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Connecting silos in your institution for effective content operations

Robert Mills • 5 minutes

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.

Higher education institutions experience this challenge at scale as they face these issues:

  • Content isn’t given the respect it deserves by every school, department and faculty
  • Poor quality content and inconsistent websites across the university undermine your brand
  • Governing hundreds of websites that are scattered across multiple ancient CMS’, across tens of departments and schools is challenging
  • Content standards and brand guidelines aren’t adhered to, diluting the quality and consistency of content
  • Stakeholders have varying writing styles which result in inconsistent content. These crucial subject matter experts also have demanding day jobs, leaving little time to focus on content and process

Content is created and managed in silos, often outside of the digital teams reach, with varying agendas and priorities. In order to ensure content is consistent, high-quality and delivered on time, where should teams start in order to connect the silos for an effective content operation?

Typical content operations processes and tools

There are some ways to bring everyone together around a shared understanding of what content is needed, in what style and format, and how to ensure it is delivered on time. Here’s an overview of the key processes and tools needed for efficient content operations.

Production workflows

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:

  • Outline
  • Write
  • Review
  • Edit
  • Approve
  • Publish

Realistically, there will be other steps too as you may need different review cycles (legal, marketing, finance etc). 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.

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.

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.

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 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 outline the institution’s style, format, voice and tone, brand personality and specific rules and vocabulary.

Disseminating the style guide to those involved in content production, reviewing, editing and approval is essential to achieve authenticity and consistency. This is even more important when those responsible for content are spread far and wide across many departments and multiple campuses.

It is also chance to 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.

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.

A governance model

Everything so far has been concerned with planning, producing and delivering content. Even when it is published, there is still work to be done.

What happens when a piece of content is published? Who is responsible? Will it need to be reviewed/archived/updated at a specific time? Content operations can be defined by schedules, dates and needs such as monthly newsletter, annual course updates, and quarterly website improvements.

A governance model and plan is needed to ensure silos remain connected for any governance and maintenance of content. It’s easy for people to walk away or shun responsibility when content is perceived as being ‘done’, but rarely is content finished.

The workflow may need to be refined for governance and there may be less people involved, but having a governance plan is essential to ensure content remains effective.

Audits and tools for ongoing measurement

This brings us nicely to the last of the elements to be discussed, measurement of how successful content is to the institution.

Without well defined goals, or tools for measuring the impact of content, it’s impossible to know whether content is having an impact.

Embedding these processes into the way a team works is the best way to stay on top of this, or else before you know it there will be 8 months worth of data to catch up on and that’s just not fun. Or easy.

Decide on the regularity of auditing content and measuring its performance. Whether daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually, ensure there is someone responsible for this measurement and that they have the tools required to achieve this. If necessary, add a step into your workflow to ensure this task is completed.

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 content operations 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.

Connecting silos in your institution for effective content operations

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About the Author

Robert Mills

Content Strategist, GatherContent

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