context and examples of their voice and tone, rules for writing and style and formatting preferences.
The University of Bath also have a lot of guidance online for creating their different content types. This is a great example of content types and templates and writing rules coming together to empower content creators and provide all of the information they need, when they need it. Here’s an example from their Creating a Campaign page. As well as when to create a campaign, this guide offers information on how and provides specific style guidance such as ‘write concisely and in plain English’ and ‘make sure a call to action doesn’t end in a full stop/period.’
These guides focus on both showing and telling, with the latter being necessary to provide context and clarity for content creators.
Start small and iterate, one connection at a time
The best way to make progress on establishing and refining some of these processes is to start small and iterate. Trying to do everything at once will be a hard sell to stakeholders and those involved.
To connect the silos, introduce the processes as needed, communicate them successfully and start to develop your institution’s ContentOps in stages, bringing people into the process in stages. That way, you can connect the silos through the newly shared processes and understanding, resulting in a repeatable process for creating effective content.